President's Column

Public access to scientific publications is one of the hottest— and most contentious—issues being debated among researchers, college and university librarians and administrators, and publishers of scientific and professional journals in the United States and Europe. The current focal point of the public access controversy in the United States is a policy instituted two years ago by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that requests and strongly encourages all investigators to make their NIH-funded peer-reviewed, authors final manuscript available to other researchers and the public through the NIH National Library of Medicines (NLM) PubMed Central immediately after the final date of journal publication. The timeline was subsequently amended to posting within 12 months of publication.

Though the concept of open access is exceedingly attractive-science freely disseminated around the globe, repositories paid for by the U.S. government or other entities-a number of important questions need to be asked. For example, what happens to the scholarly and scientific publishing enterprise if the economics of such publishing are radically changed? If federal dollars are used to build archives to replace those sponsored by publishers, will there be fewer federal dollars for research? If scholarly and scientific associations and societies cease publishing, would research archived in federal repositories need to conform to government policies? and where would reports of research not federally funded be published and/or archived?

APA's policy

Currently, APAs policy on Internet posting permits authors who have submitted (or plan to submit) an article for review by an APA journal to post on their Web site the unpublished manuscript with notification of its unpublished status and the date of posting. When posting an article that has been published by APA, the author must indicate APA copyright, include a link to the APA journal home page, and state that: This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.

APA has also taken a number of steps to help meet the intellectual and humanitarian goals of public access. The associations publishing program provides Internet access for the public to search its electronic database and to read and print abstracts of APA journal articles at no charge. For a modest fee, full-text articles can be obtained through PsycARTICLES Direct. Moreover, in partnership with other publishers and the World Health Organization, APA provides public access to scientific publications for free or at very low cost in developing countries.

In light of APAs ongoing efforts in support of public access, why would a mandatory public access policy be problematic? Actually, its highly unlikely that most people would want to wait for up to 12 months before being able to read articles deposited in a federal repository. Over time, however, if many of the articles you want to access are included in a federal repository, you might decide to purchase single articles for your own collection, but rely on the federal repository for storing articles that are less relevant for your work. Thus, the real concern for any journal publisher in any field that receives federal funding is the decline in value of the full collection (a.k.a., shelf-life).

Besides its archival function, APA and other publishers support other necessary elements in the scientific publishing enterprise: editor selection, peer review, copy-editing, design production, and distribution. The full range of publishing expenses is substantial. Nevertheless, from an open access perspective, publishers would be expected to pay the costs, but forego copyright protectionhardly an economically viable arrangement for any publisher. Although the profits from APA publications help support other association activities, many of which benefit the public at large, it should be noted that there is some concern among those who serve as authors, editors, and reviewers about the practice of providing little or no monetary compensation for their work.

Caution is needed

In many ways, the open access movement reflects the tenor of our times. Information technology has created all sorts of possibilities barely imagined a decade ago. With increasing ease, individuals can maintain their own archives and organizations can publish their own journals or conference proceedings without peer review or editing. Distributed networks are rapidly replacing centralized operations.

But lets keep in mind that the United States has built the most successful scientific enterprise in the history of the world, and scientific publishing has been central to that achievement. Before dismantling the current system, we need to think very carefully about how best to build a new structure that will nurture sciences future growth and productivity.