Moves to extend NIH open access mandate

We all love to be different – it seems to be a feature of much human activity that we cherish little foibles that set us apart. This is certainly true in the scholarly communications arena, though more recently journals have tried to harmonise some of their rules and requirements. Research funders too have a history of individuality, again with moves towards harmonisation.

Open Access is rife with disharmony though. Every funder and every publisher has their own take on what are appropriate rules. This makes life interesting but confusing, and sometimes plain difficult.

I was pleased to see therefore that one source of inconsistency stands a chance of being removed.

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an open access mandate, requiring all NIH-funded research to be deposited into PubMedCentral. They allow a maximum embargo period of 12 months. In other words, the articles can remain invisible in PubMedCentral until 12 months after initial publication.

MRC and Wellcome Trust have a similar policy, but they allow a maximum embargo period of 6 months. (I was told once that when the NIH and Wellcome policies were in discussion back in 2004/5, both were considering a 6-month embargo. NIH subsequently changed to 12 months, but Wellcome went ahead with 6 months, and MRC followed Wellcome’s lead).

This embargo difference has caused some problems. Publishers have swallowed hard and accepted a 12-month embargo period. For example, Elsevier allows NIH-funded papers (author manuscripts) to be deposited into PubMedCentral with a 12-month embargo. But many publishers will not accept a 6-month embargo period. Elsevier does not allow deposition of author manuscripts with a 6-month embargo, so Wellcome and MRC-funded authors must choose the paid open access option.

This difference makes it harder to negotiate with publishers, and also makes compliance harder. If you have MRC or Wellcome funding and you collaborate with an NIH-funded researcher, they will not see the need to go for the paid-OA option and so you end up having to pay the cost from your own budget. This can cause some feelings of resentment which does not help the cause of open access.

The difference in policies may be about to change, if a new Bill in the USA gets through.

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

It has bi-partisan support in the House and in the Senate, but I have no idea how likely it is to be successful.

Richard Noorden has written about the new Bill in Nature News and SPARC have put up an FAQ about the Bill.

About Frank Norman

I am a librarian in a biomedical research institute. I've been around a few years, long enough to know that exciting new things fall into the same familiar patterns. I'm interested in navigating a path for libraries as we move further from print to electronic resources to open research, and become more embedded in research workflows.
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