The final National Institutes of Health (NIH) rule on Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information is wasteful of federal research dollars and a missed opportunity to take advantage of available technology and existing efforts, according to a group of the nation's leading not-for-profit medical and scientific publishers. The final rule ignores significant free access policies already existing in the not-for-profit publishing community that offer more cost-effective public access to the science in their journals.
NIH's new rule requests but does not require authors to deposit into PubMedCentral (PMC) manuscripts of articles reporting NIH-funded research that have been peer reviewed and accepted by journals for publication. NIH would release these manuscripts to the public within 12 months or less after publication in the journal. The timing of the release would be determined by the authors, who "should ensure that their PMC submissions are consistent with any other agreements, including copyright assignments," according to the NIH statement.
These publishers believe that NIH should take advantage of the fact that most not-for-profit publishers currently make all their content--not just NIH supported articles--available for free to the public within 12 months. Not-for-profit publishers believe that the public would be better served if NIH created an enhanced search engine that works like Google to crawl the journals' full text articles and link to the final published articles residing on the journal websites. This would offer significantly more assistance to those seeking medical research results than a database of NIH-funded manuscripts can provide. This public-private partnership would be much less costly to NIH and would avoid the confusion that would result from publishing two different versions of the same article--an unedited version on PubMed Central and the final version in the journal.
"The society publishers' proposal would avoid problems that are bound to occur if there are multiple versions of the same article," said Nobel Laureate David H. Hubel, Research Professor of Neurobiology at the Harvard Medical School. "This collaboration would offer the public access to the final, definitive publication including commentaries and corrections as contained within the official, permanent journal archive."
"A joint effort between the NIH and not-for-profit publishers would ensure the integrity of the scientific literature while at the same time reducing the size and therefore the cost to NIH of expanding PubMed Central," Hubel added.
"Linking to journal sites is seamless and virtually invisible to those who use NIH's MEDLINE website to search for health information," noted James M. George, MD, president of the American Society of Hematology.
"The 'Free Back Issues' program at Stanford's HighWire Press already gives the public free access to over 828,000 articles," according to Stanford University Librarian and HighWire Publisher Michael A. Keller. "HighWire also permits free links to over 389,000 other articles that are listed as references. Other not-for-profit publishers also offer free access."
"NIH's rule is limited relative to what these not-for-profit publishers are currently doing with Google and patient groups to provide the public with enhanced searchability and improved information access," according to John Sack, HighWire Press.
Not-for-profit publishers support increased public access to the literature; however, many of their concerns about the NIH proposal have not been addressed. These include:
# It will be costly and duplicative because NIH will create a new government program to supplant existing and highly successful private effor
# It will divert federal dollars away from biomedical research at a time of limited domestic discretionary spending;
# It will harm the scientific societies that peer review and publish a significant portion of the articles based on NIH funded research;
# It will limit the ability of scientific societies to partner with NIH to nurture the next generation of scientists and future NIH grantees; and
# It will create confusion and put authors at risk of inadvertently violating copyright agreements.
"This is a missed opportunity that represents a waste of government resources," said Martin Frank, PhD, Executive Director, American Physiological Society and coordinator of the DC Principles Coalition. "It is noteworthy that NIH has admitted that it has done no economic analysis of the rule's impact."
"Scientific societies have had a long, successful, and valued public-private partnership with NIH on publications and other activities to advance science and health," said M. Michele Hogan, PhD, Executive Director, American Association of Immunologists. "Our journals provide high quality peer-review, editing, and publication services for NIH-funded research."
"These societies and the journals they publish have acted as responsible stewards of the scientific and biomedical literature for more than 100 years," Hogan said. "What we propose would expand this partnership in a way that benefits the public, advances scientific research, and preserves this important relationship."
"We believe the NIH rule will not achieve the goal of better access to science and will place an unreasonable burden on researchers by requiring them to pursue a duplicative submission process," said Kathleen Case, publisher for the American Association for Cancer Research.