Scientific works don’t have an isolated meaning; they exist only in reference to the broader scientific community, and the whole reason you publish them is so that other people will read and use them. — Michael Eisen, Co-Founder, Public Library of Science
In March 2008, a team of Australian researchers led by Zablon Njiru and Andrew Thompson announced the development of an elegantly simple, low-tech and low-cost blood test for identifying African sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis, or ‘HAT’). Observing the presence of infection via a colour change in reactive liquid from orange to green, the scientists have provided a way to test for this deadly disease in an endemic rural area using limited equipment. What differentiated their discovery, apart from its ease-of-use and efficiency, is the fact that the findings were licensed under Creative Commons, allowing the world costless access to their research.
In their article titled ‘Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) Method for Rapid Detection of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense,’ the Murdoch University team – comprising Zablon Njiru, Andrew Mikosza, Tanya Armstrong, John Enyaru, Joseph Ndung’u, and Andrew Thompson – published their findings relating to a rapid and robust diagnostic test for HAT. Significantly, they chose to publish in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, an open-access journal devoted to the pathology, epidemiology, treatment, control, and prevention of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), such as elephantiasis, leprosy, schistosomiasis, river blindness, and African sleeping sickness, as well as public policy relevant to this group of diseases. This Public Library of Science journal seeks to promote the efforts of scientists, health practitioners, and public-health experts from endemic countries, highlighting the global public health importance of NTDs whilst advocating the plight of the poor who suffer from these infectious diseases.
Articles published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases are made available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic licence, which the Public Library of Science designates as ‘CCAL’. Under CCAL, authors retain ownership of the copyright of their article, whilst allowing anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy articles published in the PLoS journal, so long as the original authors and source are cited. No permissions are required from the authors or publishers to use the work in these terms. In this way, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases provides a forum for the NTDs community of scientific investigators, health practitioners, control experts, and advocates to publish their findings in an open-access format.
Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science, explained the rationale behind adopting CCAL:
To finance this framework, PLoS journals employ a business model in which expenses (for peer review, journal production, online hosting and archiving) are recovered in part by charging a publication fee to the authors and research sponsors for each article they publish. For PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases the publication fee is currently $US2100. Authors affiliated with an institutional member are eligible for a discount. Moreover, authors who do not have sufficient funds to cover publication fees are offered complete or partial waivers. Inability to pay does not influence the decision to publish a paper.
Glenn Otis Brown, the then Executive Director of Creative Commons, interviewed Public Library of Science co-founder Michael Eisen about the library’s use of Creative Commons in 2005. As a biologist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley, Eisen espoused open access to scientific research:
Eisen reflected on the early success of PLoS, noting that 30,000 people signed an open letter supporting the open-access organisation, and that acceptance of OA was steadily increasing. Asked why PLoS decided to employ Creative Commons licensing, he responded:
Article citation: Njiru ZK, Mikosza ASJ, Armstrong T, Enyaru JC, Ndung'u JM, et al. (2008) Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) Method for Rapid Detection of Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(2): e147. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000147