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NIH reveals open-access policy

February 4, 2005 By Erika Check This article courtesy of Nature News.

Researchers urged to publish work online for free within one year.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has unveiled its long-awaited plan for open access to research findings. Elias Zerhouni, the NIH's director, claimed at a public briefing on 3 February that the plan could "change the landscape" of biomedical publishing.

The policy requests that authors whose research was funded by the NIH submit copies of their papers to the agency's National Library of Medicine after they are accepted for publication. The papers will then be placed in an online archive. Authors can decide when the papers are made available to the public, but the NIH would like this to happen as soon as possible, and in any case within 12 months of publication.

This is a significant and positive step.
Harold Varmus
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York
Scientists who have been pushing for more open access to research findings have praised the policy, which comes into effect on 2 May. "This is a significant and positive step and I'm glad we have the policy written down," says Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

But both sides of the open-access debate also have voiced criticisms. Advocates of full open access to scientific literature are unhappy that the policy relies on voluntary participation from authors, and that it does not require public access within six months of publication - a deadline that Zerhouni had proposed in a draft version.

"This is a retreat from the earlier version of the policy, and the retreat is unjustified and regrettable," says Peter Suber, director of the Open Access Project at Public Knowledge, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington DC.

Suber and other critics also say that it would put researchers in the difficult position of having to negotiate between the NIH, which wants researchers to make their work available as soon as possible, and journals, which may want researchers to wait.

Publishers and societies that draw income from publishing have also criticized some aspects of the policy. They object to the NIH's plan to archive papers on its own site, instead of simply directing the public to journal websites, branding it a waste of public money. NIH officials estimate that the archive will cost between $2 million and $4 million a year to run.

"The NIH is proposing to create a new publishing enterprise, and they're going to have to spend a lot of money to do that," says Marc Brodsky, chief executive of the American Institute of Physics.

The new policy is the same as one that the NIH had been expected to announce on 11 January. That announcement was delayed, Zerhouni said, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House.

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