August 9, 2004 - ASM Comments to NIH on Open Access to Research Data

Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892

Dear Dr. Zerhouni:

We are writing on behalf of the American Society for Microbiology to thank you for inviting ASM representatives to attend the recent meeting between NIH and publishers. As was agreed at the meeting ASM is submitting comments on the House Appropriations Committee report language. Our comments below refer to the following section.

“The Committee is aware of a proposal to make the complete text of articles and supplemental materials generated by NIH-funded research available on PubMed Central (PMC), the digital library maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The Committee supports this proposal and recommends that NIH develop a policy, to apply from FY 2005 forward, requiring that a complete electronic copy of any manuscript reporting work supported by NIH grants or contracts be provided to PMC upon acceptance of the manuscript for publication in any scientific journal listed in the NLM's PubMed directory. Under this proposal, NLM would commence making these reports, together with supplemental materials, freely and continuously available no later than six months after publication, or immediately in cases in which some or all of the publication costs are paid with NIH grant funds. For this purpose, "publication costs" would include fees charged by a publisher, such as color and page charges, or fees for digital distribution. NIH is instructed to submit a report to the Committee by December 1, 2004 about how it intends to implement this policy, including how it will ensure the reservation of rights by the NIH grantee, if required, to permit placement of the article in PMC and allow appropriate public uses of this literature."

The ASM publishes 11 journals that print over 7,000 scientific articles yearly. The Society has developed strong, well enforced procedures for peer review of manuscripts published in its journals and ASM publishing procedures contribute to ensuring the quality and integrity of the scientific literature. The ASM is committed to facilitating public access to the articles published in its journals. Over the past few years we have made major changes by automating the submission, review, editing, and composing processes and by taking advantage of the internet for delivery in a timely manner of research articles. We have invested heavily in technology and trained both the editors and the professional staff. Our current practice is;
  • Free access to all users after six months for basic-research journals and one year for the two review journals. All content is available. Some non-ASM journals offer peer reviewed articles but continue to restrict access to “value added” content, such as editorial, perspectives, and mini-reviews.
  • Posting to both Highwire and to PMC of full text and figures, subject to the six month restriction 
  • Free access to all archival issues of all journals hosted by PMC and HighWire on their sites. The PMC archive now dates to 1916, the inception of the ASM journals program. 
  • Free and immediate access for ASM members in the least developed countries. Membership is also free. 
  • Permission to the author to post the published article on a personal or university-hosted web site. 
  • Permission to the author to allow up to 10 downloads of the published article immediately upon posting. 
  • Indexing of all ASM articles by Google, so that anyone can use keywords to locate articles.

The House report language on access to research results and its implementation by NIH raises the following questions and policy issues which are in need of clarification and discussion.

Specifically, we request whether the following statements are correct:

  1. It is our interpretation of the language that the NIH requirement for submission to PMC of a complete electronic copy of any manuscript reporting NIH funded work would apply to the grantee and not to the publisher of the manuscript, and that the grantee would be required to provide the manuscript directly to PMC at the time of the acceptance of the manuscript for publication in a journal if the work was supported by NIH. 
  2. The report language appears to direct the National Library of Medicine to make the manuscript available on PMC no later than six months after publication, or immediately upon submission to PMC by the author if the NIH grant paid for any publication costs for the manuscript. 
  3. It should be possible for the author to retain the right to submit the accepted manuscript to PMC and allow public use of it while still signing over to the publisher the copyrights for the edited/enhanced/typeset/published article. 
  4. It appears to be possible for the publisher to act as an agent for the author to facilitate the submission of accepted manuscripts to PMC and to charge the author for this service.

We would also pose the following questions:

  1. Does PMC have the capacity and resources to manage the hosting of more than 50,000 additional articles annually and to post unedited manuscripts “immediately” upon submission by authors. Will this necessitate a reallocation of resources and funding from research activities and publication in research journals? 
  2. How much funding does NIH provide currently for publication costs and would the amount be increased on research grants for these new requirements, including costs for publishers to facilitate the process. 
  3. What is the timetable for the proposed plan and its implementation? 
  4. What are the implications of posting two versions, unedited and edited, of a manuscript on PMC. If edited, enhanced versions of manuscripts can be provided by PMC through links to journals in six or eight months or so, are the benefits and additional costs of posting unedited manuscripts a few months before the published version justifiable. 
  5. What is the rationale for the distinction between 6 months for NIH funded research but immediately if NIH funds are used for the cost of publication? And, what is the definition of immediately considering the fact that authors are not always available to respond immediately?" 
  6. At the meeting reference was made to the “public”. There are several “publics”, e.g. individuals interested in the science for medical reasons, scientists who are not expert in the field, the press, health professionals and physicians. Which “public” are you referring to? 
  7. Who assumes liability/responsibility for the content of accepted manuscripts submitted to PMC? This refers to both regular content (which may contain errors) and to “select-agent” and “misuse of biological material” issues, which in the case of ASM are evaluated after acceptance.

We hope that in the draft policy statement NIH can address these questions.

We thank you for consideration of our request for clarification and for recognizing our dedication to an open, fair, and reasonable process.


James Tiedje, Ph.D., President, American Society for Microbiology
Samuel Kaplan, Ph.D., Chair, Publications Board

cc: Lana Skirboll, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Science Policy
Office of the Director
National Institutes of Health