Magazine article Information Today

Public Input on NIH Public Access

Magazine article Information Today

Public Input on NIH Public Access

Article excerpt

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) implemented the Public Access Policy on Jan. 11, 2008. As of April 7, all final peer-reviewed manuscripts arising from NIH funds must now be submitted to PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication. As of May 25, 2008, NIH applications, proposals, and progress reports now must also include the PubMed Central reference number when citing a paper that falls under the policy and is authored or coauthored by the investigator or arose from the investigator's NIH award.

On March 20, the NIH met in what was described as a "listening session," supported by 451 comments collected before the meeting. According to NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., in his welcoming comments, the "preliminary analysis indicates over 60% of these premeeting comments expressed support of the policy as implemented, but approximately 15% thought the 12-month delay period was too long, and 15% had concerns that a mandatory policy will be detrimental to scientific publishers."

The goal of this meeting was to ensure that the policy's implementation would work for all involved as successfully as possible. "We are all ears," Zerhouni said. "We need to move forward and we are completely open to an interactive process here that will take into account all input."

But this certainly has not been the first time the NIH has engaged stakeholders in the direction for the NIH policy. According to Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), "Zerhouni personally engaged the discussion by conducting multiple public meetings with publishers, scientists, and patient groups in 2004. The proposal explicitly highlighted NIH's desire for stakeholder input." In addition, "between September 3 and November 16, 2004, NIH received 6,249 comments on the proposal, the overwhelming majority of which were supportive," she said.

A New Request for Information

In the next round of public comment, a request for information (RFI) was undertaken on the NIH website from March 28, 2008, to May 31, 2008. There were 190 comments by the time the site was closed on the last day (but comments were still viewable after the closure). The NIH will post its analysis from this RFI for public view at http://publicaccess.nih.gov by Sept. 30.

The RFI was focused on four questions (although there was clearly overlap between the questions and the answers). I found the most important question centered on recommendations for "alternative implementation approaches" and "recommendations for monitoring and ensuring compliance."

Since this debate has lasted several years now, there were no earth-shattering revelations in the RFI. (Indeed, there was the rather mind-numbing revelation that I have read this before.) But one trend that was apparent was a call by some publishers proposing the formation of a dark archive where the NIH serves as a repository of links rather than actually holding the text. While the possibility of creating such a dark archive has arisen before in relation to PubMed Central, I believe that many publishers are offering this idea as the lesser of two evils in their minds.

Others also noted this theme of a dark archive. "This proposal would NOT achieve a major goal of the NIH, which is to provide a free, digital and permanent stable archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature," according to Beth Israel, vice president for research at Arizona State University. …

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