The public-access policy of the National Institutes of Health marked its first anniversary last week, and all involved in the debate agree that it has failed to create free online access to the biomedical literature. The NIH policy requests, but does not require, that the institutes' grantees upload manuscripts that are based on research it has financed to an online repository no later than 12 months after publication. But in the past year, very few scientists did so; the NIH estimates that fewer than 4 percent of eligible manuscripts were uploaded.
Open-access proponents are rejoicing because that failure has created new momentum to strengthen the policy.
That momentum further worries the policy's early detractors -- mostly publishing groups that fear a loss of revenue if the contents of their journals are free online. They are lobbying to keep things just as they are.
In November the majority of an NIH working group suggested that the policy be made mandatory. A slim majority also called for a six-month deadline. In February, the Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine, which is part of the NIH and runs the repository, recommended the same changes to Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the NIH. NIH is now considering changes.
Observers expect the NIH policy to become mandatory, but the publishers hope to keep the maximum delay at 12 months. Such a plan, said Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society, "gets the system to work without jeopardizing a very important component of the dissemination of scientific information: the journals."
He says that some publishers have already lost subscriptions after experimenting with a six-month model. Oxford University Press, for example, examined the number of subscribers between 2002 and 2003 for 28 journals. Two journals that put their contents online free after six months lost 6.1 percent of their subscribers; those that did so after a year or longer lost fewer subscribers. Gary Ward, an associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont and treasurer of the American Society for Cell Biology, which publishes the journal Molcular Biology of the Cell , says that figure does not mean much. "If you look at industry averages" of circulation decline, he said, the 6-percent decrease "is well within what's been happening to other journals."
Some publishers are also unhappy with how the NIH handles the manuscripts that scientists post to its site. The institutes' policy allows each publisher to set its own copyright rules and delays after publication, but scientists who received NIH funding apparently are having a hard time keeping track of the various conditions publishers impose for posting articles from their journals to the institutes' online repository. "Most authors are utterly confused about how to comply with the policy," said Peter Banks, publisher at the American Diabetes Association.
Read more at Chronicle of Higher Education 5/11/06 (subscription may be required)
Posted by P. Kaufman at May 11, 2006 7:17 AM