Plan B for NIH Public Access Mandate: A Deposit Mandate

    Re: Conyers Bill:  ”Bill Would Block NIH Public Access Policy
    (Science, 11 September)

Plan B for NIH Public Access Mandate: A Deposit Mandate
(And It’s Stronger Than Plan A!)

Let us hope that the Conyers Bill, resulting from the publisher lobby’s attempt to overturn the NIH Public Access Mandate, will not succeed. 

But in case it does, I would like to recommend making a small but far-reaching modification in the NIH mandate and its implementation that will effectively immunize it against any further publisher attempts to overturn it on legal grounds. And this Plan B will actually help hasten universal OA more effectively than the current NIH mandate:

(1) NIH should mandate deposit of the refereed final draft of all NIH-funded research, immediately upon acceptance for publication.

(2) But access to that deposited draft need only be made Open Access when there is no publisher embargo on making it Open Access; otherwise it may be made Closed Access.

(3) Open Access means that the full text of the deposited draft is freely accessible to anyone, webwide, immediately.

(4) Closed Access means that the full text of the deposited draft is visible and accessible only to the depositor and the depositor’s employer and funder, for internal record-keeping and grant-fulfillment purposes. (Publishers have no say whatsoever in institutional and funder internal record-keeping.)

(5) For all deposits, however, both Open Access and Closed Access, the deposited article’s metadata (author, title, journal, date. etc.) are Open Access, hence visible and accessible to anyone, webwide. 

(6) Now the essence of this strategy: NIH should also implement the “Email Eprint Request” Button, so that any would-be user, webwide, who reaches a link to a Closed Access article, can insert their email address in a box, indicate that a single copy of the postprint is being requested for research or health purposes, and click.

(7) That eprint request is then emailed by the repository software, automatically and immediately, to the author of the article, who receives an email with a URL in it that the author can then click if they wish to have the repository software automatically email one individual copy of that eprint to that individual requester.

(8) This is not Open Access (OA). But functionally, it is almost-OA. 

(9) Many journals (63%) already endorse immediate OA.

(10) Closed Access plus the Button will further provide almost-OA for the remaining 37%. 

(11) That means an NIH Deposit Mandate guarantees either immediate OA (63%) or almost-OA (37%) for 100% of NIH-funded research, and 100% of research’s immediate-access needs are fulfilled, almost-immediately, during any embargo period, worldwide.

(12) In addition, an NIH Deposit Mandate will encourage universities in the US and worldwide to adopt Deposit Mandates too, for all of their research article output, not just NIH-funded biomedical research output. 

(13) The spread of such Deposit Mandates across institutions and funders globally will inevitably lead to a transition to universal OA for all research output as a natural matter of course, as the mandates ensure the universal practice of immediate deposit, and the resultant pressure for the benefits of instant access becomes irresistible.

(14) Lastly, to make the almost-OA Button even more powerful and easier to implement, NIH should stipulate that the preferred locus of deposit is the author’s own Institutional Repository, which can then export the deposit to PubMed Central using the automatized SWORD protocol.

The fact is (and everyone will see this clearly in hindsight) that, all along, the online medium itself has made OA a foregone conclusion for research publications. There is no way to stop it legally. 

It is only technological short-sightedness that is making publishers and OA advocates alike imagine that the outcome is somehow a matter of law and legislation. It is not, and never has been. 

It is only because we have been taking an obsolete, paper-based view of it all that we have not realized that when authors wish it to be so, the Web itself has made it no longer possible to prevent researchers from freely distributing their own research findings, one way or the other. There is no law against an author giving away individual copies of his own writing for research purposes. Researchers have been doing it — by mailing individual reprints to individual requesters — for at least a half century.

And NIH need only mandate that authors deposit their (published research journal) writings: giving them away for free can be left to the individual author. The eventual outcome is obvious, optimal, natural, and inevitable.

I strongly urge OA advocates to united behind this back-up strategy. It will allow us to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.