Starting April 7th, all research articles funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) must be submitted to the NIH's public digital library of full-text articles, PubMedCentral (PMC), and made freely available no later than 12 months after publication. This week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, Founder of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and Chairman of the Board Harold Varmus applauds the new NIH policy as a landmark event.
With the new policy, the NIH joins the Wellcome Trust, the European Research Council, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and other funding agencies in requiring their investigators to deposit publications in PMC or equivalent public libraries, such as UKPMC, within six months to a year. With NIH-supported investigators publishing some 80,000 papers a year, many of them in journals that currently do not contribute their articles to PMC, the library will soon grow at about twice its already impressive rate--markedly increasing the number of articles freely available to read online.
"The new NIH policy is especially gratifying to those of us who founded the Public Library of Science eight years ago with the goal of promoting greater access to and better use of the scientific literature through libraries like PMC," Varmus writes. Yet much work remains, he argues. While the NIH policy drastically increases the ability for scientists to have their work read and cited, by both the public and other researchers, Varmus argues, "the public libraries and the laudable new policies from funding agencies still fall short of the full potential envisioned for the digital world of science."
Making articles available 6 to 12 months after their publication means the collection is primarily an archival tool, rather than a current resource. Furthermore, public access to research will not be comprehensive. The policy is not retroactive, and the large section of research not funded by the NIH remains largely closed-access. Even for NIH-funded research, unless authors negotiate copyright ownership with publishers, Varmus argues, "journals will continue to retain inappropriate control over the use of their articles."
Still, the NIH policy--along with the recent unanimous vote by the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences to require its members to post all their accepted articles on an openly accessible, university-maintained Web site--represents a significant shift in scientific publishing toward greater access to the literature.
"When costs of publication are recovered from publishing fees instead of from subscriptions, and when authors retain copyrights and grant licenses to publishers, both of which happen with open-access publishing," Varmus writes, "then articles can be placed immediately in open university repositories (or in public libraries) without threats to revenues or infringements of ownership. We at PLoS celebrate these principles, while also applauding the new policies at Harvard, the NIH, and elsewhere, as welcome signs of continued progress toward public access to research literature."
Citation: Varmus H (2008) Progress toward public access to science. PLoS Biol 6(4): e101. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060101