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  • Open Access to Federally Funded Research—The Time is Now
  • Ray English (bio)

What if all federally funded research that appears in peer-reviewed journals could be made openly accessible on the Internet? That idea, which would have been considered a pipe dream until just recently, is now a very real political possibility. Consider the following recent developments.

The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) recently introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006. This bill would require major federal agencies to make all peer-reviewed manuscripts resulting from their funded research openly accessible in digital repositories within six months of publication. Specific provisions of the bill call for agencies that have extramural research budgets over 100 million dollars to develop public access policies. Those policies would obligate researchers employed or funded by the agencies to submit electronic copies of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts for deposit in stable digital repositories maintained or approved by the government. Public access would be provided to manuscripts as soon as practical within six months of publication in peer-reviewed journals. Publishers would have the option to replace an author's manuscript with the final published version of the article at any point. The bill exempts classified research, works that generate revenue or royalties for authors, and patentable discoveries.

The American Center for Cures Act of 2005

In December of last year, Senator Lieberman and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) introduced the American Center for Cures Act of 2005. The primary purpose of this bill is to create the American Center for Cures within the National Institutes of Health. The mission of the center would be to accelerate the process through which research is converted into therapies. One provision of the bill (Section 449H-1) would require that final peer-reviewed manuscripts of research funded by agencies in the Department of [End Page 249] Health and Human Services (HHS) be made openly accessible in PubMed Central, the digital library of the National Library of Medicine, within six months of publication. The bill would also authorize HHS agencies to deny future funding to investigators who do not comply with the deposit requirement. HHS agencies account for approximately one-half of all federally funded research.

Recent NIH Developments

In May of 2005, the National Institutes of Health announced its public access policy, which encourages NIH investigators to deposit voluntarily their final peer-reviewed manuscripts in PubMed Central. NIH's policy has so far had a very low rate of compliance (approximately 4 percent of eligible manuscripts are being deposited), due largely to the fact that the policy does not require investigators to deposit their manuscripts.

NIH's Public Access Working Group (which was established to review the public access policy) recommended to NIH in November that the policy state a requirement that public access must follow within six months of publication. The Board of Regents of the National Library of Medicine has recently made a similar recommendation to the agency. Although a change in NIH policy may require a signal from Congress, both of these recommendations are bringing us closer to a stronger revised NIH policy that would be in line with both the Cornyn-Lieberman bill and the public access provision of the Cures bill.

An Extraordinary Opportunity

This combination of factors provides an extraordinary opportunity to transform access to government-funded research in this country. The U.S. government spends approximately 55 billion dollars annually to fund research through a variety of agencies. It has been estimated that research sponsored by NIH alone, which accounts for approximately one-third of all federally funded research, produces over 60,000 peer-reviewed articles each year. Revision of the NIH policy, which could occur in the near term, would be a critical step in moving toward the more comprehensive policies represented by the Cures and Cornyn-Lieberman bills.

The Cornyn-Lieberman and Cures bills and the recommended revisions in the NIH policy are all leading in the same direction—toward a comprehensive U.S. national policy that would make virtually all federally funded research openly accessible within six months of publication. The Cornyn-Lieberman bill...


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pp. 249-252
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