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Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information

Statement from the Council of the National Academy of Sciences

Sept. 16, 2004

The Council of the National Academy of Sciences endorses the proposed National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy that research supported by NIH will be made freely available online at PubMed Central (PMC) not later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The benefits of this policy to science worldwide and to the general public seem to us to be significant.

This policy is a reasonable approach for sustaining subscription revenue, and a number of leading journals already follow it, including the flagship journal of the Academy, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). In addition, PNAS is among an increasing number of journals that permit authors to pay extra fees to make their papers available online immediately -- rather than in six months -- and we hope that NIH will enable authors to take advantage of this option by authorizing the use of grant funds for this service.

We wish to emphasize the importance of having publishers provide to PMC the final, published copy of each paper, rather than leaving the author's originally accepted manuscript in PMC. This will ensure that only one version of a paper is extant, and that the public has access to the version of record. In addition to reducing the number of versions available online, posting the published paper rather than the author's manuscript reinforces a journal's connection with a paper, both by having the journal article itself in PMC and by having a link from PMC to the journal's own web site. Providing the redacted paper will be effortless for journals that already release papers to PMC within six months of publication, and we hope that publishers who make papers free after a longer period -- or not at all -- will reconsider their policies.

It is essential that this initiative be implemented as a cooperative venture between NIH and journal publishers, who are responsible for both the peer review and the archiving of the papers that they publish. The publishers of journals should retain enough income from whatever model is adopted to be able to continue to provide these two essential services.

While we endorse this NIH initiative, we note that it addresses issues relevant specifically to biomedical research, and that it may not be replicable for research supported by other agencies, or in disciplines with different funding levels or different modes of research communication.

Finally, we note with approval that the NIH is undertaking a major responsibility for maintaining the integrity of what is certain to become an expanded and vitally important electronic archive. We urge that, in its final, official policy statement on this matter, NIH explicitly express its intention to maintain this archive in perpetuity, as well as to preserve PMC's practice of accepting all of the research papers published by each qualified, refereed, biomedical journal.

We reaffirm our conviction that the interests of science --- both in biomedicine and other areas --- are best served by ensuring that ideas and information are exchanged as freely and rapidly as possible. We look forward to participating in the continuing evolution of scientific publishing, and we applaud the NIH for taking this important step.