Two Plugs for Open Access

Information gap. Committee chair Ian Gibson (Labour, Norwich North) says publishing system is not meeting needs.

The nascent "open-access" publishing movement got two high-profile endorsements this week. After a 7-month investigation, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee urges that papers produced by publicly funded research be put in free repositories soon after publication. And in a surprise move, a U.S. House committee has recommended that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) post its grantees' papers on a free Internet site. Scientific societies and for-profit publishers were stunned by the language, which they say would drive traditional journals out of business.

The U.K. committee has no legislative authority; its recommendations are purely advisory. It suggests that all U.K. universities and research centers set up institutional repositories for preprints and papers their scientists publish. The government should help fund these repositories and funding agencies should require grantees to send papers to them "within one month of publication or a reasonable period."

The report calls for increased experimentation with author-pays models and says the research councils should fund some researchers to pay these publication charges. Meanwhile, the committee says, the government should commission a study of the associated costs, as well as the potential impact on scientific societies, which often publish their own journals and plow any profits back into other society activities. The report now goes to the Labour government, and the committee says it will also push for a network of publication repositories around the world.

On Capitol Hill, a report accompanying the Labor/Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill recommends that when a journal accepts a paper generated with NIH support, a copy be sent to PubMed Central, the NIH National Library of Medicine's (NLM's) archive of full-text articles. NLM would post the manuscript 6 months after the paper is published, unless NIH funds are used to pay any publication costs. In that case, the manuscript would be posted immediately on publication, the report says. It instructs NIH to submit a report by 1 December 2004 on how to do this.

A coalition of libraries and open-access publishers that pushed for the language says it does not require scientists to publish in open-access journals--just that their final manuscripts be made public. But scientific societies say subscriptions would dry up if essentially the same material were available immediately for free on the Web. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology points out that many journals already make full-text research articles freely available within 6 months or a year (the policy of Science).

As the appropriations bill heads for a possible House vote this week, Representative Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-OK), who wrote the language, and House Labor/HHS subcommittee chair Ralph Regula (R-OH) are preparing to issue a statement on the House floor that would modify the directive. It would say that the intent is for NIH to "bring all the stakeholders to the table to come up with a model" to improve public access, says Istook's spokesperson.

Related sites
Scientific Publications: Free for All?
PubMed Central

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