Lawmakers Drop Proposal to Block NIH Public Access Policy

28 February 2012 2:15 pm

In a victory for open access advocates, two U.S. lawmakers yesterday dropped a bill that would have banned the National Institutes of Health from requiring that its researchers submit their peer-reviewed manuscripts to a public archive. The news came shortly after scientific publishing giant Elsevier withdrew its support for the bill, following a threatened boycott of Elsevier journals by thousands of researchers.

The Research Works Act, introduced by representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would prevent any U.S. agency from mandating that researchers it funds post their peer-reviewed or edited papers on the Internet. (NIH's public access policy does so after delay of up to a year.) The measure was backed by the Association of American Publishers, but many nonprofit and some commercial publishers came out against it, including Nature and AAAS, the publisher of ScienceInsider. And around 7500 mathematicians and other researchers concerned about Elsevier's support for the bill and "exorbitantly high" journal prices signed an online petition pledging not to publish in, edit, or review for the Amsterdam-based company's journals.

Yesterday, Elsevier announced that after hearing concerns from "authors, editors and reviewers," it no longer backs the bill. "While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area, Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Work Act itself. We hope this will address some of the concerns expressed and help create a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoing discussions with research funders," the company said. In a separate statement, Elsevier said it plans to lower its prices for single mathematics articles and allow free access to many math articles published at least 4 years ago.

Hours later, Issa and Maloney released a statement saying that after hearing from both sides, "We have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate." The lawmakers "will not be taking legislative action on HR 3699, the Research Works Act," the statement says. See today'sNew York Times science's section for a review of the long-running battle about open access.

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