'Open access' opening wider

More research institutes require free access, but bill requiring it at NIH faces presidential veto

Jul 5, 2007
Ted Agres
As a growing number of research institutes and professional societies move to embrace open or free public access publishing, legislation is pending in Congress that would mandate scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health to post their final peer-reviewed manuscripts online within 12 months after journal publication.But don't expect the door to unencumbered access be thrown wide open anytime soon: a number of professional research societies still oppose various aspects of open access, and the mandatory NIH directive is in danger of being scuttled because it is included in NIH's Fiscal 2008 budget bill, which President Bush has pledged to veto if it exceeds predefined spending limits.Nevertheless, the trend is growing. On June 26 the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced that starting next year it will require its scientists to deposit copies of journal articles in NIH's PubMed Central free database within six months of publication. "We have sought to balance the goal of public access with the important principle of scholarly freedom in the formulation of this policy," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech in a statement. HHMI follows other major funding institutions, including the Wellcome Trust, in mandating open access.Last week (July 1), the American Physiological Society (APS) announced a new open access publishing option that allows authors for its 13 journals to post studies online immediately after being accepted for publication. Under the new program, called Author Choice, researchers pay a $2,000 processing fee in addition to routine page charges for their studies to be made available immediately.In addition to serving its own journal authors, Author Choice "is designed to meet the needs of agencies, such as HHMI and Wellcome Trust, which really want [their studies published] sooner than 12 months," said Martin Frank, APS executive director and coordinator of the DC Principles Coalition, a group of more than 100 scholarly and not-for-profit journal publishers that supports wide dissemination of research findings."While NIH was the start of this effort, I believe Wellcome Trust and HHMI are playing a role to serve as a vanguard for NIH and its ultimate goal, which, I think, is to make [research studies] all free," Frank told The Scientist. "An open access mandate for NIH is long overdue," said Peter Suber, director of the Open Access Project at Public Knowledge, a public-interest advocacy group. "It will help the agency and taxpayers and researchers and health care in the United States," he told The Scientist.Since May 2005, NIH policy requests scientists to submit their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts with PubMed Central "as soon as possible" after acceptance for publication but not later than 12 months. But with compliance averaging less than 5%, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni conceded the voluntary approach wasn't working. "A mandatory policy seems to be the one that will be necessary," Zerhouni told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee in March. He asked lawmakers to make public access within 12 months a condition of NIH grant funding, which they have done.The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Fiscal 2008 NIH funding bill with the mandatory language in June, and the House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the measure next week. But with a veto threat looming, the outcome is far from clear. John Burklow, NIH spokesman, declined a request from The Scientist to comment on the legislation.Do you agree with policies that mandate open access? Tell us here. Ted Agres mail@the-scientist.comLinks within this article T. Agres, "Publishers, societies oppose 'public access' bill," The Scientist, May 11, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/23426Senate Labor/HHS/Education Fiscal 2008 appropriations bill http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:S.1710:T. Agres, "US Congress drafts funding boost," The Scientist, June 18, 2007. http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53288Howard Hughes Medical Institute http://www.hhmi.orgPubMed Central http://www.pubmedcentral.gov"HHMI Announces New Policy for Publication of Research Articles," June 26, 2007 http://www.hhmi.org/news/20070626.htmlWellcome Trust position statement, March 14, 2007: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/doc_WTD002766.htmlAmerican Physiological Society http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/doc_WTD002766.html"American Physiological Society (APS) Announces New Program to Make Research Results Immediately Available to the Public," July 1, 2007 http://www.the-aps.org/press/journal/07/39.htmDC Principles Coalition http://www.dcprinciples.org/index.htmPublic Knowledge's Open Access Project http://www.publicknowledge.org/about/what/projects/open-access.htmlT. Agres, "NIH announces 'open access' rules," The Scientist, Feb. 4, 2005. http://www.thescientist.com/article/display/22590