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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 18, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 30
NIH Begins Public Access Policy

Published findings of NIH-funded projects are to go online

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The published findings of some of the nation's leading health researchers will soon be a click away for the masses.

Beginning May 2, National Institutes of Health-funded investigators will be requested to submit voluntarily to the NIH's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final research manuscripts upon acceptance for publication.

A chief aim of this new public access policy, announced on Feb. 3, is to make NIH-funded research more readily accessible to the public and to scholars. It is also intended to create a stable, searchable and permanent online archive of peer-reviewed research resulting from NIH funding, of which Johns Hopkins is the largest recipient.

NIH, the steward of medical and behavioral research for the nation, awarded $14.6 billion in fiscal year 2004 alone to fund 37,060 research projects.

While the scientific publishing community has concerns about how this will impact journal viability, many groups have hailed the policy's ratification as a historic step in giving taxpayers free access to discoveries for which they paid.

The NIH defines the author's final manuscript as the version accepted for journal publication, including all modifications from the publishing peer review process.

Chi Dang, vice dean for research at the School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins Family Professor in Oncology Research, said that he feels the NIH took the right position to urge, but not require, investigators to submit their manuscripts.

"I, for one, will be very interested to see how the system works and the level of participation," said Dang, who has five manuscripts on track to be published in the next six months. "Ultimately, frankly, it's a laudable and honorable thing to do. Information should be made as freely accessible as possible. What will go online is not someone's opinion. It's real peer-reviewed science."

Eaton Lattman, dean of research and graduate education at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said that the policy's impact on individual researchers would likely be negligible, as it will only entail an extra step at the endpoint of the publication process for those who participate.

While researchers already have access to the latest findings coming out of their field, Lattman said those who will benefit most from this "democratization" of research publication will be the public at large and students. Both groups will now have access to a great resource of the latest scientific findings, he said.

Dang said that while the start date for the new policy is only weeks away, it might take some time for the real benefits of PubMed Central to be realized, depending on its rate of population.

The authors' final manuscripts may be submitted in the usual electronic formats--word processing or PDF files--accepted by journals. Once the manuscript has been submitted, the system will assign a PMC identification number and generate an e-mail to the author(s) confirming the submission. In cases in which the principal investigator is not an author, a courtesy e-mail will be sent to alert the PI of the submission. Corrections of content errors and other necessary revisions of final manuscripts will be accommodated.

At the time of voluntary submission to the PMC, the authors will specify when their final manuscript can be made publicly accessible. Posting for public accessibility through PMC is strongly encouraged as soon as possible and within 12 months of the publisher's official date of final publication. Manuscripts will not be released prior to publication.

From the onset, many in the publishing community have expressed reservations about the policy, fearing it may severely cut into their bottom line if a large percentage of what they currently publish is made freely available elsewhere.

Kathleen Keane, director of the Johns Hopkins University Press, said that while the publishing community has a general sympathy for the goal that federally funded research should be made available to the public, questions still exist about how this policy will be implemented and its impact on economic viability for some journals and the peer-review process as a whole. Depending on the implementation plan, the NIH online archive might duplicate the investments and offerings of publishers, Keane said, thus increasing costs overall. Some specific concerns include how copyright issues will be handled: contracts between authors and publishers may need to be reconfigured, she said, and the NIH online archive's use terms need to be identified.

Timothy Hays, NIH's project manager for the public access policy implementation, said that both author and publisher will hold copyrights of the manuscripts and that use terms will be clearly stated on the PMC.

As to the long-term economic impact of the policy, publishers are making individual assessments and will likely retool their business models accordingly, according to Keane.

The JHU Press, which publishes more than 50 journals, has followed this issue very closely. Keane adds that the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers, of which JHU Press is a member, has been working with officials at the NIH to have their concerns addressed.

Hays said that NIH will be listening to all "stakeholders" in the coming months in an effort to further refine the policy.

As additional details and instructions on the use of the PMC manuscript submission system become available, these items will be posted on the PMC Web site at More information about the NIH Public Access Policy can be found at The manuscript subscription site is located at


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