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US Senate approves mandate for access to NIH research

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The US Senate has approved a bill that directs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to require rather than request that the researchers it funds make their results publicly available. 

The FY2008 Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Bill (S.1710), which includes this provision, was approved in October. This bill will now be reconciled with the House Appropriations Bill, which contains a similar provision.

‘[The] Senate action is a milestone victory for public access to taxpayer-funded research,’ said Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, a founding member of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access which lobbies on this issue). ‘This policy sets the stage for researchers, patients, and the general public to benefit in new and important ways from our collective investment in the critical biomedical research conducted by the NIH.’

Under a mandatory policy, NIH-funded researchers will be required to deposit copies of eligible manuscripts into the National Library of Medicine¹s online database, PubMed Central. Articles will be made publicly available no later than 12 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The current NIH Public Access Policy, first implemented in 2005, is a voluntary measure and has resulted in a deposit rate of less than 5 per cent by individual investigators. The advance to a mandatory policy is the result of more than two years of monitoring and evaluation by the NIH, Congress, and the community.

‘We welcome the NIH policy being made mandatory and thank Congress for backing this important step,’ said Gary Ward, treasurer of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB). ‘Free and timely public access to scientific literature is necessary to ensure that new discoveries are made as quickly as feasible.’

The final, consolidated bill will have to pass the US House and the Senate before being delivered to the President at the end of this year.