The big war in science during this decade has not been Republicans against human embryonic stem cell research or Democrats against agriculture, it has instead been open access publishing versus subscription peer-reviewed journals.

Open access publishing of science results, freely available to all, would clearly kill subscription-based peer-reviewed journals.  Right now, those peer reviewed journals are terrifically profitable for multiple companies despite the fact that everyone is saying print is dead.   These companies add value to researchers, they say, by having a higher impact than other companies that do less marketing, etc.

But something strange has happened.   Open Access journal PLoS One received its first Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports impact factor and it is a respectable 4.351.   Science and Nature, with 29.747 and 34.480 respectively, are not shaking in their corporate boots just yet but it's a sign that things are changing. 

Why talk about PLoS One?  Because that is the one traditional media hate the most.  They are basically okay with PLoS Biology (12.196 impact factor, down even from 2006) because it is a niche imprint and loses money so is no threat to them.   PLoS One, on the other hand, is the thing that keeps the doors open at PLoS.    They accept 7 out of 10 submissions and, if you have read some of the stuff that gets printed, you have to wonder what the 30% rejections must look like.   But because they charge $1,350 for publication, and are in the top 3 in volume worldwide, they are basically printing money for the company.

Nature is not a fan, calling it cynically an effort to "challenge academia's obsession with journal status and impact factors." (Giles, J (2007). "Open-access journal will publish first, judge later" Nature 445 (7123): 9. doi:10.1038/445009a. PMID 17203032.)  And indeed, original editor Chris Surridge once wrote "With a journal like PLoS ONE Impact Factor will be irrelevant" but they are pretty darn proud of impact factor now, much like they originally said money-focused corporate media was a curse but they proudly frame the success of PLoS One in terms of how much money it makes because that is a sign of success.

It was assumed by competitors that a mass volume product like PLoS One would generate some revenue but would fail when it came to being meaningfully cited and thus have no value for researchers.  The latest results debunk that idea.   So it's all good, right?

Yes and no.   A lot of it is automated, so costs are not high, but with success comes attention and attention means more manual work because you can't let kooks slip through the cracks.  As all of us know, kooks are drawn to anything 'open' that can legitimize them.     That means more people looking at things and, if profitability is to remain, that means convincing people to work for free.    Scientists like outsiders and PLoS has been the alternative for people who distrust multi-million dollar corporations, "non-profit" or not, but now that PLoS is a multi-million dollar publisher, and profitable, the scientists who have been enthusiastic advocates because PLoS was the underdog may begin to wonder if they should continue to go above and beyond what they do for anyone else.

But if they can navigate the perceptual issues (hint: hire someone from Apple marketing - they make closed-source tools using child labor in foreign countries, charge too much, and have a bigger market capitalization than Microsoft yet have the reputation of being the cool, edgy outsider for hipsters) their model is going to take over the world, because traditional publishing says you can have volume or you can have a good impact factor.

For now, PLoS One is doing both.

More on the open access aspects of Science 2.0:

Sharing Research Leads To Good Citations

Open Access Doesn't Lead To More Citations, Says Study

Why Do Democrats Want To Get Rid Of The NIH Public Access Policy?

The Downside To Open Access Science

Open Access War On The American Chemical Society