Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Defending the NIH policy against misunderstanding

Michael Rogawski and Peter Suber, Support for the NIH Public Access Policy, Science Magazine, September 15, 2006.  A letter to the editor.  Since the Science version is only accessible to subscribers, I've posted an OA copy here (and a correction here).  Excerpt:

In their letter "Public Access Failure at PubMed" (7 July, p. 43), M. Stebbins et al. express a skeptical view of the NIH public access policy, basing their critique on several misconceptions that deserve comment.

1) Is the policy too costly? The current NIH appropriation is $27.9 billion. The $3 million anticipated yearly cost of the public access policy represents 0.011% of the appropriation. In fact, the expenditure on public access is dwarfed by the $30 million annually that NIH reports it provides its funded investigators for page charges and other costs of publishing in subscription journals.

2) Stebbins et al. claim that there is a lack of a demonstrated desire by the general public for access to primary research papers. Usage statistics for PubMed Central (PMC)the NIH database that provides full-text research articles to the public for free and serves as the repository for articles submitted under the public access policy suggest otherwise. There were more than 5 million users of PMC in April. That level of use suggests that not only are working scientists taking advantage of the resource, students and the lay public are as well. There is surely usage from junior colleges, research institutes, small companies, and many other organizations that do not have large budgets for biomedical research journal subscriptions.

3) The public access policy is criticized because there is no dedicated system to guarantee that corrections can be made after publication. Substantive author corrections or retractions are often made by the subsequent publication of errata or retraction notices. The National Library of Medicine has an established system that ensures that any published errata or retractions are noted in the PubMed citation and PMC full-text articles include a link....

6) Stebbins et al. claim that the proposed Federal Research Public Access Act (S.2695) requiring federal agencies to implement a public access policy has drawn criticism because it unfairly places scientists between funding agencies and publishers. Actually, organizations that have a financial stake in publishing are the main source of opposition to the policy and to S.2695. Scientists submit articles without compensation, they carry out peer review usually without compensation, and they often serve as editors for little or no compensation. Publishers make huge profits from this business model based on free labor. Because of the unsupported concern that the public access policy would adversely affect their business interests, they use their political and economic clout to lobby for restricted access, which is detrimental to the professional interests of the scientists that they claim to be serving....