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NIH Announces Open Access Policy

NIH announced its long anticipated policy designed to provide public access to the scientific data its grantees and intramural scientists produce.

By Merry Bullock, PhD

On February 3rd, NIH announced its long anticipated policy designed to provide public access to the scientific data its grantees and intramural scientists produce. In a "stakeholders' teleconference, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni and his staff read the policy and responded to questions. The policy as announced calls for scientists whose work is funded by NIH in part or in full to submit their manuscripts to NIH's PubMed Central for public release "as soon as possible" within 12 months after final publication. Zerhouni and his Deputy Director Norka Ruiz Bravo framed this policy as promoting the agency's goals of increased visibility for NIH research and as addressing the public's demands for open access and a public archive. However, they also made it clear that complying with the policy directives is voluntary and discretionary, and that the timing of submissions is up to the author. They urged that publishers work closely with authors in implementing the policy, but did not involve them directly.

The initial reactions to this policy initiative have been varied. In the question and answer period following the announcement, as well as in news articles, interviews, and opinion pieces following the announcement, representatives from professional science associations, patient advocate groups, scientists, publishers and the public have discussed the policy. Responses range from congratulations on beginning to address the access issue to disappointment that access is neither compulsory or rapid; with questions about copyright, enforceability, implementation and feasibility.

The present policy is a much weaker version than that promulgated in draft versions. According to NIH, this policy, revised after receiving more than 6,200 comments on the draft versions (read APA's comments), attempts to provide flexibility and to promote maximum participation. The goal, according to NIH, is to build an archive of all NIH funded work in a single compendium that will be easily accessed and searched. Further information is available on the NIH Public Access Policy web site.