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Specter Speaks Up On Public Access

Senator weighs in on how NIH set its mandatory open-access policy

by Susan R. Morrissey
February 25, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 8

Credit: Courtesy of Arlen Specter's Office
Credit: Courtesy of Arlen Specter's Office

JUST OVER A MONTH after NIH announced its mandatory public access policy for research that it funds, some in Congress are questioning whether the agency did enough to gather input from journal publishers. The policy change, which came as a result of congressional language attached to this year's omnibus appropriations legislation, was issued on Jan. 11 (C&EN, Jan. 21, page 10).

In a letter to NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees NIH's funding, questions whether the agency has acted in the spirit of the congressional directive with regard to talking to journal publishers. The policy states that peer-reviewed articles based on research funded by NIH must be submitted to the agency's public access repository, PubMed Central, within 12 months of publication.

"I am concerned that the NIH is not taking the appropriate steps to seek out and take into account the advice of journal editors," Specter writes. The mandatory public access policy notice put out by NIH in January, he explains, "did not outline a process for seeking the advice and comment of journal publishers, scientists, or any other interested parties."

Specter adds that the notice also did not provide details on "how the policy would be implemented in a manner consistent with copyright law." This has been an issue of concern to journal publishers, which include the American Chemical Society, the publisher of C&EN.

"Since the notion of a mandatory public access policy was raised last year in Congress, ACS has been seeking to have the policy implemented in a fair and balanced manner that is consistent with copyright law," says Glenn S. Ruskin, director of the ACS Office of Legislative & Government Affairs. "We welcome Sen. Specter's letter to NIH and hope the agency will seek input from publishers and the public on the mandatory policy, and we think the best way to do this is through a federal rule-making process."

In response to Specter's concerns, Norka Ruiz Bravo, deputy director of extramural research at NIH, tells C&EN that NIH will be responding directly to Specter, but she would not elaborate on any details. She did point out that NIH has been talking with publishers throughout the development of the public access policy and that the agency plans on "continuing to take input as it rolls through with the implementation."



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