Many of the open-access journals make money by charging researchers who want to have their papers published. At PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology, for example, authors pay $1,500 each, unless they can't afford it. (PLOS began with $9 million in grant money, but the funds don't defray author fees.) Three new PLOS journals scheduled to debut later this year -- covering pathogens, genetics and computational biology -- will also charge $1,500 an article.
But if the researchers pay, doesn't it turn journals into servants to authors, like the vanity-press publishers who publish anything for the right price? "In our capitalist society, one of our basic tenets is who pays the fiddler calls the tune," said Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, editor in chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, at the national meeting of the Association of Health Care Journalists in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on April 1... The researchers, possibly from drug companies, will be "more likely to get their paper published because they can afford to get their paper published, and that's exactly the wrong reason."
Of course, the advertisers in the usual academic journals also have their own agendas--is this really more of a conflict than traditional advertisers pose? I tend to think yes, since we're conditioned to be skeptical about ads, but tend to trust what looks like a well-researched article. At the very least, these authors would have to be checked with the same rigor required for a potentially biased CME faculty member--can you imagine, if you draw the parallel, the ethical implications of having a potentially biased faculty member pay to speak at your CME activity? It just wouldn't happen, at least, I can't imagine it happening. Why would it be OK for it to happen in print, whether online or off?