The Public Library of Science has the laudable goal of making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. In the current sclerotic journal system, the flow of money greatly impedes the flow of information, and important scientific results are locked away behind expensive subscriptions. If you’re inside the privileged White Coat Curtain, you can find what you need. If not, good luck to you.
Another way that money skews medical publications is that editors consider diseases of the rich much more interesting than diseases of the poor. It’s surprisingly hard to fund and publish research about chronic infectious diseases of tropics. That’s not surprising given how markets work, but with the Internet we can do better now. Consider the case of the latest PLoS journal: Public Library of Science to launch new, open access journal on neglected tropical diseases.
Neglected Tropical Diseases (www.plosntds.org) will focus on the overlooked diseases that strike millions of people every year in poor countries, including elephantiasis, river blindness, leprosy, hookworm, schistosomiasis, and African sleeping sickness. The journal, supported by a $1.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will begin accepting submissions in 2007.
I can’t help but wonder if they will ever become so successful that they have to change their name to something like PLoS Reasonably Well-Known Tropical Diseases (not unlike questions on the Star Chamber RAQ list). Then again, if Al Gore is right about global warming, it might become PLoS Diseases We All Get Now That The Entire Planet Is a Hellish Fireball. It’s no joke that the tropics are coming your way, and they’re bringing their friends with them.