Free for all. NIH director Elias Zerhouni has unveiled a new policy encouraging agency researchers to post their work in a free archive.

NIH Unveils Public Access Policy

Hoping to "change the landscape of scientific publishing," National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Elias Zerhouni unveiled a new voluntary policy today asking NIH-funded researchers to submit copies of their manuscripts to a free archive. NIH will post the papers 12 months after they are published, or sooner if the author asks.

The policy emerges from a major battle last year. Last summer, Congress asked NIH to post grantees' research papers in its PubMed Central archive within 6 months after publication, and NIH then proposed a similar policy (ScienceNOW, 18 January, 2005). Supporting the policy were librarians, patient advocates, and some scientists who feel research articles should be free. In the other corner, publishers said that free access would bankrupt them and scientific societies dependent on journal income. After listening to both sides, Zerhouni has now issued a final policy that states NIH will wait up to 1 year. But there's another new twist: Instead of relying on the publishers' own policies for when articles can be posted, authors are "encouraged" to have NIH post their papers "as soon as possible." Authors "will negotiate" the timing with the publisher, says Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH extramural research director.

Neither side seems satisfied with the policy. "It's going to create a schism between authors and their publishers," complains Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society, who also thinks the government is infringing on journals' copyrights. Open access advocates, for their part, aren't happy about the "voluntary" aspect or the switch from 6 months to 12 months, by which time many journals make papers free anyway. Whether articles will become available any sooner "is a big "if,'" commented Sharon Terry, president of the Genetic Alliance.

Authors will be asked to send in their manuscripts to NIH starting May 2. However, there are no penalties if they decline to do so.

Related sites
NIH Public Access Policy
PubMed Central