Since its founding in 2000, PLOS rapidly evolved into a driving force in the open access (OA) movement, which seeks to make the results of all scholarly research accessible to everyone.
The initiative began with the circulation of an open letter by founders Harold Varmus, Director, National Cancer Institute; Patrick Brown, Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Stanford University School of Medicine, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute in California, Investigator; and Michael Eisen, Associate Professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Development in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Reflecting the organization’s roots within the academic community, the letter urged scientific and medical publishers to make research literature available for distribution through free online public archives, such as the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central. Nearly 34,000 scientists from 180 nations signed the letter, but the publishing landscape remained largely unchanged until PLOS became a publisher itself to effect change.
PLOS therefore reinvented itself as a publisher in 2003 to show how open access publishing could work. The text of the letter reminds us of just how far we’ve come from those days. You can find a list of the original signers here.
We support the establishment of an online public library that would provide the full contents of the published record of research and scholarly discourse in medicine and the life sciences in a freely accessible, fully searchable, interlinked form. Establishment of this public library would vastly increase the accessibility and utility of the scientific literature, enhance scientific productivity, and catalyze integration of the disparate communities of knowledge and ideas in biomedical sciences.
We recognize that the publishers of our scientific journals have a legitimate right to a fair financial return for their role in scientific communication. We believe, however, that the permanent, archival record of scientific research and ideas should neither be owned nor controlled by publishers, but should belong to the public and should be freely available through an international online public library.
To encourage the publishers of our journals to support this endeavor, we pledge that, beginning in September 2001, we will publish in, edit or review for, and personally subscribe to only those scholarly and scientific journals that have agreed to grant unrestricted free distribution rights to any and all original research reports that they have published, through PubMed Central and similar online public resources, within 6 months of their initial publication date.
To help us launch a successful and sustainable open-access publishing operation, we have received generous support from a number of organizations that share our vision of unfettered access and reuse of scientific and medical knowledge. We are grateful to the following supporters:
- Agouron Institute
- William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation
- Burroughs Wellcome Fund
- California Community Foundation
- Ellison Medical Foundation
- Thomson Gale
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- The Irving A. Hansen Memorial Foundation
- The Kahle/Austin Foundation
- The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
- Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
- Open Society Institute
- The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
- Sandler Family Supporting Foundation
- Tides Foundation
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
- United Health Foundation
You can read more about our role as a publisher – from the launch of PLOS Biology in 2003 to the work that we do beyond publishing – in advocacy, technology and the new websites we’re building to show the world the full potential of open access.