Thursday, February 3, 2005 (Washington, DC) Public interest supporters of the NIH Enhanced Public Access Plan today declared the just-announced policy falls short of their expectations and long-standing recommendations. In a letter addressed to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt, the Alliance for Taxpayer Access outlined its key concerns with the NIH plan:
• The policy is entirely voluntary. Although NIH research in question is funded by taxpayer dollars, the agency is leaving the decision up to each author whether to make their research results available.
• The policy lacks any definitive time frame or deadline by which NIH-funded research must be available for public use.
• The policy puts grant recipients in the untenable position of trying to meet the contradictory expectations of their funding agency and their publisher.
Addressing Leavitt as well as NIH indirectly, members of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access emphasized the need to hold NIH accountable for achieving the stated goals of sharing taxpayer-funded research with the American people and fulfilling the intentions behind the original Congressional mandate. They called on HHS to report to Congress and the public in the near term on progress toward full taxpayer access using two practical metrics:
1. The proportion of eligible research articles that have been deposited in PubMed Central, and
2. The lag time between an article’s publication in a journal and its availability in PubMed Central.
Rick Johnson, Director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), said, “Frankly, this just-announced policy is neither what we hoped for nor proposed and it falls far short of the ‘bright light’ of transparency that Dr. Zerhouni promised earlier this week in his ethics reforms.”
Johnson continued, “However, we are eager for it to succeed. The proof is in the pudding. The coming months will tell whether NIH inspires and leads the community of researchers and scholars to accept the public trust invested in them. Today we urge them to do so.”
“What will we consider success?” asked Sharon Terry, president and CEO of the Genetic Alliance. “Plainly put, today a patient with cancer does not have immediate or even timely access to the published results of NIH research. The question we all must ask: A year from now, will the world have changed? Will this same patient have free access to all NIH-funded studies on cancer soon after publication?
“This is a big ‘if’ for all of us,” Terry added. “If six months after enactment, we see a flood of NIH-funded research posted on PubMed Central, then we will be among the first to celebrate. However if the vast majority of taxpayer-funded NIH research produced during this timeframe is not yet available to be used by scientists, patients, physicians and all engaged in promoting public health, then NIH will have failed. It will have failed not only Congress and the President, but more importantly, it will have failed science and the American people. Until the outcome is clear, we can only state emphatically that NIH’s foremost responsibility is to the taxpayer who paid for the research.”
AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition Board Member, Robert Reinhard, expressed concern for the lack of incentive for researchers to provide prompt access: “The potential 12 month delay does not improve much, if any, upon the status quo. NIH guidance also should encourage pursuit of alternative publication venues that commit to free dissemination of knowledge to those who need it.”
“If NIH is going to delegate its responsibility and rely on the good faith of the research community,” Reinhard added, “then NIH should lead by example. What better step could they take than by strongly encouraging NIH intramural researchers to ensure that any paper which bears the name of an NIH employee is posted immediately in PubMed Central.”
Johnson and other members of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access have long argued that there is no legitimate reason for NIH funded research to be withheld from taxpayers for any longer than is absolutely necessary, and that ultimately, it must be available immediately.
The Alliance for Taxpayer Access is an informal coalition of stakeholders who support reforms that will make publicly funded biomedical research accessible to the public. The Alliance was formed in 2004 specifically to urge that peer-reviewed articles on taxpayer-funded research at NIH become fully accessible and available online and at no extra cost to the American public. Details and FAQ's on the Alliance may be found at www.taxpayeraccess.org.
Press Contact: Bob Witeck
202-887-0500 ext. 19
Witeck-Combs Communications on behalf of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access
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February 3, 2005
The Honorable Michael Leavitt
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Hubert H. Humphrey Building
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20201
Dear Secretary Leavitt:
The Alliance for Taxpayer Access is a coalition of taxpayers, patients, physicians, researchers, and institutions that have played a leading role in the national debate regarding timely and unfettered public access to federally funded biomedical research. We are writing today to share our views on the just-released National Institutes of Health (NIH) Enhanced Public Access Policy.
First, however, we wish to express our appreciation for your responses to questions posed during your recent confirmation hearings in which you stated your support for a public access policy that makes NIH research results available in a timely and accessible manner. These responses exhibited your understanding of the essential issue at stake and the opportunities presented by today's information and communication technologies to accelerate innovation and discovery for the benefit of taxpayers.
Despite our delight with this recognition of the taxpayers’ interests, we are deeply troubled by key aspects of the final policy announced by NIH. We believe an opportunity to demonstrate NIH’s concern with public transparency in its operation has been neglected. Our concerns, which focus on issues that we fear will impair successful achievement of the goals we share with NIH, are these:
• The voluntary nature of the policy. NIH has handed over an essential NIH responsibility and trust to ensure the advancement of scientific knowledge to individual investigators. Before the Internet, there were historical and economic reasons that NIH relied solely on a system that surrenders public research to private interests via the author’s transfer of exclusive ownership of an article to his/her publisher. But today NIH is able to, and should, capture copies of NIH funded research results not just the research that public-spirited authors wish to contribute, but all NIH-funded research. It is able to, and should, track the outputs of its grant portfolio, archive this public treasure, and make it publicly available. The cost is tiny and the benefit great.
• The lack of a definitive time frame for public availability. The NIH policy delegates to investigators the decision on an access embargo period within a 12-month time frame. As a result, there is no assurance that articles reflecting NIH-funded research will be available to the public in PubMed Central on a timely basis. Clearly, 12-months is too lengthy a delay in a field as dynamic as biomedicine. NIH has impaired its effectiveness by yielding its authority to act decisively on behalf of taxpayers.
Because the policy lacks both a deadline and mandatory participation requirements, it risks becoming an unenforceable “paper tiger.” It places ultimate confidence in the willing participation of the research community. Few will be more pleased than the members of ATA if this confidence proves to be well placed. But the reality is that NIH has placed the grant recipient in an untenable position squarely between the contradictory expectations of the funding agency and the publisher. The policy offers no means by which to protect authors from undue pressures from publishing interests to delay making their article readily available on PubMed Central.
Recognizing that the immediate opportunity to re-shape the policy is behind us, we recommend these actions to make the best of the policy:
• Lead by example. Require NIH’s own intramural researchers to deposit all of their final works (which, by law, are in the public domain) into PubMed Central as soon as they are accepted for publication.
• Evaluate the effectiveness of the policy soon and simply. To ensure the policy is achieving its purpose, HHS should adopt the following two evaluation metrics, to be collected on an ongoing basis: 1) the proportion of eligible research articles that have been deposited in PubMed Central; and 2) the average embargo period of deposited material. We urge your department to submit an annual report to the Congress and the public on the policy, focusing especially on these two aspects. We believe it is appropriate that the initial report be submitted by December 1, 2005. If the data do not indicate that the vast majority of NIH research is available in PubMed Central soon after publication, then we believe the policy should be adjusted to better achieve a satisfactory outcome.
In closing, ATA hopes that the NIH Public Access policy will truly provide American taxpayers with greater access to the invaluable biomedical research in which they have invested. We also hope that an effective NIH policy will serve as a role model for other HHS agencies and, eventually, for other departments and agencies throughout the government. We look forward to working closely with you and your staff to ensure achievement of our mutual goal of providing greater public access to taxpayer-funded research.
Richard K. Johnson
on behalf of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access
Richard K. Johnson, Director
SPARC (Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition)
21 Dupont Circle NW / Washington, DC 20036 USA
Tel +202 296 2296 x157 Fax +202 872 0884