Author + information
- Anthony N. DeMaria, MD, MACC, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology* ()
- ↵*Address correspondence to:
Anthony N. DeMaria, MD, MACC, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 3655 Nobel Drive, Suite 400, San Diego, California 92122
The current system of medical publication of original research has evolved over a period of 350 years. However, the system has recently come under intense scrutiny for rapidly escalating costs and restricted access to new discoveries and information. The recent establishment of the online Public Library of Medicine will provide immediate and free (open) access on the Internet to all accepted manuscripts from a system which charges authors a fee of $1,500. Action to improve public access crescendoed on September 3, 2004, when the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a notice of their intention to mandate that papers funded by the NIH be deposited in PubMed Central and be placed online with unrestricted access within six months. The issue of open access to research publications is multifaceted and complex. It will require another Editor's Page for a full discussion. However, the NIH proposal is tangible, and is intended for almost immediate implementation. Therefore, this proposal warrants some consideration at this time.
A word is in order about the difference between open access and open archive. Open access makes a manuscript available to everyone as soon as it is in its final publishable form. Open archive provides access to previously published papers after some delay. Many journals currently have open archive policies that range from a 6- to 12-month delay after publication, usually of the print version. The open archive policy allows standard journals to retain the attributes that render them financially viable while still providing widespread dissemination of the material to non-subscribers. At this time it is not clear if the NIH proposal involves open access or open archive.
The concept behind the NIH proposal is unassailable; knowledge should be available to everyone as soon as possible. This is truly motherhood and apple pie. No editor, medical society, or publisher should be against this principle. In the case of the NIH, the concept is further bolstered by the fact that the research has already been paid for by the taxes of the citizens. However, as written, the NIH proposal may have unintended consequences with the potential to severely damage the existing system of publishing peer-reviewed research which has served us well for many years. Therefore, I have collaborated with the leadership of the American College of Cardiology in drafting comments to the NIH notice, and will share these ideas in the following text.
To begin with, I am concerned that the proposal lacks clear definition with regard to several issues. It is uncertain when research articles would become accessible to others in the PubMed Central repository. In the draft proposal, the NIH states that articles would become available within six months after publication. However, they do not define whether this is immediate or after a six-month delay, or if any such interval begins at the date of deposit, electronic publication, or appearance in print. While I personally believe that it would be preferable if the material was disseminated after nine months, at the least the NIH should adopt a system that allows a minimum of six months from the date that research articles appear in print. This period would allow inadvertent errors to be removed during the copyediting process and eliminate the need to make changes to the originally posted version that might occur during this process. In addition, this delay would provide time for reflection and analysis and enable new data to be brought into proper perspective. The argument for a delay longer than six months would be to guard against the dissemination of research that is subsequently found to be flawed and should not be utilized by the general public. The Letters to the Editor section in journals clearly attest to such potential. Finally, it is not clear what degree of NIH funding will mandate participation. It is not certain whether the proposal applies to NIH funding for specific projects or to any work done by any investigator who has any NIH support.
As currently written, the NIH proposal does not address the rights of authors to transfer copyright to publishers or professional medical societies. Maintaining the integrity of the clinical content and the right to govern content is essential to safeguard against the indiscriminate use of partial and incomplete data for commercial interests. It is my strong opinion that the copyright transfer processes currently in place should be maintained.
It is clear that the finances of implementing the proposal have not been fully established. The existing system of scientific publication has allowed the broad dissemination of peer-reviewed original research at relatively low cost to readers and at no cost to authors, while providing financial support to both medical publications and societies. Major alterations in this system could jeopardize these publications and societies. It is possible that the proposal could result in shifting the costs of publication to authors or the diversion of funds from research endeavors. If a system was to evolve that required authors to pay a substantial publication cost, it would provide a perverse incentive to maximize the number of accepted papers and could prevent the publication of meritorious work from those with insufficient resources to pay the fee.
In view of these uncertainties, I urge the NIH to allow more time for a complete and thorough evaluation of this proposal with all stakeholders represented in the process. There are likely alternate methods to achieve the prompt dissemination of sponsored original research to both professionals and lay public sought by the NIH that would avoid any detrimental unintended consequences possible with the current proposal. It is clear that we are in a period of substantial change in the publication of medical research. We must be sure we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
- American College of Cardiology Foundation