Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Heather Joseph on the OA mandate at the NIH

The January 8 issue of Library Journal Academic Newswire has two stories on the OA mandate at the NIH:

The first is a brief recap of the AAP/PSP and STM objections to the NIH mandate, which I've already blogged and responded to here and here.

Excerpt from the second:

LJ: Publishers this week reiterated their criticism of the NIH policy. Now that the NIH mandate is law, what do you expect will be its immediate effect?

HJ: I think the policy will have two sets of effects, one immediate, and one long-term. In terms of the immediate future, librarians are going to be extremely busy educating their administrators, faculty members, researchers, and students as to how to comply with the policy, and also on what it means to each constituency. Successful implementation of this policy must be a high priority for the coming year.

And over the long term?

Over the longer term, this policy really plays a crucial role. As the policy is implemented, and as more and more researchers deposit material, PubMed Central will become an increasingly valuable—and singular—resource to the research community. As its utility grows, lingering reservations researchers may hold will dissipate and I think we'll see an even greater call for enhanced access to research results. I also think this policy will go a long way in demonstrating that public access will not cause irreparable harm to the journal publishing industry. The sky will not fall.

How do you respond to AAP's criticism that Congress failed to hold proper hearings on the issues involved?

The NIH Public Access Policy has been actively considered by Congress since 2004 and was enacted through all the normal and proper channels. What the AAP [Association of American Publishers] doesn't mention is that the NIH itself conducted an extensive process of soliciting public opinion and comments before enacting the policy. Besides holding public meetings with stakeholder groups, including the publishing community, the NIH published the proposed policy in the Federal Register in 2004, and requested public comment. It received—and made public via its website—more than 6000 comments on the policy. The formulation of this policy has been transparent, straightforward, and has provided plenty of opportunities for all stakeholders to express their concerns, both to the NIH and to Congress.

Publishers also seem to be positioning this as a copyright issue. Are you concerned a copyright challenge could involve the courts or otherwise delay implementation?

The NIH Public Access Policy does not conflict with copyright, and no amount of repeating this "concern" will make it so. It would be a shame if more time and money had to be wasted on groundless challenges instead of focusing on getting the implementation right and working towards the good of the community....

The publishing industry raised a slew of other concerns: the collapse of peer review, potential for government censorship, scientific fraud. How did you counter them?

That was tough on many levels. It's one thing to work through reasoned responses to objections being raised out of genuine concern. For example, will libraries cancel subscriptions? It's another thing altogether to see objections that are clearly rhetorical devices designed to confuse the debate. Our approach was to always focus on the benefits of public access and the opportunities for all stakeholders, and to do this in a data-driven way. We worked hard to be consistent at presenting data, evidence and facts wherever possible, and also being honest in saying where we simply didn't have data to counter a claim. That approach was helpful in separating legitimate concerns from rhetorical devices....

Those opposing the policy question the wisdom of creating a requirement to deposit articles into a central government database. Any thoughts on that?

In terms of the wisdom of establishing a central repository, the NIH was clear that one of its ultimate goals for the policy is to ensure that its research results are readily available not only to this generation of researchers, but to future generations as well. I think that establishing a permanent, central archive of this material is critical to making sure that this happens. We may see distributed solutions evolve over time, and that's fine, but this is a necessary starting point....

On another hand, some open access advocates say that the yearlong embargo is too long and could essentially set a de facto embargo period for publishers. How do you respond to those arguments?

I completely understand the concerns of those who think a year is too long an embargo period, but from a pragmatic standpoint, this was a necessary compromise. This policy represents a sea change in the parameters of the scholarly communications marketplace. We've gone, in one fell swoop, from information being locked up behind perpetual, exclusive distribution licenses to an embargo period limited to no longer than one year. That's an enormous step forward. Also, the policy allows the researcher to determine the embargo period. It is not a static 12-month requirement. This puts more power in the research community's hands to determine what they feel is best in terms of timing.

What were the keys to your eventual success?

Delving this deeply into the policy arena was very new to SPARC, and there were two things that I'd highlight as being keys to our success. The first was building a strong coalition that collaborated extremely closely on this issue. There is truth to the old adage that there is strength in numbers. Very early on, SPARC created an Open Access Working Group, which brought together seven major library organizations. That was critical in creating and maintaining a strong, united stance on this issue across the entire library community. We took this concept further to build a larger coalition, the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA), which encompassed a wider variety of groups with a shared interest in unlocking the potential of publicly funded research, patient advocates, consumer groups, public interest groups, students, etc.

A second key element was working with our coalition members to develop a clear, concise message—why public access to research matters to you—and delivering that message persistently and consistently. A lot of legwork went into this campaign for all of us.