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Volume 85 Issue 31 | p. 14 | News of The Week
Issue Date: July 30, 2007

House Bill Mandates Public Access To Research Results

Legislation would require free online access to NIH-funded research papers within 12 months
Department: Government & Policy, Education

The House has passed legislation directing NIH to provide free online access to all agency-funded research articles within 12 months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Included as part of the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services (HHS) & Education appropriations bill (H.R. 3043) for fiscal 2008, the provision was passed 276 to 140 with broad bi-partisan support.

Current NIH policy asks that researchers voluntarily submit their published articles to the agency's PubMed Central repository within 12 months of publication. NIH reports, however, that the response to this program has been low, with only about 5% of eligible articles being submitted over the past two years. Supporters of public access say making submission to PubMed Central mandatory will ensure that research results are more readily accessed so the work can be built upon and will maximize the return on public research investment.

This view was recently pressed on Congress by a July 8 letter from 26 Nobel Laureates calling for mandatory public access to NIH-funded research results. The letter implies that traditional research journals are a barrier to the spread of scientific knowledge and that making NIH-funded results available on the Internet would transform the speed at which these results could be shared.

Many scientific publishers worry that this process would have more costs than benefits. The Professional & Scholarly Publishing (PSP) Division of the Association of American Publishers has written to members of Congress asking that they reconsider making PubMed submissions mandatory. "This language could serve to undermine the existing system of peer review and scholarly publication which disseminates high-quality research findings throughout the scientific community," the letter states. The publishing group is also concerned about the impacts mandatory submissions would have on copyright law.

Brian D. Crawford, chair of the PSP committee and senior vice president of the Journals Publishing Group at the American Chemical Society (which publishes C&EN), says the House language violates fundamental copyright principles. The bill ???would essentially force authors and publishers to, in essence, forfeit their copyrights??? without compensation for their investments and would have many negative impacts on private-sector publishers, he says.

Despite bipartisan support for the provision, it still has some hurdles to cross. The Senate has not yet passed the Labor HHS bill, although the Senate Appropriations Committee approved similar public-access language in its version. It will be considered by the full Senate later this summer. Also, both chambers have greatly increased funding in this appropriations bill, and because of its cost, the bill faces a veto threat from President George W. Bush.

 
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