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ALERT: Public Access to Federally Funded Scientific Research

(Posted 11-12-04)


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

In A Nutshell: AGI's Member Society Council met on Monday, November 8th in Denver, CO in conjunction with the Geological Society of America's Annual Meeting. The sole topic of discussion at the meeting was public access to federally funded scientific research. At the conclusion of this dialogue, member society representatives asked for additional background and talking points so that members of their societies could comment on the open access model being proposed by NIH. This action alert contains background information, talking points, instructions on how to comment to the NIH and letter templates to share your thoughts with your Representatives, Senators and key committee Chairmen.

*******************

The House of Representatives has approved the FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill. Accompanying this bill was a report issued by the subcommittee. Traditionally, reports that accompany appropriations bills are non-binding because they are not part of the bill and do not become law; however, most agencies pay very close attention to their contents. This year's FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education report contained language about PubMed Central, an online storehouse of life science, specifically medical science, articles maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

First, the Committee praised PubMed Central saying:

The Committee commends NLM for its leadership in developing PubMed Central, an electronic online repository for life science articles. Because of the high level of expertise health information specialists have in the organization, collection, and dissemination of medical information, the Committee believes that health sciences librarians have a key role to play in the further development of PubMed Central. The Committee encourages NLM to work with the medical library community regarding issues related to copyright, fair use, peer-review and classification of information on PubMed Central.

The Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee extended their remarks about PubMed Central with the following:

The Committee is very concerned that there is insufficient public access to reports and data resulting from NIH-funded research. This situation, which has been exacerbated by the dramatic rise in scientific journal subscription prices, is contrary to the best interests of the U.S. taxpayers who paid for this research. The Committee is aware of a proposal to make the complete text of articles and supplemental materials generated by NIH-funded research available on PubMed Central (PMC), the digital library maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The Committee supports this proposal and recommends that NIH develop a policy, to apply from FY 2005 forward, requiring that a complete electronic copy of any manuscript reporting work supported by NIH grants or contracts be provided to PMC upon acceptance of the manuscript for publication in any scientific journal listed in the NLM's PubMed directory. Under this proposal, NLM would commence making these reports, together with supplemental materials, freely and continuously available six months after publication, or immediately in cases in which some or all of the publication costs are paid with NIH grant funds. For this purpose, `publication costs' would include fees charged by a publisher, such as color and page charges, or fees for digital distribution. NIH is instructed to submit a report to the Committee by December 1, 2004 about how it intends to implement this policy, including how it will ensure the reservation of rights by the NIH grantee, if required, to permit placement of the article in PMC and to allow appropriate public uses of this literature.

The Senate's version of the bill and the accompanying report, which were approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on September 15th, contained no such language. Once the Senate approves their version of the funding bill, the House and Senate versions will go to a conference committee. There, the differences between the two bills will be ironed out so the House and Senate can pass, and the President can sign, one bill into law.

Typically, the language in the House report and the Senate report are free standing. Conference Committees sometimes issue their own report but it usually only addresses funding issues hashed out during the conference. The open access issue is not a funding issue at this time; it is a policy issue that may, or may not, rise to the attention of the conferees.

In the meantime, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a notice of intent and request for comments in the Federal Register on September 17th. It is available online by going to http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-04-064.html. The notice announces NIH's plans to enhance public access to NIH health-related research information. NIH proposes to have all grantees and supported Principal Investigators provide the NIH with electronic copies of final manuscripts that have been peer-reviewed, modified and readied for publication. According to the notice in the Federal Register, NIH will archive these manuscripts in PubMed Central and each will be made freely available to the public six months after publication. If the publisher agrees, the manuscript may be made freely available sooner.

"Open Access" as being established by an "NIH model"

Congress is endorsing and the NIH is moving forward with a very specific model for implementation of open access; however, questions still linger.

