Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, October 26, 2006

HHMI is considering an OA mandate

Heidi Ledford, Funding agencies toughen stance on open access, Nature, October 26, 2006 (accessible only to subscribers). Excerpt:

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a non-profit research organization that funds more than 300 US researchers, is considering a plan to pressure its investigators into making their published papers freely accessible.

The plan, if approved, would dictate that publications must be deposited in a public database within six months of publication in order to count towards an investigator’s application for reappointment. HHMI investigators apply for reappointment every five or seven years....

After years of requesting voluntary compliance, several funding agencies are considering tougher stances. In 2005, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked grantees to voluntarily deposit articles in a public database such as PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. A year after the request, only 4% of NIH grantees had done so, prompting Congress to propose legislation mandating compliance.

Meanwhile, on 1 October, Britain’s Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust medical charity began requiring grantees to deposit final, peer-reviewed manuscripts in public databases as soon as possible, but no later than within six months of publication....

HHMI president Thomas Cech says a decision on the proposed policy will probably be made in early 2007. Although HHMI officials say they will not legislate where their investigators publish, several researchers say the threat of weakening their reappointment application represents significant pressure.

Cech says the proposed policy is simply an extension of HHMI guidelines about sharing published reagents and other research material....

The HHMI [Wellcome Trust?] is still negotiating with publishers, but [Mark] Walport [of the Wellcome Trust] says most major journals, including Science and Nature, have complied with the Wellcome Trust’s guidelines.

Many publishers let authors pay to make their articles available immediately. For example, Wellcome Trust grantees can make their papers in most Elsevier journals publicly accessible for $3,000 per article. Both the HHMI and the Wellcome Trust already provide funds for publication in open-access journals. “We see payment to the publisher as part of the cost of research,” says Walport. “And we’re prepared to pay appropriately.”

Comment.  The HHMI was the funding agency most responsible for convening the group that eventually issued the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing (June 2003).  At the time, HHMI was willing to pay processing fees at fee-based OA journals, but wasn't willing to go further to mandate OA archiving.  I commend it for proposing to take this much-needed extra step.

The HHMI hasn't yet adopted a policy.  But if we count its mandate proposal in the mandate column, and do the same for the mandate proposal at Canada's CIHR, and if we count the new semi-mandate in Austria as a mandate, then the HHMI proposal is the eighth OA mandate this month.  There are the four new mandates from the RCUK, the expansion of the existing mandate at the Wellcome Trust, the Austrian policy, the CIHR draft, and now the HHMI.  We've never had a month like this.