Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reactions to the NIH policy

Dorothea Salo, Reactions to the NIH policy, Caveat Lector, April 7, 2008.

... Without undue tooting of my own horn, let me say that my concerns about recalcitrant publishers have proven to occupy a lot of faculty brainspace. I don’t live in the medical-research realm, so I don’t know how much of this worry is futile handwringing and how much identifies a genuine problem. I only know that deans are worried particularly about protecting their junior faculty, who already find publishing an uphill climb. The sooner we all address this, the easier we will all find the compliance process.

I have heard a lot of worry over the versioning problem, from faculty spanning quite a few disciplines (with the understanding that “NIH grantee” implies a fairly narrow range to begin with). “What happens when copyediting catches real errors, or changes the thrust of an argument?” runs the basic version of this question. “The version in PMC will simply be wrong.”

This is not a silly or uninformed objection. ...

At present, the only workaround for this (as I understand matters) is working with a publisher cooperative enough to replace PMC’s manuscript version with the published version. These publishers exist, but they are not exactly numerous. For PR purposes if for no other reason (and “accuracy” is a plenty good enough reason all by itself), I think it would be wise for PMC to work out a way for PIs and other authors to fix errors in their manuscripts. I have heard the versioning problem called “a flaw in the policy” and “suicidal” by people in very high places.

Another difficulty has to do with the principal investigator’s responsibility under the policy, given that the PI is likely not an author (much less the first or corresponding author) on every single article coming from a given NIH grant. This is a tough one to resolve, given that the buck has to stop somewhere, but I would suggest at the least that first/corresponding authors as well as PIs be able to approve manuscripts and offer corrections.

Reading the NIH’s comment stream, I see that the too-much-work backlash has begun. In my cynical way, I tend to ignore this particular objection (trusting in Swan’s research on mandates to back me), but if we open-access advocates want to be smart about this, we will sort out how to help libraries offer third-party PMC submission services. ... PMC could help us all by providing a deposit API (preferably based on SWORD) that those of us with institutional repositories could program against. Not only will that allow people like me to get in on the repositing action, it will help institutions monitor compliance and provide useful services (such as local PMCID/NIHMSID databases) to faculty. As mandates become more numerous, local services become even more important, as they allow faculty to become accustomed to one deposit interface, not a dozen. Please, PMC, set the example here! ...