  • The public already has access to journals and peer-reviewed literature through public libraries and document delivery. These services are available for a nominal fee within several days. This model mandates more than that - it demands free home, electronic access for federally funded scientific research. Some journals already have that capability but others do not and moving into electronic dissemination of manuscripts would be a substantial financial expense. Journals not available online are likely to lose their subscribers because the information would be freely available online within six months of publication. Once these journals lose their subscription base, the funding mechanisms for continued publishing, peer review, and editing will be negatively impacted, putting the fundamental quality of science in this country in question. What will happen if the NIH model is implemented? What if there isn't a publisher willing to do the peer review and provide the final manuscript?

  • In requiring a "final manuscript" to be submitted to a central repository, the NIH model still expects that the peer review process will remain intact and continue to provide the same high-quality check and review. How will this model affect peer review? This is a central question. If final manuscripts are made available online six months after publication, most publishers expect their subscription revenues to fall. In order to make up for budgetary shortfalls and to avoid running a deficit, many publishers may need to implement page charges or lean more heavily on page charges than they have in the past. If journals need authors to publish their research in order to continue to function, there can easily be degradation in the peer review process as journals need to compete for authors on price and service commitments.

  • Under the NIH proposal, PubMed Central would make these final manuscripts freely and continuously available. Free is a misnomer because the government must pay for this repository and keep it operational in perpetuity. There are vastly different estimates of how much this would cost the government. There is also the concern that in a difficult budget year, funding for PubMed Central would be cut. If that were to happen, what would happen to the manuscripts about to be published? What would happen to the archive? It has always been a central mission of the professional and scholarly societies publishing journals to maintain the archive central to our profession. To what level does this model not make PubMed Central simply a "stealth" government run journal of sponsored research? Is it healthy for science that the funder has such a substantial level of influence over what and how science is published? Even though the NIH proposal simply "requests" that the final manuscript be submitted to PubMed Central, will that submittal be a requirement in order to apply for, and receive, future federal funding for research? Will the federal government be in charge not only of who gets funding, but who publishes which research? Couldn't this model serve those who want to use science in order to advance political positions?

  • Congress has requested that NIH report back to them by December 1st with a plan for implementation. This plan must include how NIH will "ensure the reservation of rights by the NIH grantee". What will this mean for NIH, the publisher, the grantee, other interested entities?

  • Those commenting on this plan, with concerns or with kudos, are encouraged to use this opportunity to communicate the value of our profession to policymakers. Not-for-profit publishers exist to fund the activities of the professional and scientific society and many professionals belong to these societies in order to subscribe to these publications at a reduced rate. Profit generated by journals are rolled back into the profession through foundations, fellowships, internships, educational and outreach programs as well as the cultivation of an archive that not only houses past research but informs the research yet to be investigated.

  • How will this NIH model affect libraries and universities? Is it all positive? University libraries and research libraries are required to have a certain number of journals in their collections in order to be accredited. How will these accreditation criteria change if the NIH model goes into effect?

  • Congress' endorsement and mandate of one specific model for the dissemination of this information without any public discourse or debate is irregular. Typically, Congress would identify a problem, hold hearings and formulate a solution involving (and hopefully satisfying) all stakeholders. In this instance, there has been no public debate or discourse outside of the sound byte war wherein everything 'open access' is a good thing. Further, it is improper for the committees that decide funding for agencies to include policy decisions in funding bills. This issue should be vetted in an open forum, with debate and an effort toward consensus building between the stakeholders.

The NIH is encouraging persons, groups and organizations to comment on its intentions and proposal by logging onto http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/public_access/add.htm. Alternately, comments may be e-mailed to PublicAccess@nih.gov or sent via U.S. postal mail to:
NIH Public Access Comments
National Institutes of Health
Office of Extramural Research
6705 Rockledge Drive
Room 350
Bethesda, MD 20892-7963

Comments must be received on or before November 16, 2004.

People and/or organizations that comment on NIH's proposal are also encouraged to engage your Congressman (provide him or her with a copy of your comments) and the appropriate Committee Chairmen on this issue. Specifically, you are encouraged to contact the following:

The Honorable Ralph Regula, Chairman
The Honorable David Obey, Ranking Member
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education
2358 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-3509
*This committee oversees funding for the NIH and included the language regarding PubMed Central in the report accompanying the FY05 appropriations bill for that agency.

