Steven Breckler, Open Access and Public Understanding, APA Online, April 2006. Breckler is the Executive Director of the American Psychological Association.
Excerpt by Open Access News Blog (26 April 2006
): "Over the past year, NIH has been working to establish and grow a policy on public access. The goal is to post all of the journal publications that result from NIH grants, in a form that makes the full text freely available to the public. When the policy was first introduced, contributions to the public archive were voluntary. Now NIH and some members of congress want to make the contributions mandatory – if your published journal article is supported in any way by a grant from NIH, you would be required to deposit the full-text article in the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central archive. APA joined with many other non-profit publishers of scientific journals to express concerns about the initial NIH policy. For one thing, NIH has not yet demonstrated that it can manage such a mammoth undertaking. Many of us also have serious reservations about concentrating so much gate-keeping authority in the hands of a federal agency. These agencies already control the direction of science through the allocation of funding. Under the new public access policy, it will be far too easy for the government to suppress research results that happen to be unpopular or politically unpalatable. It is an Orwellian nightmare for basic science. Perhaps the greatest concern, however, is the disingenuous premise on which the public access policy is based. In Publication No. 05-5775, NIH asserts the following:
“Ensuring access to the full text of NIH-funded research publications will improve the public’s understanding and appreciation of biomedical research findings. Enhanced access to information strengthens and expands the impact of research while disseminating it in a timelier manner. The online archive will increase the public’s access to health-related publications at a time when demand for such information is on a steady rise.”
...It is reasonable to ask whether lay members of the public – taxpayers whose hard-earned dollars helped to support this research – will gain from their reading of this article any better understanding of the research results. Some certainly will, but I suspect that most will not. For those who do want access, however, many options are available – a reprint request to the author, electronic access through a library, or purchase (for a nominal fee) directly from the APA website.Comment by Puter Suber (OANews):
(1) The concern that NIH will be a gatekeeper that could suppress politically unpalatable results is completely misplaced. Breckler missed the fact that NIH is not the sole distributor of this research. The NIH policy only applies to articles published in independent journals. The NIH will only host copies of research published elsewhere.
(2) On the benefit for lay readers, Breckler makes three mistakes. First, he mistakes the NIH priorities, which are to help researchers first and lay readers second. The policy puts it this way: "By creating an archive of peer-reviewed, NIH-funded research publications, NIH is helping health care providers, educators, and scientists to more readily exchange research results and the public to have greater access to health-related research publications. As the archive grows, the public will be more readily able to access an increasing number of these publications." Second, he assumes that the NIH policy has no other justification than to help lay readers, so that if this one is weak, the policy cannot stand. Breckler misses not only the primacy of the benefit to researchers, but its immensity. Third, he assumes that because helping lay readers is secondary, it is therefore negligible or can be satisfied through priced-access models. For some evidence to the contrary, see testimonies from Merrill Goozner, Kuan-Teh Jeang, Ray Corrigan, and (if you only have time to read one) Sharon Terry. BTW, there's a good thread at the AmSci OA Forum on the "lay reader" question.