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Sunday, September 14, 2008

If the Conyers bill passes

Stevan Harnad, Plan B for NIH Public Access Mandate: A Deposit Mandate, Open Access Archivangelism, September 13, 2008.  Excerpt:

Let us hope that the Conyers Bill, resulting from the publisher lobby's attempt to overturn the NIH Public Access Mandate, will not succeed.

But in case it does, I would like to recommend making a small but far-reaching modification in the NIH mandate and its implementation that will effectively immunize it against any further publisher attempts to overturn it on legal grounds. And this Plan B will actually help hasten universal OA more effectively than the current NIH mandate:

(1) NIH should mandate deposit of the refereed final draft of all NIH-funded research, immediately upon acceptance for publication.

(2) But access to that deposited draft need only be made Open Access when there is no publisher embargo on making it Open Access; otherwise it may be made Closed Access....

(4) Closed Access means that the full text of the deposited draft is visible and accessible only to the depositor and the depositor's employer and funder, for internal record-keeping and grant-fulfillment purposes. (Publishers have no say whatsoever in institutional and funder internal record-keeping.)

(5) For all deposits, however, both Open Access and Closed Access, the deposited article's metadata (author, title, journal, date. etc.) are Open Access, hence visible and accessible to anyone, webwide.

(6) Now the essence of this strategy:  NIH should also implement the "Email Eprint Request" Button, so that any would-be user, webwide, who reaches a link to a Closed Access article, can insert their email address in a box, indicate that a single copy of the postprint is being requested for research or health purposes, and click....

(8) This [email access] is not Open Access (OA). But functionally, it is almost-OA....

(9) Many journals (63%) already endorse immediate OA.

(10) Closed Access plus the Button will further provide almost-OA for the remaining 37%....

(12) In addition, an NIH Deposit Mandate will encourage universities in the US and worldwide to adopt Deposit Mandates too, for all of their research article output, not just NIH-funded biomedical research output....

The fact is (and everyone will see this clearly in hindsight) that, all along, the online medium itself has made OA a foregone conclusion for research publications. There is no way to stop it legally....


  • I agree that this would be a good fallback in the (unlikely) event that the Conyers bill passes.  But I can't agree that it would "hasten universal OA more effectively than the current NIH mandate" or that "there is no way to stop it legally".  The NIH mandate provides (or will soon provide) OA to 100% of NIH-funded research, not OA to 63% and almost-OA to 37%, and if Congress wanted to, it could block closed-access deposits too. 
  • However, I would like to see the NIH add the email request button even if the Conyers bill goes down in flames.  Then the policy would provide embargoed OA to 100% of NIH-funded research, and almost-OA during the embargo period.

Update (9/15/08).  Also see Stevan's reply:

...There are three issues here, not one!

(1) Replacing the current NIH mandate with a DM [deposit mandate] if the current mandate is defeated.

(2) Adding DM to the current NIH mandate even if it is not defeated.

(3) And the question of what would have been the effect of adopting DM in the first place....

Update (9/15/08).  Klaus Graf argues that the email request button would be illegal under German law.  Read his post in German or Google's English.

Update (9/17/08).  Also see Stevan's elaboration:

Fred Friend (JISC) wrote:

"Under your Plan B, what would stop publishers increasing the Closed Access embargo period to two years?"

The question is a good one, a natural one, and a pertinent one:

(1) "Plan B" is a contingency plan, in case the Conyers Bill should defeat the current NIH OA Policy (i.e., "Plan A").
(2) If the Conyers Bill were to pass, not only Plan A but all protection from publisher embargoes would be dead in the water.
(3) Plan B is hence designed to free the NIH Mandate from any dependence at all on publishers to decide when research (postprints) may be deposited....
(6) Universal Deposit mandates, plus the resulting enormous growth in usage and impact via OA and Almost-OA, will make it harder and harder for publishers to justify embargoes, while at the same time making embargoes virtually ineffectual:
(7) Hence embargoes will die their natural and well-deserved deaths once universal Deposit (Plan B) is mandated, by all research institutions and funders, worldwide, paving the way for full, immediate OA....
(9) Even with the Button, Delayed-Post-Embargo Mandates cannot provide immediate almost-OA. (NIH requires immediate "submission" but it is deposited -- in PubMed Central -- only after the embargo.)
(10) Hence it is in fact Plan A that locks in publisher embargoes, not Plan B!