Improving Public Access to Research Results


Most researchers are familiar with our public access policy which is central to the NIH mission. It ensures NIH-funded research is accessible to everyone so that, collectively, we can advance science and improve human health. You’ve provided access at an impressive rate which has allowed many people to see the publications that result from NIH-funded research. For example, on a typical weekday over 700,000 users retrieve more than 1.5 million papers on PubMed Central, the host archive for the public access policy.

When we put the policy into place in 2008 it was an adjustment for all of us. Since that time, NIH has focused much of our attention on outreach. We’ve helped you understand your obligations and provided reminders when we found papers that were out of compliance. This strategy, along with the research community’s shared commitment to making the results of NIH-supported research public, has resulted in a high level of compliance with the policy. But our work is not done as there are still publications — and as a consequence, NIH awards — that are not in compliance. Thus, as of spring 2013 at the earliest, we will begin to hold processing of non-competing continuation awards if publications arising from grant awards are not in compliance with the public access policy. Once publications are in compliance, awards will go forward. For more details, see NIH Guide notice NOT-OD-12-160.

We are committed to doing all we can to help our grantees ensure they comply with the policy. This summer we made it easier for project leaders and the authors they support to collaborate in the paper submission process through enhancements to My NCBI. We are giving funded organizations at least five months to prepare for our new process, and we hope you use this time to assure that publications are in compliance with the policy long before this change in process begins.

The challenge is that publication occurs throughout the year, and progress reporting occurs once a year. So I encourage principal investigators to start thinking about public access compliance when papers are planned. Discuss with your co-authors how the paper will be submitted to PubMed Central, and who will do so, along with all the other tasks of paper writing. The easiest thing to do, perhaps even today, is to take a couple of minutes to enter the NIH-supported papers you have published in the last year into My NCBI to ensure you meet the requirements of the policy regardless of when your non-competing continuation is due. This will help you avoid a last minute scramble that could delay your funding.

We appreciate the partnership we have with the biomedical research community to allow the highest level of access to the great research resulting from our funding. Keep those publications coming!


  1. There is a major problem with PubMedCentral, which is that the manuscripts uploaded to it are the “final accepted version”, not the actual “final published version”. Most papers (in my experience) have minor typos and other corrections fixed between the final accepted and published versions. Sometimes papers are even edited for content. Sometimes journals and editors demand changes to figures. This means that the version that is publicly available is not the real scientific report – it is an intermediate stage in the process. Getting the final published version onto PubMed is difficult and sometimes impossible.

    As a scientist who cares about getting things right, I do not want intermediate (incomplete, with uncorrected typos) versions of my papers made available. I have worked hard (on NIH money!) to ensure that the version that is published is the final, correct version. This version should be the one on PubMed.

    The option that PubMedCentral seems to have come to is to ask us to proofread the “final accepted version” again. This is a significant amount of extra and unnecessary work, and still does not answer what we should do in the situation where a paper has been edited for content before publication.

    Something needs to be done to allow the final PDF from the journal to be uploaded directly to PubMed Central. This is the paper that NIH paid for and the one that should be made available to the public.

    1. We ask authors ensure their final peer-reviewed manuscripts contain the same scientific information as the final published article, and this does require authors to review a proof of their manuscript before we can post it. But there are alternatives. Over 1500 journals will automatically deposit the final published article directly into PubMed Central without author involvement. We keep a list of these “Method A” journals at A number of publishers, listed under “Method B” at, will post the final published article at author request. Many of these Method B publishers charge a fee, which is reimbursable from the NIH award that supported the paper.

  2. This is a highly charged topic, so I hope my tangential observation doesn’t get lost in the debate, but: 700,000 users per DAY?!

    For an enterprise that is consistently trying to find new and better ways to connect with taxpayers and ensure that they are aware of the tremendous return on investment from NIH research – and perhaps, you know, write their congressperson or Senator about supporting NIH – this seems to be an area rich with taxpayers finding benefit from publicly funded research. Not all of those 700,000 users per day are researchers or librarians adding to collections. Many must be taxpayers and average public folk. If we’re getting record numbers of the public to voluntarily search out information about medical research, we (the extramural community) owe it to ourselves to find a way to encourage their support for research. Perhaps it is a simple “like” mechanism for medical research (click here if you support medical research), or perhaps it’s even as crazy as moving PubMed out of the NIH to a friendly external organization so that organization can encourage users to take action on a grassroots alert. We’ve all always struggled with how to get the public to find value in NIH can carry that message to policymakers. It seems PubMed is generating a critical mass of folks, but there’s nothing ethically that NIH can do with those folks on the advocacy front – the extramural community and NIH needs to to maybe work together in a creative way to capture that interest and find a new and creative way to garner the support that clearly exists and have it manifest through advocacy.

  3. My spouse and/or I are accustomed to searching PubMed for friends and family to do basic supportive research for medical conditions. Conditions which are poorly explained or even explored by their physicians. One just this week, as it happens. Access to the primary literature is often very helpful, for peace of mind and to point subsequent medical care in the right direction, more quickly in many cases. We have found physicians to actually welcome discussions of papers when it comes to our own family’s health care.

    The only reason we have full access is because of our affiliations with academic institutions. The public access policy was almost lost this past year because of academic publisher donations to a few key Congresspeople. It is unconscionable that this should ever be reversed. We should be seeking more ways to make ever greater amounts of the literature (prior to the access policy) available to the public which payed for it.

  4. One way of reaching this compliance is supposed to be via reporting the results in for studies that are listed there. I am concerned about the way that results reporting is structured is not user friendly, and until VERY recently little guidance was available on how to use that part of the application. The NLM has work to do to improve that site. They should also accept a link to a published article from the study (if available) as proof of results reporting as an alternate to completing their results reporting pages, especially until they make them more flexible.

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