NIH Hears Public Access Comments


The NIH held a public meeting on Thursday, March 20, 2008, to hear comments on its Public Access Policy. The policy ensures that the public, health care providers, educators and scientists have access to published NIH-funded research. It was made mandatory by the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, and takes effect April 7.

At the meeting, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni described how the NIH is applying 21st-century technology to its investment in research, becoming more transparent and accountable and ensuring that the NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services can better promote the science and health benefits derived from NIH-funded research.

“We believe that public access, after a reasonable embargo period of up to a year to research publications funded by NIH, will help advance science and improve human health while preserving peer review and the value of scientific publishing,” Zerhouni said. Improved access will be a “dynamic resource to not only research and display publications, but to link them to all sorts of knowledge that NIH has invested in making research more efficient for all scientists.” If the policy remained voluntary, Zerhouni said, about 64,000 new research articles arising from NIH funds would not be available to the public each year.

The meeting was held to ensure the policy’s implementation will work as successfully as possible for all involved. “We are all ears,” Zerhouni told the audience. “We need to move forward and we are completely open to an interactive process here that will take into account all input.”

The NIH received comments from representatives of universities and other NIH grantee organizations, publishers from commercial organizations and professional societies, journal editors, patients, public health advocates and the general public. The NIH received 451 comments in advance of the meeting. Preliminary analysis indicates more than 60 percent of these pre-meeting comments expressed support of the policy as implemented; approximately 15 percent said the 12-month delay period was too long; and 15 percent had concerns that a mandatory policy would be detrimental to scientific publishers.

Twenty-four stakeholders volunteered to speak at the meeting. NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Norka Ruiz Bravo closed the meeting with a preliminary analysis of the central themes discussed. These included how author and publisher copyrights would be managed; the speed of the implementation, the impacts of the policy on publishers, science and health; the versions of articles collected; the efficacy of NIH’s instructions; and the length of the delay period. Ruiz Bravo said that all of these comments would be analyzed further.

“NIH is committed to making this policy a success for all concerned, and we want to work with all of you to get that done,” Ruiz Bravo said in a statement.

VideoCast and pre-meeting comments are available to the public.

The NIH has published a Request for Information (RFI). Comments may be submitted in response to the RFI between March 31 and May 31, 2008. Please see for more information. NIH’s report on the meeting, pre-meeting comments and the RFI will be issued by September 30, 2008.

Please check the Public Access Web site for more information about the RFI and other updates. New training resources are also available.