Support Public Access to Research Funded by the National Institutes of Health

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The blogosphere is abuzz with what would seem to be the final hurdle for open access to taxpayer funded research by the National Institutes of Health. Over the course of the summer, advocates for public access to this research successfully added provisions to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill that mandate deposit of manuscripts into PubMed Central no later than one year after publication when NIH funds were used to conduct the research. That legislation passed the house, and this afternoon the full Senate is considering amendments to its version of the appropriations bill. On Friday, Senator Inhofe filed two amendments that would either be strike the mandatory public access provisions from the bill, or modified the existing policy a way that would severely limit its effectiveness.

I wish I could find the text of the amendments, but this part of the U.S. Congress doesn't seem to be online yet. (What were we saying about open access?) In the absence of the actual text, I'll have to take the word of those who are more in-the-know. [Update 20071022T1414 : In the comments, Charles Bailey points to a posting on his blog that has the text of the proposed amendments. I think the actual text is somewhat anticlimactic, but it is there...]

In any case, here is what is in the legislation as it stands now.

Text of Bill without Amendments

Section 217 of the House version of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008 contains the language quoted below. (Sorry, because of the way the Library of Congress' THOMAS system works, a direct link to the section isn't possible. But you can get to it by looking at any one of the versions of the bill and selecting "General Departmental Management" under Title II of the bill text.)

SEC. 217. The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

Report from the Senate Appropriations Committee

The Senate appropriations committee backed the public access language, and said so in the report that came from the committee. Senate Report 110-107 for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill, 2008, in the section for the National Institutes of Health, there is this language:

Public Access- The Committee has included bill language that would require investigators who are funded by the NIH to submit an electronic version of their final peer-reviewed manuscripts to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication. The manuscript shall be made publicly available on PubMed Central as soon as possible, but no later than 12 months after the official date of publication. The Committee highly encourages collaborations with journal publishers that would enable them to deposit manuscripts on behalf of the funded investigators, if all parties agree. The Committee directs the NIH to seek and carefully take into account the advice of journal publishers on the implementation of this policy.

In particular, the Committee directs the NIH to ensure that publishers' copyright protections are maintained. The Committee also directs the NIH to provide a report by April 1, 2008, on the status of the program, including how many manuscripts have been made publicly available through PubMed Central and how many have been deposited but not yet made publicly available. The report should also break down the amounts by the various submission methods, including author deposit, bulk deposit and the NIH portfolio.

Making Your Voice Heard

The Alliance for Taxpayer Access and prominent open access proponents like Peter Suber and Charles Bailey are urging citizens to contact senators to voice opposition to the two Inhofe amendments. Here is what I sent to my two senators this morning:

I strongly urge you to OPPOSE proposed Amendments #3416 and #3417 to the FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill (S.1710). The bill's current language was constructed by your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to balance the needs of ALL stakeholders -- including that of that the American public to fully realize our collective investment in science. Amendment #3416 would eliminate the requirement that NIH-funded researchers deposit their manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine's online database to be made publicly available within one year of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Passage of this amendment would result in continuation of the status quo -- a voluntary policy that does not work. Amendment #3417 would place additional restrictions on the voluntary policy -- effectively eliminating public access to the manuscript whenever such action was contrary to "the policies of the publishers who have conducted the peer review and accepted the manuscripts for publication."

Under the existing voluntary policy (in place for more than two years) less than 5% of individual researchers have participated -- rendering the policy ineffective. To ensure public access to medical research findings, language was included in the in the FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill directing the NIH to make a much-needed improvement to its Public Access Policy -- requiring that NIH-funded researchers deposit their manuscripts in the National Library of Medicine's online database to be made publicly available within one year of publication in a peer-reviewed journal. This change is supported by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, and a broad coalition of educational institutions, scientific researchers, healthcare practitioners, publishers, patient groups, libraries, and student groups -- representing millions of taxpayers seeking to advance medical research.

Supporting the current language in the FY08 LHHS Appropriations Bill is the best way to ensure that taxpayers' investment in NIH-funded research is used as effectively as possible. Taxpayer-funded NIH research belongs to the American public. They have paid for it, and it is for their benefit.

I urge you to join the millions of scientists, researchers, libraries, universities, and patient and consumer advocacy groups in supporting the current language in the FY08 LHHS Appropriations bill and require NIH grantees to deposit in PubMed Central final peer-reviewed manuscripts no later than 12 months following publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Vote NO on Amendments #3416 and #3417.


Update 20071023T1018 : It would appear, at least to my relatively inexperienced reading of the Daily Digest of the proceedings of yesterday's Senate proceedings in the Congressional Record, that Senator Inhofe's proposed amendments (#3416 and #3417) were not discussed yesterday are not going to be considered during today's proceedings. The Senate is due to vote on passage of H.R. 3043 at or about noon today. The bill is not out of the woods yet, though -- President Bush is threatening a veto, which would open up the bill again to more negotiation...

Update 20071023T2128 : Peter Suber reports the passage of S.1710 (article from the AP newswire).

Update 20071024T0841 : The Daily Digest of Senate proceedings for the 23rd confirms it. Now the bill heads to a conference committee ((the version of the Wikipedia article at the time of citation was last modified on 18-Sep-2007)) to reconcile differences with the House of Representatives version. The mandatory deposit language is in both versions of the bill, so it seems likely to survive that process. Looming on the horizon, though, is a threatened presidential veto.

Update 20071024T2150 : The Alliance for Taxpayer Access issued a press release about the success of the NIH mandatory deposit campaign thus far. (The Alliance for Taxpayer Access is a coalition of patient, academic, research, and publishing organizations that supports open public access to the results of federally funded research.) This is probably the last update to this post; any new news will likely get published in a new post. DLTJ now returns you to your regularly scheduled disruption.

Update 20071030T1628 : Okay -- maybe one more update. Senator Brown (OH) sent a reply to my message (above). I thought for a few moments about the netiquette of posting what would otherwise be a piece of personal correspondence, but then thought that there would likely be no harm (and to ask permission would seem a waste of everyone's time). So here is his reply:

Thank you for expressing your views regarding the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) public access policy.

I agree with your view that making the results of NIH research more widely available to the public makes sense. By allowing scientists and doctors – not to mention American tax-payers – the chance to access the most current scientific findings will improve the nation’s research climate and possibly lead to more medical breakthroughs.

That is why I am supportive of efforts by the Senate Appropriations Committee to include a provision (Section 221) in the Fiscal Year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill (S. 1710) that would require NIH-funded researchers to submit their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central (, a free, digital database open to the public.

While amendments were introduced on the floor of the Senate to alter these provisions, none of them were agreed to. S. 1710 was passed as part of H.R. 3043 and is currently being reconciled with the House-version in conference.

Thank you again for contacting me.

Sherrod Brown

Thank you, Sherrod Brown, for supporting the NIH open access provision.

Update 20071113T1659 : Although the language survived the conference committee, President Bush has vetoed the bill, so it's not time to party yet. Now that the bill is being re-opened, the NIH provision could be taken out and/or weakened. Peter Suber offers an analysis an recommendations of the President's veto.

The text was modified to update a link from to on January 20th, 2011.