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February 20, 2006

Time for an Open Access mandate at National Institutes of Health

Dorothea Salo, Spaghetti that didn't stick, Caveat Lector, February 16, 2006. Excerpt by Peter Suber (OA News Blog 17 February 2006):

Open Access News spread the word today that the first Report on the NIH Public Access out. Compliance rate? A desperately pathetic 3.8%. Three point eight percent of the literature that was eligible for archiving under this policy actually got archived. You begin to see what repository rats are up against?

The NIH did its level best to communicate the policy to researchers, and they’re decently competent at outreach. As far as I know, publishers didn’t spread much FUD among researchers. Even so, a big fat nothing happened, because the policy had no teeth and researchers don’t understand and don’t care about the economics or socioinformatics of publishing. I part ways with Stevan Harnad on a lot, but he’s dead right about one thing at least: if researchers don’t have to provide open access, they mostly won’t. I can cajole and jolly and educate and reason with them all I want, but I won’t have nearly the impact of a policy with teeth.

We can’t coddle researchers on this; it’s tantamount to coddling Elseviley Verlag. Fortunately, it looks as though the NIH policy is likely to sprout teeth. Because of that, I’m actually not at all saddened that this particular spaghetti-strand didn’t stick when thrown at the wall. We now have cogent evidence that “voluntary” open-access policies aren’t worth spit. That removes a fairly big pillar that Elseviley Verlag likes to hide behind.


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