Throughout the #cc10 celebrations, we’re profiling online platforms with Creative Commons integration. Today, Public Library of Science (PLOS) CEO Peter Jerram discusses the role that PLOS and Creative Commons play in the open access movement.
By Peter Jerram
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” This quote, attributed to the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is usually applied in the political arena as a warning to partisans about allowing ideology to trump more objective, quantitative realities – things like a country’s GNP, its unemployment rate or balance of trade. Without a foundation for dialogue built on the same basic facts, self-governance falters, he warned.
Moynihan’s core idea works equally well to describe the realities facing those of us involved in scientific discovery and publishing where the sheer size of today’s biomedical and environmental challenges makes collaborative research based on a shared set of facts an absolute necessity. Indeed it is not enough to just share those facts, we must be also able to share, and collaborate over ideas, claims, and arguments, for science to function effectively.
Roughly a decade ago, the founders of PLOS, Pat Brown, Harold Varmus, and Michael Eisen, recognized the importance of unrestricted and immediate access to the scholarly record in biology, medicine and related fields. That’s why, from the onset of its publishing efforts, PLOS applied the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) to all its articles. Under this license, authors retain ownership of copyright, and allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and copy the content as long as the original authors and sources are cited. No permission is required from the authors or from PLOS for subsequent researchers to take these findings, add a novel element, and move to the next critical stage of discovery. CC BY is a revolutionary legal tool that continues to enable the Open Access movement to accelerate scientific discovery on every continent. This rapid growth is reflected by the fact that PLOS ONE is now the world’s largest online journal.
We believe that this movement from limited access to an era of open science, fueled by the exponential growth of the internet, has as great a potential for advancing the tools and capabilities of our research as did the determination of the structure of the DNA molecule by Francis Crick and James D. Watson in 1953. Indeed, without openness and data sharing across public and private sector labs and national borders, there would have been no Human Genome Project.
The advent of Open Access set the stage for the development of new methods for designing clinical trials and advancing personalized medicine through endeavors such as the European Union co-funded ACGT (Advancing Clinico-Genomic Clinical Trials on Cancer). In 2010, this consortium completed its creation of an open source translational data infrastructure documenting clinical trials for cancer for the benefit of both oncologists and cancer researchers. Among other advances, the ACGT knowledge grid assisted in bringing about major progress toward a cure for a pediatric cancer of the kidneys known as nephroblastoma.
In the US, another exciting Open Access biomedical research model exists in Cancer Commons, founded by Marty Tenenbaum (a PLOS Board Member) with the aim “to engage cancer researchers, patients, and physician in order to reduce delays in getting promising investigational drugs into the clinic and knowledge back to the patients.” A recent Cancer Commons project led to the determination of four molecular subtypes in lung cancer tumor cells. Working with shared data and clinical methodologies, researchers correlated these subtypes with different genetic aberrations and drugs that may potentially treat them. The resulting research paper, A Novel Classification of Lung Cancer into Molecular Subtypes, was published in PLOS ONE in 2012.
The work of Creative Commons ensures that these projects can use the papers we publish without requiring the additional time and cost that asking special permissions would require. It ensures that translators and educators know they are free to use the research we publish and it allows Wikipedia editors to enrich this critical reference work with text and resources from the research literature. On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, PLOS salutes Creative Commons for its pioneering work in establishing the legal and technological tools that enable Open Access science publishing to flourish.
Peter Jerram is the CEO of PLOS.