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Response of the Genetics Society of America to the "NIH Draft Proposal for Enhanced Public Access to NIH Research Information."

The Genetics Society of America (GSA), founded in 1933, currently represents over 3000 professional geneticists. The Society publishes the journal GENETICS, one of the leading journals in the field since 1916. Thus, the GSA's interest in NIH's proposed open access guidelines comes from two directions: as a publisher, and as a representative of research scientists, many of whom depend on NIH funding for their research.

The GSA supports the fullest possible open access of scientific publications compatible with a sustainable financial plan for the journal. Our journal GENETICS has one of the most liberal open access policies: manuscripts are made freely available via the internet within a few days of their acceptance for publication; published papers are made freely available 3 months after they appear in print. And all articles ever published in the journal are freely available online. Thus, the GSA has a record of supporting open access publishing.

While the GSA in general is supportive of the intent of the NIH proposal for open access of publications, we have four significant concerns about the proposal:

The plan could cause confusion in the published literature by causing the archiving of different versions of published manuscripts. NIH's proposal does not require that the author's version of the paper be replaced by the final published version, leaving the possibility of having two different versions of the paper in the archive. We strongly urge that this deficiency be repaired.

The proposed plan could lead to increased publishing costs to authors and journals, and could reduce authors' productivity. Who will pay for implementing the proposal? Will the journals be responsible for transmitting the article to PMC in the proper format? If so, the cost the publisher would incur to do this would need to be recovered (especially for Society publishers, who work with a thin profit margin). The publisher is likely to pass the costs on to the authors, reducing the funds available for research (or forcing NIH to increase the level of funding). Making authors responsible for this could place an onerous burden on them, and is likely to reduce their productivity. We believe PMC should be responsible for the cost of acquiring the article in proper format.

The plan leads to duplication of effort. Articles published in our journal (GENETICS) are freely available on our web site (as unedited manuscripts) within a few days of their acceptance for publication. Displaying the same manuscript on PMC is a duplication of effort. We suggest it is more efficient for PMC simply to obtain from the journal the final published version of articles appearing in journals such as ours that provide open access within 6 months of publication.

PMC may not be able to serve as a true archive. The online archive that will replace the printed one that has served us well will need to be stable and accessible in perpetuity (a very long time, indeed). Based on our recent interactions with PMC, we are concerned about the ability of PMC to effectively carry out the proposal. Also, we find ominous the report that more than half of the data from the Mariner Mars missions cannot be accessed. We fear the same situation could ensue with papers archived in PMC. We are especially concerned that funding for the archive (PMC) will not be sufficient or stable, since it will rely on continuing support from the NIH and, ultimately, Congress.

The GSA urges NIH officials to address these issues before implementing their plan for open access of publications resulting from NIH-funded research.


Mark Johnston, President, GSA
Elizabeth Jones, Editor-in-Chief, GENETICS