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Table of Contents

Open access to the scientific literature:

a summary of the issues


  • 02/27/2008 NIH provides information on how to comply with Public Access Policy
    The NIH has created a webpage that summarizes requirements for archiving journal articles that report results of NIH-funded research on PubMed Central. It includes information on what authors need to do if the journal in which they are publishing is not among those that automatically submit articles to PubMed Central on the author's behalf. A list of journals which do so is also provided, as well as detailed instructions on how to submit articles to PubMed Central.
  • 12/26/2007 President signs bill requiring open access archiving
    President Bush has signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007 (H.R. 2764), which includes a provision directing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to change its existing Public Access Policy, implemented as a voluntary measure in 2005, so that participation is required for agency-funded investigators. Researchers will be required to deposit electronic copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts into the National Library of Medicine's online archive, PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication in a journal.
  • 10/23/2007: Senate passes bill requiring open access archiving
    The Senate has passed legislation to require investigators funded by the NIH to submit electronic versions of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central archive within 12 months of publication. The open access archiving provisions were included within HR 3043, which makes appropriations for the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health & Human Services, and remained within the final version of the bill despite proposed amendements to remove it or make it optional. The bill passed the House earlier this year.
  • 8/20/2007: Howard Hughes Medical Institute to fund open-access publishing
    The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the second-largest funder of biomedical research in the United States, announced August 20th that it will pay processing charges for all articles stemming from the research it funds in BioMed Central journals. The agreement will take effect September 1st, 2007. This follows the Institute's announcement in June 2007 that it would require that results of research funded by its grants must be available within 6 months of publication in freely accessible public repositories.
  • 8/09/2007: Yale Libraries Pull Out of Biomed Central
    Citing large cost increases, the Science and Medical Libraries of Yale Universities have discontinued their financial support for faculty member publication in Biomed Central's electronic journals. Previously, the library provided funding to cover publication fees on Biomed Central for Yale faculty members. Additional details are available in a news blog posting on the Chronicle of Higher Education website.
  • 6/28/2007: Congressional Panel Favors Access to Publicly Funded Research
    The Senate Appropriations Committee has agreed to direct the NIH to require that the research it funds be made publicly available on the Internet. This policy would make mandatory the filing of manuscripts of articles resulting from NIH-funded research in the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central archive. Under current policies, deposition of manuscripts in PubMed Central has been voluntary, but fewer than 5% of eligible manuscripts have been desposited. Additional details are available on the website of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access.
  • 1/22/2007: AAHSL creates public access toolkit
    To assist interested parties in tracking pending legislation on open access to federally-funded research, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) has created the NIH Public Access Toolkit. This webpage provides links to the text of pending legislation, briefings on open access issues, summaries of existing NIH policies, and other resources.
  • 5/31/2006: Majority of Americans favor free access to Federally funded research
    A recent online survey conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that more than 80% of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that results of research funded by U.S. tax dollars should be available to the public without charge free on the Internet. The report is available at the Harris website and was also reported in the 5/31 issue of the Wall Street Journal.
  • 5/03/2006: Newly introduced Federal bill mandates free access to tax-funded research.
    Senators John Cornyn (R-Tex) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn) are co-sponsoring the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006. This bill would require deposit of articles resulting from publicly-funded research in PubMed Central within 6 months of publication, and would apply to research funded not only by NIH, but also the departments of Agriculture, Commerce & Homeland Security, the EPA, NASA and the National Science Foundation. More information is available in an article in the Washington post. The full text of the bill is available on Senator Cornyn's website.
  • 3/10/2006: Advisory committee recommends mandatory archiving policy to NIH.
    A National Library of Medicine advisory committee has recommended that scientists who receive NIH grants be required to post their results on the Internet within six months of publication, according to a report in the March 10, 2006 issue of the Washington Post. The report concluded that from May 1 to December 31, 2005, the existing voluntary policy prompted the submission to PubMed Central of only 3.8% of the 43,000 journal articles reporting research funded by NIH grants. The article notes that it is not only for-profit publishers that object to the proposed compulsory policy, but also some nonprofit scientific and professional societies. The article is available on the Washington Post website without charge (free registration is required.)
  • 12/09/2005: Open Access generates controversy in the UK.
  • In a July 2005 response to a proposal by the Research Council UK, the Royal Society expressed deep reservations regarding open access, based mainly on the model's long-term economic impact and viability. A group of 46 senior scientists, in an open letter to the Society, strongly disagree, and accuse the Society of conflict of interest.
  • 12/08/2005: Mandated open access for publicly funded medical research?
