The Ethics of Being an Open Access Publisher


BioMed Central advertises itself as “The Open Access Publisher” (see their logo floating next to this text). They publish a lot of journals, but I think the Public Library of Science (PLoS) has the lead when it comes to being THE open access publisher. That’s because everything published by PLoS is Open Access — it’s free to read, distribute, and reproduce, provided there is proper attribution. BioMed Central, not so much.

That’s right, BioMed Central, The Open Access Publisher, publishes paid-access articles. In fact, it publishes entire journals that are not open access. That includes Genome Biology, a journal I would read if I had access to the articles contained within. But I do not. Despite being published by The Open Access Publisher, Genome Biology is not open access.

BioMed Central is also behind the Faculty of 1000, a website that collects reviews of papers in a sort-of online journal club for leading researchers. Faculty of 1000 is, you guessed it, not open access, despite being produced by The Open Access Publisher. I have no way of assessing the utility of Faculty of 1000 because I don’t have access to the service.

I’m not calling out BioMed Central for offering paid-access content. I have no problem with that, although I’d prefer to see all scientific publications go open access. My issue is with BioMed Central labeling themselves as The Open Access Publisher despite the fact that they publish numerous paid access journals and paid access services.


  1. #1 Graham
    December 2, 2007

    I agree that Biomed is not a completely open access publisher. Though, I think that at genome biology the research articles are freely accessible but that the comment pieces and reviews are not.

  2. #2 Matthew Cockerill
    December 2, 2007

    Indeed, like all BioMed Central journals, Genome Biology makes 100% of the research it publishes open access.

  3. #3 RPM
    December 2, 2007

    Thanks for clarifying Graham and Matthew. It’s good to know that the research papers published in Genome Biology are open access, but it still bothers me that the comments and reviews are not.

  4. #4 Kathleen
    December 3, 2007

    BioMed Central is not behind Faculty of 1000 (as you state above). “Faculty of 1000 Biology” and “Faculty of 1000 Medicine” are published, respectively, by Biology Reports Limited and Medical Reports Limited.

  5. #5 RPM
    December 3, 2007

    BioMed Central makes it appear that they produce Faculty of 1000:

    BioMed Central’s portfolio of 184 journals includes general titles such as Journal of Biology alongside specialist journals (e.g. BMC Bioinformatics, Malaria Journal) that focus on particular disciplines . All the research published by BioMed Central’s journals is open access, but BioMed Central also provides access to various additional products and services that require a subscription. For example, certain BioMed Central journals such as Genome Biology publish commissioned review content available only to subscribers. Other subscription-only products include Faculty of 1000, a literature evaluation service that covers both biology and medicine. BioMed Central also operates Open Repository, a hosted digital repository solution for institutions.


  6. #6 Kathleen
    December 3, 2007

    BioMed Central and the Faculty of 1000 services are in fact sister companies within Science Navigation Group (see http://sciencenavigation.com/).

  7. #7 zwirko
    December 3, 2007

    As an amateur/layperson, review articles tend to form one of the staples of my science-reading diet – simply because research papers themsleves are so often terribly technical. That good reviews are so often locked-up behind pay-barriers is incredibly frustrating.

    Whenever I visit the BioMed site it seems as if every article or service that I’d like to read is out of reach. I know these publishers cater to a particular group, but I would hazard a guess that a major fraction of their visitors are non-professionals like myself. It it’d be nice if someone took us into consideration too.

New comments have been disabled.