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Friday, March 09, 2007

More on the HHMI-Elsevier agreement

Richard Monastersky, Hughes Institute's Deal With Elsevier Will Open Up Access to Its Researchers' Work, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 9, 2007 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

In the ever-shifting terrain of scientific publishing, two big players have jostled the field by reaching an agreement that would trade cash payments for making peer-reviewed manuscripts freely available six months after their publication.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nation's largest private supporter of biomedical research, announced on Thursday that it would pay the publishing giant Elsevier to open up access to papers that scientists affiliated with the institute have published in any of the 2,000 journals in the Elsevier family, including the prestigious Cell Press line of journals.

According to the agreement, Elsevier would deposit the articles in PubMed Central, an online archive maintained by the National Institutes of Health, six months after they were published. The publisher would deposit versions of the manuscripts that had gone through peer review but had not yet undergone editing and formatting.

The agreement would satisfy the conditions of the Hughes institute's proposed policy on public access, which the institute is considering but has not yet adopted. "Our scientists would be free to publish in these journals, which they would not have been otherwise," says Avice A. Meehan, the vice president for communications at Hughes.

"It's a win-win situation," said Emilie Marcus, executive editor of Cell Press.

Thomas R. Cech, the president of Hughes and a Nobel-prize winning professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that during discussions of the Hughes institute's proposed policy, investigators were particularly concerned that they would be unable to publish articles in Cell Press journals. The new agreement would pay Elsevier $1,000 for each article published in a Cell Press journal and $1,500 for each article in other Elsevier journals.

Those payments are within the range that a number of journals are charging to open up access to articles, said Mr. Cech. "There seems to be an emerging consensus that this is a viable business proposition and to some extent a fair price, to the extent that one can really know what a fair price is." ...

Peter Suber, the open-access project director at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group that advocates the free flow of information, said the new agreement "is wrong and it's unnecessary."

Elsevier already allows authors to put up manuscripts on their own institutional repositories immediately upon publication. Because people can freely access those articles through search engines, there is not that much added benefit of paying to deposit the articles in PubMed Central six months after publication, he said. The Hughes institute "had more bargaining power in this situation than it appears to have recognized," he said.

But Mr. Cech said the agreement was worthwhile because it would make the papers freely available in the PubMed Central archive, "one of the most popular and robust and most central to the biomedical-science enterprise." ...

Mr. Cech acknowledged that the terms of the agreement may need revision in the not-too-distant future, given the pace of evolution in the publishing world....