Re: A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2008 23:24:51 +0000


The January issue of Peter Suber's SPARC Open Access Newsletter
is superb, and I recommend it highly as a historical record of the
milestone reached by the OA movement at this pivotal moment. There is no
question but that the NIH Green OA self-archiving mandate is the biggest
OA development to date, and heralds much more.

There remains, however, an important point that does need to be brought
out, because it's not over till we reach 100% OA, because mistakes have
been made before, because those mistakes took longer than necessary to
correct, and because a big mistake (concerning the locus of the deposit)
still continues to be made.

First, a slight correction on the chronometric facts:

On Wed, 2 Jan 2008, Peter Suber wrote:

> If NIH had adopted an OA mandate in 2004 when Congress originally asked
> it to do so, it would have been the first anywhere. Now it will be the
> 21st.

Actually, if the NIH OA mandate had been adopted when the House
Appropriations Committee originally recommended it in September 2004, it
would have been the world's third Green OA self-archiving mandate, not
the first. And Congress's recommendation in September 2004 was the
second governmental recommendation to mandate Green OA self-archiving:
The first had been the UK Parliamentary Select Committee's
recommendation in July 2004.

(1) The Southampton ECS departmental mandate was (as far as I know) the
very first Green OA self-archiving mandate of all; it was announced in
January 2003 (but actually adopted even earlier). QUT's was the second
OA mandate, but the first university-wide one, and was announced in
February 2004. (See ROARMAP.)
(2) The UK Parliament's Science and Technology Committee Recommendation
to mandate Green OA self-archiving was made in session 2003-04 and
published in July 2004 (i.e., before September 2004, when the US House
Appropriations Committee made its recommendation).

Moreover, the recommendation to mandate self-archiving was not only
part of the BOAI Self-Archiving FAQ from its inception in 2002,
but the FAQ's contents had actually preceded the existence of the BOAI
by several years, with the recommendation itself -- that departments,
universities and funders should mandate self-archiving -- already in
circulation since about 1999. (The FAQ was also already quite specific
at that time about mandating the self-archiving of the author's final
accepted draft, rather than the publisher's PDF. Its one glaring error
was to advocate central self-archiving -- but that was corrected as soon
as the OAI protocol was formulated, making it possible to create the
first OAI-compliant Institutional Repository software in 2000, thereby
returning to the original distributed, institutional model of
self-archiving of 1994.)

In contrast, to see where the precursor to the NIH mandate stood in
1999, one must re-read the original e-biomed proposal of May 1999.
There was still a bumpy and meandering road ahead (via the PLoS petition
in 2001 and the Bethesda Statement in 2003), with several false starts
and dead ends (among them the first NIH non-mandate itself!), before the
realization that what had been needed all along was self-archiving and a
Green OA self-archiving mandate.

    "A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy" (Oct 2004)

Now NIH's has indeed instantly become by far the most important of the
Green OA self-archiving mandates to date in virtue of its size and scope
alone, but it still hasn't got it right!

The upgrade from a mere request to an Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access
(ID/OA) mandate was indeed an enormous improvement, but there still
remains the extremely counterproductive and unnecessary insistence on
direct deposit in PubMed Central. This is still a big defect in the NIH
mandate, effectively preventing it from strengthening, building upon and
complementing direct deposit in Institutional Repositories, and thereby
losing the golden (or rather green!) opportunity to scale up to cover
all of research output, in all fields, from all institutions, worldwide,
rather than just NIH-funded biomedical research in PubMed Central: an
altogether unnecessary, dysfunctional, self-imposed constraint (in much
the same spirit as having requested self-archiving instead of mandating
it for the past three lost years).

Even the benefits of Congress's wise decision to mandate deposit
immediately upon acceptance for publication -- thereby transferring the
allowable 12-month embargo to the date at which access to that deposit
is set to Open Access, rather than allowing any delay in the date on
which the deposit itself is done -- are lost if that deposit is required
to be made directly in PubMed Central, rather than in each author's own
Institutional Repository (and thence harvested to PubMed Central: with
direct IR deposit, authors can use their own IR's "email eprint request"
button to fulfill would-be users' access needs during any embargo). And,
most important of all, with direct IR deposit mandated by NIH, each of
the world's universities and research institutions can go on to
complement the NIH self-archiving mandate for the NIH-funded fraction of
its research output with an institutional mandate to deposit the rest of
its research output, likewise to be deposited in its own IR. This will
systematically scale up to 100% OA.

The hope is that -- recognizing that similar mistakes have been made in
the past, and that that has cost dearly in years of lost OA, and
recognizing that the remedy is ever so simple, with no loss, only gain
("Deposit Institutionally, Harvest Centrally") -- the NIH will still
have the sound sense, in the euphoria over the successful passage of the
mandate itself, to optimize its mandate now, so it can do the maximal
good in the minimal time, across all fields and institutions, worldwide.

  "Optimizing OA Self-Archiving Mandates: What? Where? When? Why? How?"

Stevan Harnad

If you have adopted or plan to adopt a policy of providing Open Access
to your own research article output, please describe your policy at:

    BOAI-1 ("Green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access journal
    BOAI-2 ("Gold"): Publish your article in an open-access journal if/when
    a suitable one exists.
    in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
    in your own institutional repository.
Received on Wed Jan 02 2008 - 23:45:22 GMT

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