NIH Proposes Public Access to Papers

Mediator. NIH's Zerhouni has settled on a compromise plan for increasing public access to NIH-funded research.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking to calm the fray over whether scientific results should be freely available. On Friday, it released a draft policy aimed at improving public access to the results of NIH-funded research. The proposal requires grantees to deposit copies of their papers in NIH's free PubMed Central archive once they're accepted by a journal and calls for posting them on PubMed 6 months after publication.

In July, a congressional spending panel recommended that NIH post NIH-funded manuscripts within 6 months of publication, or immediately if NIH grant funds were used to pay publication costs. The suggestion, part of NIH's pending 2005 budget, triggered frenzied lobbying on all sides. Librarians, patient organizations, and scientists who think taxpayers should have easier access to NIH-funded research urged NIH to follow the House language. Commercial publishers and many scientific societies lobbied against a mandatory plan, saying it could bankrupt journals.

After holding meetings with interested groups, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni told scientists last week that 6 months was "reasonable" (Science, 3 September, p. 1386). The draft policy is similar to the House language: Investigators will submit their final, peer-reviewed manuscript to PubMed Central. Journals can ask NIH to replace the manuscript with the published paper, sooner than 6 months if they wish. NIH plans to publish the draft policy in the Federal Register and take comments for 60 days."We're strongly behind it," says Richard Johnson of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. Scientific societies had a mixed reaction. Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society, calls the plan "an unnecessary expenditure of federal funds for a redundant repository of peer-reviewed literature." He notes that most journals already provide back articles for around $5 to $30, or for free after a certain period.The Association of American Publishers (AAP) plans to voice its objections to senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate appropriations committee for NIH, which will take up the spending bill once it passes the House. However, last week Specter told The Washington Post that he does not intend to intervene.

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