[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 3-Feb-2005
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Contact: Bob Witeck
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Public interest advocates question NIH Enhanced Access policy

NIH must be held accountable

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.

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    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.



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