House appropriation mandates NIH public access policy

A measure passed in last week’s House Appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services would ensure that research funded by public tax dollars is readily available to the public.

The bill requires scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health to submit copies of their peer-reviewed journal manuscripts to NIH’s online archive, known as PubMed Central. Those manuscripts would then have to be made available to the public for free on the PubMed Central Web site within a year of publication.

The provision cements an NIH policy that has been in effect for a year. The NIH public access policy currently asks NIH-funded scientists to submit their manuscripts voluntarily.

The fiscal 2007 Labor, HHS, Education appropriations bill still has yet to be considered by the full House. The Senate is expected to vote on its Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill later this summer.

Last month, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) introduced legislation that would require a more sweeping research access reform. The bill directs agencies that fund more than $100 million in annual external research to publicly post electronic manuscripts of peer-reviewed journal articles stemming from that research online within six months after the articles appear in scientific journals.

The Cornyn-Lieberman legislation covers 11 agencies: the Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation departments; the Environmental Protection Agency; NASA; and the National Science Foundation.

Last week’s bill only requires that authors submit their peer-reviewed manuscripts to NIH within a year after publication: “The Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to the NIH National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central as soon as practicable but no later than 12 months after the official date of publication."

The Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a coalition of organizations that promotes greater access to publicly funded research, said the 12-month time frame will delay advances in medicine and prevent citizens from obtaining information they need about treatments.

Pat Furlong, founding president and chief executive officer of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, stated, “For individuals and families struggling to stay abreast of scientific developments and make informed decisions about their care and their lives, access to credible, reliable, and current information is often the difference between life and death. However, the 12-month delay is too long for us to wait. As the bill moves forward, we urge members of both House and Senate committees to consider adopting a six-month embargo, if not immediate access.”

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