Voice Your Opinion to the NIH

by Christopher Frenz

Editors' Note: For more information about the NIH proposal for open access, read Christopher Frenz's EOF column, "Open Access for Science", in the April 2005 issue of Linux Journal.

In recent months, open access for science has become a heavily debated topic. Many scientists are in full support of an open access publishing model, but many publishers of scientific journals remain stalwart opponents. In early February 2005, however, a partial victory towards achieving open access was scored when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it had decided to establish a voluntary program that would present researchers with the option of archiving their published articles in the open electronic repository PubMed Central.

NIH's new policy is set to go into effect in May 2005, and while it represents a step in the right direction, it still is a far cry from a true open access requirement. In addition to being an optional program, the program also allows articles to be delayed for up to a year before they can appear freely, in order to protect the interests of the publisher.

The value associated with a given research paper often depends on the age of the content, with newer research results generally being of more value and interest to researchers within a given field. The original proposal had called for a mandatory program that would require all NIH-funded studies to be archived within a period of six months. Additionally, NIH policies apply to much of the biomedical research within the United States. But research in other disciplines, such as physics or computer science, largely is unaffected by these decisions, because this type of research funding often stems from other government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation.

Thus, as believers in the ideals of openness and freedom, we as Linux enthusiasts should rally behind the cause of open access to scientific literature. Doing so provides us with yet another forum for showing the world how the free exchange of ideas and information can benefit us all.

In order to voice your support of open access to the National Institutes of Health, e-mail comments can be sent to PublicAccess@nih.gov. Alternatively, you also can write to your local Congressman or Senator in support of open access, as NIH's open access plans were presented to Congress at the end of 2004. Congressional contact information can be found at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov, respectively.

Christopher M. Frenz is a bioinformaticist with more than five years of experience using Linux. He also is the author of the book Visual Basic and Visual Basic .NET for Scientists and Engineers (Apress) and currently is writing a book about Perl programming.

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