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Date:         Fri, 29 Oct 2004 04:10:59 +0100
Reply-To:     American Scientist Open Access Forum
Sender:       American Scientist Open Access Forum
From:         Stevan Harnad <>
Subject:      A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy
Comments: To: AmSci Forum <>
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

** Apologies for Cross-Posting **

Below is an extremely simple suggestion for NIH that, if adopted, will give the NIH public access policy for NIH-funded research articles an impact far, far beyond just the research that NIH funds: The practice of providing Open Access to articles through self-archiving will spread across all other departments at each NIH fundee's institution and will quickly bring us all closer to Open Access for *all* research articles, in all fields, in all institutions.

The change required is tiny, and preserves every feature of the present proposed NIH policy; it is merely a specification of the way in which the articles can be submitted to NIH.

The current wording of the NIH policy is this:

"NIH intends to request that its grantees and supported Principal Investigators provide the NIH with electronic copies of all final version manuscripts upon acceptance for publication if the research was supported in whole or in part by NIH funding... We define final manuscript as the author's version resulting after all modifications due to the peer review process. Submission of the final manuscript will provide NIH supported investigators with an alternate means by which they will meet and fulfill the requirement of the provision of one copy of each publication in the annual or final progress reports. Submission of the electronic versions of final manuscripts will be monitored as part of the annual grant progress review and close-out process."

This wording is fine, and all it needs in order to promote, at the very same time, the much wider objective of encouraging all non-NIH research to be made open-access too, is the following simple -- but critically important -- additional passage (specifying the *way* in which the submission to NIH can be done):

Submission may be done either by depositing the manuscript in the author's own institutional eprint archive and emailing NIH the URL or by emailing the manuscript itself to NIH.

All this does is to introduce an efficient and simple way for the author to *submit* the text to NIH. But in doing so (and especially if, as I would urge, the institutional URL submission option is mentioned *first*) it also implicitly specifies and encourages institutional self-archiving, explicitly linking it to the NIH policy, yet without requiring it: merely as a potential mode of submission!

It cannot be overstated just how important this seemingly trivial implementational detail will prove, if only NIH adopts it (and adopts it in a high-profile way, making it a prominent part of the formal statement of the policy, rather than just a fulfillment option mentioned obscurely somewhere else).

Harvesting the full-text from the URL of the author's institutional eprint archive is not only simpler and more uniform for NIH than receiving it as an email attachment -- because the harvesting can be made automatic and standardized, and automatically monitored -- but it also means that the NIH system is then easily adaptable and extendable to harvesting relevant non-NIH texts (or their metadata) -- likewise self-archived in institutional eprint archives -- into PubMed Central as well! It also means institutions will help in monitoring and fulfillment. But the most important consequence is that it will make the self-archiving practice propagate naturally across the other departments in each author's institution in a way that just requesting that the text be emailed to NIH will not.

By way of further support for making this tiny change, here is an excerpt from the UK JISC report on central vs distributed institutional self-archiving and OA.

Delivery, Management and Access Model for E-prints and Open Access Journals within Further and Higher Education

Study commission by U.K. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Alma Swan, Paul Needham, Steve Probets, Adrienne Muir, Ann O'Brien, Charles Oppenheim, Rachel Hardy, and Fytton Rowland (2004).


"This study identified three models for open access [OA] provision in the UK .... In considering the relative merits of these models, we addressed not only technical concerns but also how [OA] provision (by authors) can be achieved, since without this content provision there can be no effective [OA] (for users).

"For technical and cultural reasons, this study recommends that the centralised model should not be adopted... [The] central archiving approach is the 'wrong way round' with respect to e-print provision. [For] reasons of academic and institutional culture and so long as effective measures are implemented, individual institution-based e-print archives are far more likely to fill (and fill quickly) than centralised archives, because institutions and researchers share a vested interested in the impact of their research output, and because institutions are in a position to mandate and monitor compliance, a position not enjoyed by centralised archives."

Excerpts from American Scientist Open Access Forum contribution by Alma Swan:

"How may authors be 'encouraged' to self-archive? The evidence shows that whilst a carrot approach produces some success, 'encouragement' would best take the form of a stick - by someone, somewhere, mandating self-archiving. Why authors need such a mandate can be debated at length by those with the inclination for such things. The fact is that when there is a mandate by some authority that has clout, authors will comply.

"There are few examples of such mandates in operation as yet (though where they exist, they are working), but plenty of promise for those to come. KPL's recent, separate, study on open access publishing (also commissioned by JISC) produced clear evidence that authors have, in general and in principle, no objection to self-archiving and will comply with a mandate to do so from their employer or research funder. Our findings were that 77% of authors would comply with such a mandate. Only 3% said they would NOT comply. [Swan, A and Brown, S (2004) Report of the JISC/OSI journal authors survey. pp 1-76.; Swan, A and Brown, S (2004) Authors and open access publishing. Learned Publishing, 17 (3), 219-224.

"The recent government-level recommendations in the US and the UK on mandating self-archiving are therefore perfectly on target to address the issue most critical to open access provision. Scholars will self-archive if told to do so. Employers and research funders have the authority to do the telling, but they tell authors to do what, and which authors? Funders can only tell their grantees, but have the choice of telling them to deposit their articles in the funder's own archive if there is one, in some other centralised archive, or in the researcher's own institutional archive, or all of these.

"Employers can do all these too, but since they not only have shared goals with their researchers in respect of dissemination of research findings, but also see additional value in, and uses for, the content of an institutional archive, they are very likely to be eager to see it maximally populated and will insist on authors depositing there, at the very least. Moreover, they can mandate self-archiving across the board, including researchers who are not supported by external funding (a large number in many subject areas), and in EVERY scholarly discipline. This is a far more effective a route to comprehensive eprint provision than relying on funder mandates alone, and is much more likely to provide eprints in ALL disciplines relatively quickly than relying on the eventual establishment of centralised archives in all subject areas.

"Our conclusion was, then, that this scenario is the one most likely to provide the maximum level of archived content, a major plank of any model for the provision of eprints nationwide in the UK. Our model was devised accordingly and would be equally appropriate anywhere else in the world." -- Alma Swan, Key Perspectives Ltd.


If you too see the rationale for this tiny parametric change and its substantial potential benefits, please do recommend it by adding your comment at:

Prior Amsci Topic Threads:

"E-Biomed: Very important NIH Proposal" (1999)

"NIH's Public Archive for the Refereed Literature: PUBMED CENTRAL" (1999)

"Central vs. Distributed Archives" (1999)

"PubMed and self-archiving" (2003)

"Central versus institutional self-archiving"

"What Provosts Need to Mandate" (2003)

Written evidence for UK Select Committee's Inquiry into Scientific Publications (2003)

"UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication" (2004)

"University policy mandating self-archiving of research output" (2003)

"Mandating OA around the corner?" (2004)

"Victory for the NIH open access plan in the House" (2004)

"The UK report, press coverage, and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access" (2004)

"Implementing the US/UK recommendation to mandate OA Self-Archiving" (2004)

"AAU misinterprets House Appropriations Committee Recommendation" (2004)

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