Starting in April, most U.S. biomedical scientists will have to send copies of their accepted, peer-reviewed manuscripts to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) for posting in a free archive. If they don't, they could have trouble renewing their grants or even lose research funding.
That's the gist of NIH's announcement today describing how it will carry out a new "public access" mandate. The directive, touted as a way to disseminate results of taxpayer-funded research, was part of an NIH spending law passed by Congress in December. It makes mandatory a policy in effect since May 2005 that requests that NIH-funded investigators submit accepted manuscripts to NIH, which posts the full text in its free PubMed Central archive no more than 12 months after the article is published in a journal. Most grantees have ignored the request: Of roughly 65,000 eligible articles per year, only about 12% are being submitted by authors, says David Lipman of NIH's National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.
NIH's brief notice on its grants Web site simply says that its existing public-access policy is now mandatory for all articles accepted on or after 7 April. Making sure that submissions comply with the journals' copyright policy is up to investigators and their institutions. The policy applies only to peer-reviewed research and reviews, not editorials or book chapters, NIH says.
To motivate scientists, NIH will require that investigators include the PubMed Central or NIH submission number for all applicable papers referenced in their grant applications and progress reports. Other possible ways of enforcing the policy include a call from an NIH program director and suspension of funds, says NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Norka Ruiz Bravo. "We hope we're not going to get there," she says.
The public-access policy has long been controversial. Some researchers and publishers worry about confusion resulting from having two versions of the article online: the PubMed Central author manuscript, which hasn't been copyedited, and the published paper. Many publishers also fret that making articles free will cut into subscription income needed to run journals and fund society activities. The Association of American Publishers has warned that a mandatory policy "undermines" publishers’ copyright and is "inconsistent with" U.S. laws (Science, 11 January, p. 145). The association also says that the rule limits academic freedom by preventing researchers from publishing in journals that don't comply.
But most major biomedical research journals (including Science) already allow authors to submit manuscripts to PubMed Central, so the mandatory policy won't mean a big change. However, says Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society, journals will have to step up their policing by asking NIH to remove articles that have been mistakenly posted because they are still under embargo or are too old to fall under the policy.