The Honorable Arlen Specter, Chairman
The Honorable Tom Harkin, Ranking Member
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education
184 Senate Dirksen Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 228-2321
*This committee oversees funding for the NIH but has been silent on the PubMed Central model proposed by the House. This could be an issue for a conference committee when they meet with the House to iron out the differences in funding for FY05.

The Honorable Joe Barton, Chairman
The Honorable John D. Dingell, Ranking Member
House Energy and Commerce Committee
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-1919
*This committee sets policy for NIH and will be responsible for NIH reauthorization hearings in 2005.

The Honorable Judd Gregg, Chairman
The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy, Ranking Member
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
428 Senate Dirksen Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 228-5044
*This committee sets policy for NIH and will be responsible for NIH reauthorization hearings in 2005.

The Honorable Sherwood L. Boehlert, Chairman
The Honorable Bart Gordon, Ranking Member
House Science Committee
2320 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 226-0113
*The House Science Committee does not have any oversight of the NIH, but does have oversight of NSF, EPA and NASA, among others. Their staff has been briefed on this issue by many interested parties. We would like to encourage them to hold hearings on this issue early next year.

Everyone sharing their comments with their Congressman or Senator as well as with those listed above are encouraged to FAX their letters and statements due to the unreliability of the US mail reaching these offices in time. New mail procedures were instituted on Capitol Hill following the anthrax attacks two years ago. These procedures have slowed down the mail. This is a timely issue; please communicate to these policymakers and decision makers in the most expeditious medium available.

This issue is being continually updated on AGI's website at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/public_access.html.

*******************

The Honorable Arlen Specter, Chairman
The Honorable Tom Harkin, Ranking Member
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education
184 Senate Dirksen Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Specter and Ranking Member Harkin:

The scientific community recently learned of both Administration and Congressionally-directed efforts to implement a government mandated open access policy to federally funded scientific research. On September 17, 2004 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a plan in the Federal Register to develop and implement a distribution center for all federally-funded scientific research articles. This comes on the heels of the House of Representatives approval of the FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill. The report accompanying that bill praised NIH's electronic repository, PubMed Central, for providing public access to life-science articles. It also strongly encouraged taking the project a step further: requiring all reports and data resulting from research funded by NIH to be available on PubMed Central. The report that accompanied the Senate's version of this bill was silent on this issue.

While my colleagues and I appreciate that your role in the annual appropriations process is to make funding decisions relative to the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, among others, an important policy issue must be considered when you meet with the House Committee to decide the final funding amounts for FY05.

Both the Congress and Administration appear to be racing toward a solution with uncharacteristic speed for what amounts to an undefined problem. Dr. Elias Zerhouni, head of the NIH, told a group of stakeholders in a July meeting that open access was necessary for NIH's internal management of grants, is key to patient access and will help scientists who are currently being hindered because they cannot open access each other's research. Members of Congress and their staff point to the soaring cost of journals as the problem quickly followed with a nod to patient access.

If the problem is indeed one of needing to better manage the grants within NIH, then there is no need for the publication-ready journal articles to be freely accessible on the Internet. Federal grantees are already required to provide their funding agency with final reports and copies of research papers or citations. This proposed policy would not necessarily resolve internal NIH management challenges. Moreover, I would be hard pressed to name a publisher opposed to providing NIH a copy of an article for their internal record keeping purposes.

The NIH has not been able to provide data that support their assertion that a large number of individuals and researchers are unable to access current scientific literature. The publishing community has already come together through Project Inform and backed a system wherein patients who register with the appropriate "gate keepers," such as the American Cancer Society, could have free and open access to their journals. This solution to the patient access problem has not been sufficiently explored by your committee or any committee.