  • Senator Joseph Lieberman has introduced a bill into the Senate that would require open access to publicly funded medical research within four months of its publication. The American Center for Cures Act of 2005 is intended to help translate basic research into therapies. Among its many provisions, section 499H-1 requires deposit of the final peer-reviewed manuscript in PubMed Central within four months of publication.
  • 11/22/2005: NIH Public Access Working Group advises changes to public access policy.
  • The Public Access Group, a committee that advises NIH on its public access policy, has recommended two significant changes to the existing policy. At present, deposition of manuscripts reporting NIH-funded research in PubMed Central is voluntary. The Group's recommendation is that this be made compulsory. The other major change is in timeframe. They recommend shortening the permissible delay to six months after publication.
  • 07/12/2005. NIH allows third party upload of manuscripts
  • NIH recently announced a new functionality in the NIH manuscript submission system (http://www.nihms.nih.gov/). Third parties (e.g. administrative assistants, librarians, or publishers) can now upload manuscripts to the NIHMS system on behalf of the author. Authors must complete the process by approving the uploaded materials. For additional information, contact the NIHMS help desk.
  • 06/29/2005. British Research Group calls for liberal open-access policy
  • Research Councils UK, an umbrella organization for British public research institutions, has issued a draft of a policy that advocates free and prompt access to publically funded research. The draft calls for publications funded by the councils to be placed in an open-access as soon as possible following publication. Debate on the proposal will continue through August 2005. In contrast to the NIH policy, this proposal would make prompt open-access archiving mandatory.
  • 05/02/2005. NIH Public Access Policy goes into effect
  • NIH today implemented its Public Access policy, announced in early February. Under this policy, all NIH-funded investigators are strongly encouraged to make their peer-reviewed final manuscripts available through the National Library of Medicine's Pubmed Central archive. Manuscripts can be sumitted through the NIH Manuscript Submission System. A FAQ on manuscript submission is available at the NIHMS website, or interested researchers can contact NIHMS through E-Mail.
  • 02/04/2005. NIH announces details of plan for access to study results
  • The details of the NIH policy, which goes into effect March 2, 2005, call for authors of NIH-funded research to voluntarily submit their final manuscript to PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication. At the time of submission, the author specifies the timing of posting of the final manuscript for public accessibility through Pubmed Central. NIH encourages authors to permit public viewing as soon as possible within 12 months of the publisher's official date of final publication.
  • 01/18/2005. NIH revises plan for quick, free access to study results
  • According to an article in the Washington Post, the NIH proposal has been scaled back, extending the original six-month deadline for posting research results to one year. An NIH spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the change in policy, and said a formal announcement from NIH would be forthcoming soon. (The Washington Post article is available without a fee, but does require the user to register.)
  • 01/13/2005. NIH cancels announcment on open access policy
  • According to an article in The Scientist, the NIH abruptly cancelled a teleconference with director Elias A. Zerhouni scheduled for Jan 11th. Dr. Zerhouni was to announce details of the NIH policy to acccelerate public access to published articles resulting from NIH-funded research.
  • 11/12/2004. AAMC comments on NIH proposal
  • In a letter dated 11/09/2004, the American Association of Medical Colleges urged caution in implementation of the NIH proposal, suggesting that a well-defined evaluation methodology should be established before the policy is finalized.
  • 11/09/2004. NIH posts questions & answers on public access proposal
  • The NIH has posted a series of questions and answers on its public access proposal.
  • 11/02/2004. ASM Comments on NIH Proposal
  • The American Society for Microbiology recently expressed its reservations regarding the NIH proposal. The ASM's comments were summarized in a posting to the Medical Library Association's Legislative Task force mailing list.
  • 9/30/04. NIH Invites comments on open access.
  • Interested parties can comment on the NIH's proposed policy via a web form on the NIH website through November 18th.
  • 09/10/04. Appropriations bill passes in House
  • By an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 388-13 the House of Representatives adopted the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and related agencies (H.R. 5006). The bill includes the directive to the NIH to develop an open-access plan by December 1, 2004.
  • 09/08/04. Not-for-profit publishers ask Senate to block House committee recommendations
  • In a letter to the Senate appropriations committee, a group of not-for-profit publishers requested that the committee halt NIH's efforts to make PubMed Central a repository for research manuscripts, pending a review by the General Accounting Office.
  • 09/03/04. NIH publishes notice of proposed new policy
  • The NIH summarized its proposed new policy in a notice entitled Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information. The NIH encourages comments on its proposal. Comments must be received by NIH within 60 days of the notice's publication date.
  • 08/26/04. Draft policy statement from NIH to appear in September
  • In a handout sent to meeting participants, NIH stated that the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts will publish a draft policy statement on open acccess to NIH-funded research in September.
  • 08/26/04. Nobel laureates support open access to NIH-funded research
  • In an open letter to congress, 25 Nobel prize winners expressed support for open access to reports of NIH-funded research.
  • 08/17/04. NIH Director meets with publishers, scientists & patient advocacy groups
  • Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, Director of the NIH, recently concluded a series of three meetings with groups concerned about open access to NIH-funded research. On July 28th, Dr. Zerhouni met with representatives of 42 publishers, whose concerns are summarized in a letter to Dr. Zerhouni. On August 30th, Dr, Zerhouni met with researchers from NIH and other institutions. A major concern voiced at this meeting was the possible negative effect of an author-pays model on junior investigators. The third meeting, held August 31, was with patient advocacy and disease-oriented groups.

