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NIH Weighs Open Access

Agency meets with scientists, public interest groups on draft policy

by Susan R. Morrissey
September 6, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 36


As NIH moves ahead with the formulation of its draft policy to make agency-funded research freely accessible to the public, it held the final two of three meetings designed to give its stakeholders an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.


The two meetings, convened last week by NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, involved intramural and extramural scientists and public interest groups. A group of publishers and editors participated in a similar meeting in late July (C&EN, Aug. 9, page 22). At each of the three meetings, the groups were invited to provide input about the agency's policy.

A July report by a House Appropriations Committee called on NIH to develop an open-access model whereby reports on NIH-supported research would be deposited in PubMed Central--the agency's free digital biomedical literature archive--within six months of publication (C&EN, July 26, page 12). However, according to Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), who added the open-access language to the report with the support of Zerhouni, this directive was not meant to mandate the shape the NIH policy might take, but to offer just one possibility.

To clarify this point, a draft statement from Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over this issue, reads: "The intent of the committee is that NIH bring the various stakeholders to the table and work out a policy on more open access to biomedical research information, without specifying exactly which model will be adopted."

For their part, the stakeholders gave Zerhouni a lot to think about. Some of the issues addressed include concern over whether a one-size-fits-all plan will work, the possible negative impact on young investigators, and the cost of setting up and maintaining an expanded PubMed.

In addition, several organizations representing publishers and professional societies--including the American Chemical Society--have joined in writing a letter to Zerhouni expressing their strong opposition to government-mandated open access.

"We are alarmed that NIH appears to be rushing to judgment on its policy ... without sufficient advance consultation with key stakeholders, and without full evaluation of the potential impact its decision could have on the very fabric of scientific communications," the letter says.

Zerhouni, who is dedicated to this issue, has also received support for open access from outside groups. For example, a group of 25 Nobel Laureates submitted a letter supporting the model proposed by Congress. The group maintains that this model will not mean the end to medical and scientific journals because it will apply only to NIH-funded research.

With input from the three major stakeholders--publishers, scientists, and patient advocates--NIH plans to release a draft open-access policy this month for public comment, according to agency documents. A revised policy report is expected to be presented to Congress in December.



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