One Small Step for NIH, One Giant Leap for Mankind

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 21 Mar 2008 18:26:43 -0400

One Small Step for NIH, One Giant Leap for Mankind

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

[IMAGE]Peter Suber wrote in Open Access News:
      PS: "It's one thing to argue that the NIH policy should
      mandate deposit in the author's institutional repository
      (when they have one)..."

[IMAGE]Most universities have an Institutional Repository (IR).

Even more would, if NIH mandated IR deposit as the preferred default

And those universities who don't yet have an IR are only a piece
of free software and a few days' sysad start-up time from having one
-- and not just for their NIH output, but for all their research
output, funded and unfunded, in all disciplines.

The goal of the OA movement is to make all research output OA. But it
is not just the OA content itself that needs to be
"interoperable": OA mandates from funders need to
be interoperablewith OA mandates from institutions.

Institutions are -- without exception -- the source, the providers,
of all research output, worldwide. 

Hence funder OA mandates should not be competing with institutional
OA mandates, needlessly and counterproductively, but adapting to,
facilitating and reinforcing them.

It is not at all too late to correct this small -- but crucial and
easily-fixed -- bug in the recent, welcome, timely flowering of
funder OA mandates, to create a synergy with the potentially far
bigger blooming of institutional OA mandates that is also on the
horizon (as heralded by Harvard's recent OA mandate).

NIH need merely specify that the preferred means of fulfilling the
NIH OA mandate is for NIH fundees to deposit their articles in their
own institution's IR, and just send NIH each deposit's URL, so
that PubMed Centralcan harvest it therefrom.

One small step for NIH, one giant leap for mankind.
      PS: "But as long as the NIH is mandating deposit in PMC,
      and as long as a journal meets the NIH's criteria for
      depositing articles on behalf of authors, then I don't
      see any reason why authors shouldn't take advantage of
      the option."

The reason is simple: 

The NIH mandate, as it stands, does not scale up to providing a
systematic means of covering all of institutional research output,
NIH and non-NIH, funded and unfunded, across all disciplines

NIH research output is just a small -- but extremely important --
subset of US and worldwide research output:

NIH, the world's biggest (nonmilitary) research funder, is providing
a model for research funder mandates worldwide, a model that will be
influential, closely watched, and widely emulated.

It is all the more critical, therefore, that the NIH mandate should
be systematically scalable -- that it shouldinteroperate coherently
(rather than compete or conflict) with OA mandates from the research
providers themselves -- the universities and research institutions
worldwide -- as well as with other funder mandates, in other fields
and other countries worldwide.

If instead authors and their institutions were now to began ceding
responsibility for compliance with the NIH OA mandate to
their publishers as their proxies, relying on them to deposit their
work in PubMed Central in their place, this would deprive the NIH
mandate of any possibility of growing to cover all of research
output, in all fields, worldwide. (It would also add to the
compliance-monitoring and fulfillment problem that theWellcome Trust,
which has a funder similar mandate, is just now discovering.)

Publisher proxy deposit would at the same time tighten the control of
publishers over a process that should be entirely in the hands of
authors themselves: the provision of supplementary free access to
their give-away work for those who cannot afford paid access to the
publisher's proprietary version. (Proxy deposit would also encourage
publishers to charge for compliance with the NIH mandate.) 

Publisher proxy deposit would also lose the three special, scalable
strengths of the NIH mandate, which are (1) that the NIH mandate
applies specifically to the researcher's peer-reviewed final
draft (the postprint, on which restrictions are the fewest), not
necessarily to the publisher's proprietary PDF; (2) that the NIH
mandate is a researcher self-archiving mandate, binding on
researchers (not their publishers), and based on each researcher's
right (and responsibility) to maximize access to his own give-away
findings; and (3) that the NIH mandate is a coherent component of a
universal mandate to provide OA to all research output, not just to
NIH-funded research output, in PubMed Central.

It is crucially important to remind ourselves very explicitly that
what we are talking about here is justkeystrokes -- i.e., about who
should do the few keystrokes that make a piece of peer-reviewed
research OA. We are talking, very specifically, about a few minutes'
worth of keystrokes per paper (over and above the many keystrokes
that already went into writing it in the first place). The natural
ones to do those keystrokes are the authors themselves (or their
assistants, students or assigns). It makes as little sense to
consider offloading the task of performing those few keystrokes onto
publishers (or even onto institutional librarians) as it would be to
offload onto any other party the task of keying in the paper itself,
in these days of personal word-processing.

So although most authors today are still not doing those few extra
keystrokes of their own accord (and that is precisely
the problem that the OA mandates are meant to remedy) it would be
remarkably short-sighted to propose that the remedy is to invite
authors' publishers to do those keystrokes for them (possibly even at
additional cost). That dysfunctional remedy is remarkably reminiscent
of the grotesque degree of control over the dissemination of our own
giveaway research findings we have unwittingly been ceding to our
publishers throughout the paper era (the "Faustian Bargain"): the
very disease that OA is meant to cure, in the online era, at long

And needlessly insisting on direct deposit in PubMed Central is the
very heart of the problem. Yet the cure is ever so simple: NIH need
merely stipulate that the preferred means of fulfilling the NIH OA
mandate is for each researcher to deposit the postprint in his own
university's IR and send NIH the URL.
      PS: "I did object to journal deposit under the older,
      voluntary policy, because it gave publishers the decision
      on the length of the embargo. Under the new policy,
      however, the length of the embargo is already set by the
      time the author signs the copyright transfer agreement.
      Hence, journal deposit cannot change the terms of the

That leaves only the six other serious reasons militating against
publisher deposit: (1) Publisher proxy deposit in an external
repository needlessly competes with institutional IR self-archiving
mandates instead of facilitating them; (2) it defeats the benefits of
an immediate-deposit mandate, where the IR "email eprint request"
button could have tided over research usage needs during any
publisher embargo with almost-immediate, almost-OA; (3) it loses the
benefits of having specified that the target is the author's
postprint, not necessarily the publisher's PDF; (4) it leaves
publishers in control of OA provision (and even facilitates their
charging for it); (5) it leaves IRs empty, and non-NIH content
non-OA; (6) it leaves researchers' fingersparalyzed.
      PS: [update] "My response above was limited to publishers
      who do not charge fees, and I share Stevan's objections
      to those who would charge fees."

My objections are not just limited to publishers who charge fees:
They concern any publisher proxy deposit, and indeed any funder
mandate that does not stipulate that the author's own institutional
IR is the preferred default locus for deposit wherever possible.
      PS: "Or if there's some subtle way in which it can, then
      I'll join Stevan's call on authors to make the deposits
      themselves. I already agree with him that, if the policy
      were to mandate deposit in the author's IR, then author
      deposits would make much more sense than journal

Peter, the ways in which both publisher proxy deposit and direct
institution-external deposit are counterproductive for the growth of
OA and OA mandates are far from subtle. I fervently hope that you
will support my call on authors (or their collaborators) to make the
deposits themselves, preferably in their own IRs, providing NIH with
the URL.

This slight change in the implementational details of the NIH policy
would be a small step for NIH, but a huge step for the growth of OA

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Fri Mar 21 2008 - 23:09:56 GMT

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