According to information from the Association of Research Libraries, the prices of journals have increased by 215% over the last fifteen years. Library budgets have not kept pace, and so libraries pay more money each year for fewer journals. A sense is growing that the current model of scholarly publication is not sustainable. In 2004, the appropriations committee of the US House of Representatives proposed that research funded by the National Institutes of Health be made publicly available without charge in the PubMed Central digital repository. The report, which accompanied the Labor/HHS funding measure for FY 2005, stated in part:

The Committee is very concerned that there is insufficient public access to reports and data resulting from NIH-funded research. This situation, which has been exacerbated by the dramatic rise in scientific journal subscription prices, is contrary to the best interests of the U.S. taxpayers who paid for this research. The Committee is aware of a proposal to make the complete text of articles and supplemental materials generated by NIH-funded research available on PubMed Central (PMC), the digital library maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The Committee supports this proposal and recommends NIH develop a policy, to apply from FY 2005 forward, requiring that a complete electronic copy of any manuscript reporting work supported by NIH grants or contracts be provided to PMC upon acceptance of the manuscript for publication in any scientific journal listed in the NLM's PubMed directory. Under this proposal, NLM would commence making these reports, together with supplemental materials, freely and continuously available six months after publication, or immediately in cases in which some or all of the publication costs are paid with NIH grant funds. For this purpose, "publication costs" would include fees charged by a publisher, such as color and page charges, or fees for digital distribution. NIH is instructed to submit a report to the Committee by December 1, 2004 about how it intends to implement this policy, including how it will ensure the reservation of rights by the NIH grantee, if required, to permit placement of the article in PMC and to allow appropriate public uses of this literature."

