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April 11, 2008

LiveBlogging Science Friday - Harold Varmus on the NIH Mandate

Science Friday - Harold Varmus

The NIH Public Access Policy is not true open access (unlike PLoS) - could be a delay of as much as a year.

PubMed Central was started in 1999.
  • Delay of 6 month for original Public Access Policy to help pacify publishers to ensure they didn't lose subscriptions.
  • Even then, publishers were reluctant to submit their 6-month-old material
Started Public Library of Science to provide true open access. PLoS started with author fees to help maintain cost.

New NIH mandate a result of the increased activity in Open Access Movement.

1st question: what happens to peer-review?
A: In case of NIH policy - go through regular peer-review process. PLoS has a "quality machine" - papers do go through a rigorous review process.
Some OA journals request author's fees, or subscriptions from scientists & institutions to help defray publishing costs.

2nd question: All that archival stuff that we still can't reach? Can we ask journals to open their archives?
A: Great suggestion. In PMC, American Society of Microbiology has put up archival stuff. Could be done at a relatively modest cost, but there is still a lot of resistance.

3rd question: Heather Morrison - SPARC is interested in speeding up the process to make sure information is available before a year.
A: A reduction could safely be made - people who have a need for access e.g. healthcare workers, teachers go to their congress representatives and ask for access. Avg. profit margins for publishers is a much as 20-30% - can't reduce the interval to 0 without finding another way to recover costs. NIH isn't the only source of funding. HHMI, Wellcome Trust - mandate availability of the work they pay for.

4th question: patient - has rare disease - wants to know if doctors could issue passwords to their patients to gain access to info sooner.
A: PLoS is already working on a model similar - but generally, it's difficult. Disease Advocacy groups should advocate for true open access publications, use the internet to help build support.

5th question: Wouldn't it be more efficient to require researchers to publish also data that didn't work?
A: PLoS has wanted to post papers that allow commentary, immediate feedback.
Especially useful for negative results - clinical trials - direct impact on healthcare. Didn't get a huge number of papers. There's congressional interest, but needs to be more public debate.

The science community should make use of the internet to engage in more discussion and debate and provide access not only to their published research but also in discussing research results and create a better dialog among peers.

Many papers submitted to PMC will be available before a year, requires a negotiation between the author & publisher. Many journals are already compliant, willing to provide access very quickly. In the interest of authors to make their work more publicly available - just want to be read. It's not just the agencies that want the work out there, it's the scientists too.

Going to help libraries (yay!) - one of the motivations is the increasing costs of subscription-based journals in the biomedical sciences. Some of these journals get sold for several thousand dollars a year - one way to get around that is to make it all available in a simpler way.

Question from Second Life: Since they may have more lay people accessing the articles, would it be possible to write the articles using "lay" language?
A:PLoS already has done this for many of their journals. Caveat - it's expensive to do that - most scientists aren't good at it, would have to hire science writers to translate. It is a problem and would make it more expensive.
Put it in grant proposal - could be very useful for many people.


Whew, that's harder than it looks - a little exhilarating, though.

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