The Remarkable Transformation of E-Biomed into PubMed Central

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Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics


In 1999, NIH Director Harold Varmus proposed a national biomedical literature server called “E-Biomed.” E-Biomed reflected the visions of scholarly electronic publishing advocates: it would be fully searchable, free to access, and contain full text versions of both pre-print and post-publication biomedical research articles. However, in less than a year, the E-Biomed proposal was radically transformed, eliminating the pre-print section, instituting delays between article publication and posting to the archive, and changing the name to “PubMed Central.” This article examines the remarkable transformation of the E-Biomed proposal to PubMed Central by analyzing posts to an online E-Biomed discussion forum created by the U.S. governments’ NIH, and other forums where E-Biomed deliberations took place. We find that the transformation of the E-Biomed proposal into PubMed Central was the result of highly visible and highly influential statements made by publishers and scientific societies against the proposal. We conclude that: 1) scientific societies and the individual scientists they represent do not always have identical interests, especially in regards to scientific e-publishing; 2) stakeholder politics and personal interests reign supreme in policy debates, even in a supposedly status-free online discussion forum; 3) multiple communication forums must be considered in examinations of public policy deliberations.



social informatics, ArXiv, scholarly publishing, electronic forum



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