Despite the lack of data demonstrating a need for new models of public access, NIH intends to require that all final manuscripts produced with any support from NIH be made freely available to anyone six months after publication. This means that scientific papers will have already gone through the peer review process, been edited, and properly laid out for publication with color charts and graphs. In short, the scientific publisher will have already ensured that the science is valid and made the manuscript easy-to-read - journals will have already provided their value-added services and made substantial financial investments in this process. There is no indication that a six month lag time would be sufficient to retain subscriptions from libraries and individuals. NIH is threatening the continued vitality of not-for-profit scientific journals and thereby the scholarly societies that provide the peer-review and editorial services. Without these, the quality of U.S. research and resulting publications would suffer, yet they cannot be provided for free.

The NIH open access plan has not been properly vetted within the Administration or Congress. It will set a precedent within the federal scientific community and could easily carry over into the work done by the National Science Foundation and others. The nature of scientific research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary with researchers at NIH collaborating with researchers at the US Geological Survey and other agencies in the areas of medical geology and environmental health. There are ongoing investigations relative to arsenic in drinking water, asbestos, water and soil toxicity. As yet, there has been no discussion on the impact this model would have on coauthors or collaborative efforts within the sciences.

When you meet with the House Committee to iron out funding differences for FY05, I urge you to include language in the conference committee report that delays the PubMed Central model from going into effect until the authorizing committees have had an opportunity to hold hearings on this issue. Congress must take a much more careful look at this issue in public and on the record with all stakeholders able to present their viewpoint.

Respectfully,

*******************

The Honorable Joe Barton, Chairman
The Honorable John D. Dingell, Ranking Member
House Energy and Commerce Committee
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Barton and Ranking Member Dingell:

The scientific community recently learned of both Administration and Congressionally-directed efforts to implement a government mandated open access policy to federally funded scientific research. On September 17, 2004 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a plan in the Federal Register to develop and implement a distribution center for all federally-funded scientific research articles. This comes on the heels of the House of Representatives approval of the FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill. The report accompanying that bill praised NIH's electronic repository, PubMed Central, for providing public access to life-science articles. It also strongly encouraged taking the project a step further: requiring all reports and data resulting from research funded by NIH to be available on PubMed Central.

The scientific community is concerned that your committee, which has oversight of NIH, has not held a hearing on this issue or discussed this policy change in an open forum. Both the Congress and Administration appear to be racing toward a solution with uncharacteristic speed for what amounts to an undefined problem. Dr. Elias Zerhouni, head of the NIH, told a group of stakeholders in a July meeting that open access was necessary for NIH's internal management of grants, is key to patient access and will help scientists who are currently being hindered because they cannot open access each other's research. Members of Congress and their staff point to the soaring cost of journals as the problem quickly followed with a nod to patient access.

If the problem is indeed one of needing to better manage the grants within NIH, then there is no need for the publication-ready journal articles to be freely accessible on the Internet. Federal grantees are already required to provide their funding agency with final reports and copies of research papers or citations. This proposed policy would not necessarily resolve internal NIH management challenges. Moreover, I would be hard pressed to name a publisher opposed to providing NIH a copy of an article for their internal record keeping purposes.

The NIH has not been able to provide data that support their assertion that a large number of individuals and researchers are unable to access current scientific literature. The publishing community has already come together through Project Inform and backed a system wherein patients who register with the appropriate "gate keepers," such as the American Cancer Society, could have free and open access to their journals. This solution to the patient access problem has not been sufficiently explored by your committee or any committee.

Despite the lack of data demonstrating a need for new models of public access, NIH intends to require that all final manuscripts produced with any support from NIH be made freely available to anyone six months after publication. This means that scientific papers will have already gone through the peer review process, been edited, and properly laid out for publication with color charts and graphs. In short, the scientific publisher will have already ensured that the science is valid and made the manuscript easy-to-read - journals will have already provided their value-added services and made substantial financial investments in this process. There is no indication that a six month lag time would be sufficient to retain subscriptions from libraries and individuals. NIH is threatening the continued vitality of not-for-profit scientific journals and thereby the scholarly societies that provide the peer-review and editorial services. Without these, the quality of U.S. research and resulting publications would suffer, yet they cannot be provided for free.

