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    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Dragged into the Internet Age: The National Institutes of Health would like to see the research they fund made accessible to the general public - on the internet. They started things off last spring by asking researchers to voluntarily allow the full text of their papers to appear on the internet, but according to this New England Journal of Medicine article, the response by researchers has been tepid:

    The NIH is seeking to expand public access to the research it sponsors and to increase the usefulness of PubMed Central. As of May 2, 2005, the NIH has asked the investigators it supports to submit voluntarily to PubMed Central an electronic copy of any scientific report, on acceptance for publication, and to specify when the article should become publicly available through the repository. According to the policy, posting for public accessibility "is requested and strongly encouraged as soon as possible (and within 12 months of the publisher's official date of final publication)." However, the initial response to the voluntary policy has been slow.

    With 100 percent participation, about 5500 peer-reviewed manuscripts that have been accepted but not yet published — equivalent to about 10 percent of the articles indexed monthly by PubMed — would be submitted to PubMed Central each month, according to Lipman. As of July 9, 2005, 340 such unpublished manuscripts (or about 165 per month) had been submitted — a participation rate of only 3 percent. There are no signs that the participation rate for unpublished manuscripts is increasing — in August, September, and October of 2005, it was between 2.2 and 2.7 percent. In December 2005, Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) introduced legislation that would require the public posting of all NIH-funded peer-reviewed manuscripts at PubMed Central within six months of their publication. Failure to comply could result in the loss of public funding for federal employees or grantees.


    Geesh. It's not like they're going to be denied royalties by making their papers available on the internet. If anything, they would get wider recognition. Of course, their methods would also get wider scrutiny as well. Is that what they're afraid of?

    The publishers, understandbly, don't like it since they rely on those pricey subscriptions to support themselves. But the NIH funded research is funded by the public. The full results should also be available to the public.

    I would suggest that public access be taken a step further. Any article that gets press-released to the media should also be available to the public for scrutiny, rather than portrayed in all its glorious positive spin without scrutiny.

    UPDATE: Orac's comment is too good to languish in the comment section, so here's the perspective from an NIH researcher:

    Speaking from the perspective of an NIH-funded researcher, I have to ask: Did you ever consider that it's just plain laziness and dislike of yet another administrative hassle to contend with when it comes to grant paperwork that's accounting for the relatively low rate of participation? Think of how you react to just one more little Medicare paperwork requirement, only this time imagine that there's no penalty for ignoring it. (As you know, if you ignore the Medicare reporting, you don't get paid.)

    Another factor is that this is a new rule. A lot of researchers don't know any details about it yet. I know I don't. (I suppose when my first manuscript since I got my new NIH grant goes out in the next few weeks I'll have to learn, though.)

    Believe me, it almost certainly has nothing to do with "fear" of scrutiny of our scientific method, just human nature coupled with the rather poor job of explaining the rule by the NIH.
     

    posted by sydney on 1/08/2006 07:57:00 PM 4 comments

    4 Comments:

    Speaking from the perspective of an NIH-funded researcher, I have to ask: Did you ever consider that it's just plain laziness and dislike of yet another administrative hassle to contend with when it comes to grant paperwork that's accounting for the relatively low rate of participation? Think of how you react to just one more little Medicare paperwork requirement, only this time imagine that there's no penalty for ignoring it. (As you know, if you ignore the Medicare reporting, you don't get paid.)

    Another factor is that this is a new rule. A lot of researchers don't know any details about it yet. I know I don't. (I suppose when my first manuscript since I got my new NIH grant goes out in the next few weeks I'll have to learn, though.)

    Believe me, it almost certainly has nothing to do with "fear" of scrutiny of our scientific method, just human nature coupled with the rather poor job of explaining the rule by the NIH.

    By Blogger Orac, at 12:44 AM  

    I am an NIH scientist and I have submitted several papers to PubMed Central using the system developed for the new Public Access initiative.

    It was amazingly painless . . . NIH claims it takes just a few minutes and that's really all it takes. It isn't much of administrative hassle at all. And it does give much wider visibility to my work.

    After spending the enormous effort it takes to produce a scientific paper, I have no problem spending a few more minutes making it available to countless millions of potential readers.


    NIHscientist@hotmail.com

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:11 PM  

    It will work only when a pre-agreement to publish in PubMed is required before getting any research money from the NIH (or other taxpayer's funded agency).

    By Anonymous EM, at 12:30 PM  

    [... NIH and Openness: Like Apples and Oranges ...]

    By Anonymous hippocrates, at 1:26 AM  

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