NIH Guidelines on Voluntary Public Access to Research Released
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni on Thursday released details of a new agency policy that requests scientists make agency-funded research publicly available online at no cost within 12 months of publication in a scientific journal, the Washington Post reports. The policy, which is voluntary, "represents a compromise between competing forces that had lobbied the agency intensely during the past year," according to the Post (Weiss, Washington Post, 2/4).
Zerhouni in September 2004 proposed requiring NIH-funded researchers submit their research within six months of publication in a scientific journal to NIH's no-cost Internet database, PubMed Central. Currently, scientific journals -- for which an annual subscription typically costs between $200 and $6,000 -- retain control over published information (California Healthline, 2/3).
The new policy asks scientists beginning May 2 to post their work on PubMed "as soon as possible and within 12 months of final publication." NIH also plans to establish a working group as part of the National Library of Medicine's Board of Regents to develop the database with NIH. The group will include patient advocates, scientists, librarians and publishers. According to the Journal, the database will archive research and will be "easily searchable by the public via the Internet" (Corbett Dooren, Wall Street Journal, 2/4).
NIH awards about 212,000 researchers working in 2,800 facilities more than $23 billion in competitive research grants and contracts annually. The scientists publish an estimated 60,000 papers annually (Gorner, Chicago Tribune, 2/4). About 10% of articles in medical journals are written by NIH-funded scientists, the Post reports (Washington Post, 2/4).
According to the Chicago Tribune, "scientist widely are expected to comply" with the policy, even though it is not mandatory (Chicago Tribune, 2/4). However, Harold Varmus, former NIH director and current president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said the policy should have stated that scientists are "expected" to submit their work to the database, rather than requesting that they do so (Washington Post, 2/4).
Zerhouni "explained that the agency is trying to take a more gentle approach" in an effort to encourage "maximum" participation from scientists, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 2/4). Zerhouni said the agency expected that "only in limited cases will authors deem it necessary to select the longest delay period."
He added, "Our goal is to change the landscape of scientific publishing by opening up a venue for scientists to do the right thing. The goal is to make this research available to the public without damaging the peer-review process." He said, "We're saying that scientists should release their findings as soon as possible for the benefit of the public. After all, the public paid for them" (Chicago Tribune, 2/4).
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "I commend the NIH for encouraging scientists and publishers to make more federally funded research publicly available in a single, searchable archive" (Wall Street Journal, 2/4).
Science Editor in Chief Donald Kennedy called the policy a "reasonable path," adding that requiring no-cost public access within six months could have had "fairly serious consequences for some journals" (Talan, Long Island Newsday, 2/4).
However, Rick Johnson, director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, said that the policy "falls short of the bright light of transparency that Dr. Zerhouni promised." He added that the policy might be "career-jeopardizing" for many researchers because, he predicts, publishers will urge slow public release while NIH will encourage quick release (Washington Post, 2/4).
Michael Eisen -- assistant genetics professor at University of California-Berkeley and co-founder of the Public Library of Science, which publishes two no-cost online scientific journals -- said, "The publishers would be doing a disservice to the public if they actively work to impede this system (Barnum, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/4).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Thursday reported on NIH's plan. The segment includes comments from Pat Schroeder, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; Sharon Terry, president and CEO of the Genetic Alliance; and Zerhouni (Malakoff, "All Things Considered," NPR, 2/3). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.