The NIH open access plan has not been properly vetted within the Administration or Congress. It will set a precedent within the federal scientific community and could easily carry over into the work done by the National Science Foundation and others. The nature of scientific research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary with researchers at NIH collaborating with researchers at the US Geological Survey and other agencies in the areas of medical geology and environmental health. There are ongoing investigations relative to arsenic in drinking water, asbestos, water and soil toxicity. As yet, there has been no discussion on the impact this model would have on coauthors or collaborative efforts within the sciences.

Five years ago, the Energy and Commerce Committee showed significant leadership in putting NIH on the path to doubling their budget. I ask that you show the same leadership on this issue and hold hearings that will help to answer these questions prior to NIH's reauthorization hearings in 2005. I further urge you to consider holding a joint hearing with the House Science Committee to examine the model proposed by the NIH and any impacts it would have on the broader federal science landscape.

Respectfully,

*******************

The Honorable Sherwood Boehlert, Chairman
The Honorable Bart Gordon, Ranking Member
House Science Committee
2246 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Boehlert and Ranking Member Gordon:

The scientific community recently learned of both Administration and Congressionally-directed efforts to implement a government mandated open access policy to federally funded scientific research. On September 17, 2004 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a plan in the Federal Register to develop and implement a distribution center for all federally-funded scientific research articles. This comes on the heels of the House of Representatives approval of the FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill. The report accompanying that bill praised NIH's electronic repository, PubMed Central, for providing public access to life-science articles. It also strongly encouraged taking the project a step further: requiring all reports and data resulting from research funded by NIH to be available on PubMed Central.

Both the Congress and Administration appear to be racing toward a solution with uncharacteristic speed for what amounts to an undefined problem. Dr. Elias Zerhouni, head of the NIH, told a group of stakeholders in a July meeting that open access was necessary for NIH's internal management of grants, is key to patient access and will help scientists who are currently being hindered because they cannot open access each other's research. Members of Congress and their staff point to the soaring cost of journals as the problem quickly followed with a nod to patient access.

If the problem is indeed one of needing to better manage the grants within NIH, then there is no need for the publication-ready journal articles to be freely accessible on the Internet. Federal grantees are already required to provide their funding agency with final reports and copies of research papers or citations. This proposed policy would not necessarily resolve internal NIH management challenges. Moreover, I would be hard pressed to name a publisher opposed to providing NIH a copy of an article for their internal record keeping purposes.

The NIH has not been able to provide data that support their assertion that a large number of individuals and researchers are unable to access current scientific literature. The publishing community has already come together through Project Inform and backed a system wherein patients who register with the appropriate "gate keepers," such as the American Cancer Society, could have free and open access to their journals. This solution to the patient access problem has not been sufficiently explored.

Despite the lack of data demonstrating a need for new models of public access, NIH intends to require that all final manuscripts produced with any support from NIH be made freely available to anyone six months after publication. This means that scientific papers will have already gone through the peer review process, been edited, and properly laid out for publication with color charts and graphs. In short, the scientific publisher will have already ensured that the science is valid and made the manuscript easy-to-read - journals will have already provided their value-added services and made substantial financial investments in this process. There is no indication that a six month lag time would be sufficient to retain subscriptions from libraries and individuals. NIH is threatening the continued vitality of not-for-profit scientific journals and thereby the scholarly societies that provide the peer-review and editorial services. Without these, the quality of U.S. research and resulting publications would suffer, yet they cannot be provided for free.

The NIH open access plan has not been properly vetted within the Administration or Congress. It will set a precedent within the federal scientific community and could easily carry over into the work done by the National Science Foundation and others. Please weigh in with the FY05 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations conferees and ask them to include language in the conference report that would prohibit NIH from implementing its open access plan until Congress has studied and held hearings on the implications of this proposed policy. The NIH is scheduled to be reauthorized next year and it should be the responsibility of the authorizing committee to debate this issue, not the appropriations committee. Further, I ask that you hold hearings on this issue to explore its implications across the broader federal science landscape.

Respectfully,


Alert prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: Thomas Legislative Database and the Federal Register.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted November 12, 2004


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