A policy strongly encouraging authors of papers resulting from NIH-funded research to deposit their manuscripts in PubMed Central went into effect in 2005. Two years later, it had become clear that few authors complied with these recommendations. Less than 5% of eligible papers had been deposited. This has prompted calls from advocacy groups such as the Alliance for Taxpayer Access to call for mandatory deposit of such articles.

One approach to the crisis in scholarly communication is set forth in the February 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative. Open access is a concept in which articles are freely available to the public without subscription fees. The published work remains the intellectual property of the copyright holder, who retains the right to block plagiarism, misrepresentation and sometimes commercial re-use, but authorizes unrestricted reading, printing, copying and sharing. There are two primary methods to provide open access: open access journals and open access archives or repositories.

Open access journals differ from archives principally in that the journals conduct peer review, in much the same way as other journals. Most permit the author to retain copyright. There was initially some concern that open access journals would be perceived as being of lesser stature than established commercial titles. It would not be to a researcher's advantage to publish in a less prestigious journal. This remains a matter of concern to many researchers, but some open access journals have now compiled respectable ISI impact factors, in some cases comparing favorably with their commercial counterparts, suggesting that open access journals are not inherently inferior.

The business models used to fund open access journals continue to be hotly debated. It is recognized that open access publication is by no means without costs, but the burning question is how to meet these costs. Biomed Central (BMC) and Public Library of Science (PLoS) both permit free access by the public, but charge a fee when an article is accepted for publication. Many researchers object to this "author pays" model, pointing out that their budgets cannot support publication fees, and that this business model especially penalizes the prolific author. Libraries find it difficult to budget for an open-ended expense that cannot be reliably predicted in any given year. One alternative that has been proposed is that funding for for publication costs should be built into grant proposals as the final stage of the research.

In contrast to open access journals, archives do not perform peer review--although many articles submitted to an archive will also be published as formal journal articles, and will undergo peer review as part of that process. Archives are relatively inexpensive to establish and maintain, and have been widely used for some time in subject areas such as physics. Open access archives present many permutations in policy and content. Some archives contain preprints; others contain the final peer-reviewed and corrected version of the article, as it appears in published form in a journal; some contain both. Some accept articles from authors; others, accept submissions only from publishers.

Before an article is published, the author still owns the copyright, and may freely archive it as a preprint. If the author transfers copyright to the publisher when the article is published, then the publisher must grant permission before the postprint can be deposited in an open access archive; but copyright law still permits the preprint and corrigenda to be archived. Some journals refuse to publish articles that have circulated as preprints. This policy is referred to as the Ingelfinger rule, after the New England Journal of Medicine editor who promulgated it in 1967. The Ingelfinger rule is a matter of publisher policy, not of copyright law. It is becoming less common, but persists in medicine.

One approach to the crisis in scholarly communication is set forth in the February 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative. Open access is a concept in which articles are freely available to the public without subscription fees. The published work remains the intellectual property of the copyright holder, who retains the right to block plagiarism, misrepresentation and sometimes commercial re-use, but authorizes unrestricted reading, printing, copying and sharing. There are two primary methods to provide open access: open access journals and open access archives or repositories.

The major limitation on usefulness of open access archives at present is that most rely on the author to submit their articles for inclusion. Even when the publisher of a journal permits author archiving, most authors do not.

Many professional societies have mixed feelings about open access. Initial concerns that fees charged by Biomed Central would not be sufficient to offset production costs appear to have been well founded. These fees have increased substantially since 2004. Additionally, many societies rely on the revenues generated by subscriptions to pay for other important activities, such as conferences. A self-publishing professional society that transitions its journals to open access may lose a considerable fraction of the income it must have to continue to operate.

In light of these concerns, many professional societies are approaching open access with caution. Some are experimenting with open accessl by apply the model to only a limited number of their journals. Others are using a hybrid model, in which articles are free to the public on publication if the author pays a publication fee. An example of this approach is Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, which has not gone entirely open access, but instead offers authors who wish to maximize the potential readership and impact of their published work the option of open access publishing for fee of $1,100.

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