Medical publishers still battling NIH

NIH says links to publishers' sites would not help NIH achieve its goal of creating a permanent, integrated research archive.

A group of medical and scientific publishers, still battling a new publishing policy at the National Institutes of Health, has asked the agency to create links to the publishers' journal Web sites. A new NIH policy requires storing the full text of journal articles in a digital archive that the institutes maintain to provide free access to NIH-funded research.

Under that policy, scientists who receive research funds from NIH voluntarily submit copies of their peer-reviewed research manuscripts to the NIH’s online archive, known as PubMed Central. Manuscripts are made available to the public within a year after a scientific journal publishes the research.

Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society and a signatory to the Oct. 25 proposal, describe the publishers' latest offer as a win-win situation. “Because we are offering our materials at no charge to NIH, they will not need to cut research funding for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases in order to develop their own system, which would mimic ours," he said.

The publishers' proposal is the latest in a publishing struggle between NIH, as it tries to protect the public’s interest in free access to taxpayer-funded research, and commercial publishing companies that want to protect their journals' circulation.

NIH officials declined the society's Oct. 25 offer, saying that independent links are not the same as a permanent archive. For years, medical and scientific journal publishers have offered some free links to full text articles.

“The aspect that they are going to make more back issues available is great,” said David Lipman, director of NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information. However, he said, linking to separate Web sites that may change or disappear does not help NIH achieve its goal of creating a permanent, integrated research archive that is subject to quality controls. “It’s not a substitution for PubMed Central," he added.

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