Lance Sultzbaugh criticizes the PubMed Central initiative for having done nothing to change the problems with typical schemes of online scientific publishing (Nature 402, 230; 1999). He says these schemes are difficult to navigate, reside behind cost barriers and conform to no archival standards. It is a little unfair to criticize PubMed Central for being difficult to navigate and lacking in standards before it even exists, but these are certainly valid concerns. It is ridiculous, however, to claim that PubMed Central does nothing to address the cost barriers to accessing scientific literature.
The key characteristic of PubMed Central is that all the research it will archive will be available in full to any individual, at no charge. This applies to research that enters via existing journals that choose to participate, and to research that uses a new peer-review route such as BioMed Central or the Community of Science's scheme.
The PubMed Central model retains a decentralized system of peer review, which is desirable in that no single body can control what gets published. On the other hand, it centralizes the infrastructure necessary to allow trustworthy long-term archiving, effective searching and reliable linking. And it does away with the barriers to access that have prevented the web from achieving its full potential for enhancing scientific communication.
When PubMed Central and BioMed Central are launched, scientists will finally have a viable alternative to traditional journals. Research made available through PubMed Central will be freely accessible, and yet will also be accepted as a credible, citable contribution to the literature. Surely this deserves to be applauded.