From the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #95, 3-2-06:
Strengthening the NIH policy is an ongoing story. Several important developments took place last month.
* On November 15, 2005, the Public Access Working Group (PAWG), appointed by the agency to advise it on implementing and improving the policy, recommended that the request for public access be upgraded to a requirement and that the permissible delay be shortened from 12 months to 6 months. PAWG was responding to NIH data showing that fewer than 5% of NIH grantees were complying with the request for public access.
While this is old news, the PAWG minutes were only put online in mid-February.
I first covered the PAWG recommendations in SOAN for December 2, 2005.
* In early February 2006, the NIH sent a progress report to Congress (dated January 2006). Among other things it reported that the rate of compliance with its request for public-access was below 4%, that handling existing submissions under the policy cost the agency $1 million/year, and that handling submissions under a 100% compliance rate would cost the agency $3.5 million/year.
The NIH progress report to Congress, January 2006
Dorothea Salo, Spaghetti that didn't stick, Caveat Lector, February 16, 2006. A blog posting on the NIH progress report to Congress, focusing on the low compliance rate.
* On February 8, 2006, the NLM Board of Regents endorsed the November 2005 PAWG recommendations in a letter to NIH Director Elias Zerhouni.
The letter is not yet online but I blogged an excerpt on February 16, 2006.
NLM Board of Regents
What's important here is the momentum. Congress asked for a strong policy and NIH delivered a weak one. As evidence mounted that the NIH policy was not meeting its goals, one authoritative body after another asked NIH to strengthen the policy and live up to the original request from Congress. First the Public Access Working Group recommended a stronger policy. Then the NIH acknowledged the miserable compliance rate in a report to Congress. Then the NLM Board of Regents recommended a stronger policy. If the NIH is waiting for Congress to weigh in, then it's forgetting that Congress has already weighed in. Moreover, Congress is now considering Joe Lieberman's CURES bill, which would give the NIH an OA mandate, shorten the access embargo to six months, and extend this strong policy to other funding agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services.
From the 3-23-06 Library Journal Academic Newswire:
Looking at mathematics journals in the arXiv repository at Cornell, researchers Phil Davis and Michael Fromerth crunched numbers hoping to shed light on two pressing questions. First, do the articles in arXiv get more citations than non-deposited articles? And second, are the articles in arXiv associated with fewer downloads from publishers' sites? Both answers appear to be yes. According to their study, an analysis of 2,765 articles published from 1997-2005 in four journals, the articles deposited in arXiv received 35 percent more citations on average than non-deposited papers, and 23 percent fewer publisher downloads. Those findings are now initiating some intense discussion. "Personally, I was skeptical of finding any evidence for reduced download," Davis told the LJ Academic Newswire. "I had seen reports from several publishers and thought they were jumping to unsupportable conclusions. The data, however, spoke for itself." Davis, a life sciences librarian and bibliographer, says there is "clear evidence" that articles deposited in the arXiv receive "significantly fewer downloads" from the publishers' websites. Equally eye-opening, however, is another aspect of the paper: why the articles they looked at had more citations.
Since 2001, Davis notes, the general assumption was that increased access led to increased citations. "It was a simple model and it seemed to confirm what librarians wanted to hear," he said. "What we did in our analysis that wasn't done in most of the studies before us was to attempt to ascertain how [the citation increase] really happens." Davis says his research indicates that a number of factors, not just open access, are responsible for the increase in citations. The authors tested a number of postulates, including evidence of a "quality differential" postulate—that is that better articles are deposited in arXiv—and found "a lot of evidence" supporting this explanation. "We are not arguing that open access has no effect on citations," he said, "just that its effect may be severely limited to highly-cited articles." While the authors acknowledge the limitations of their research, they say that, for some, their conclusions "challenge the dogma that open access is a single and unqualified cause" for increased citations. Instead, "there are likely multiple behavioral causes working simultaneously," Davis asserts. Meanwhile, that conclusion seems to have generated some unease among OA advocates. "This paper has started some really stimulating dialog," Davis said, adding that it has also "upset many people," who fear the results will be used to impugn OA. "I've been told that it will unfairly benefit publishers, and we have received multiple requests to change the wording of our abstract." Davis says he is resisting those requests, but welcomes others to test his study, and to conduct their own in other disciplines.