One such piece of legislation was introduced in the Senate last year by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) that would require any published paper derived from U.S.-government-backed research to be published online within six months. PubMed Central, published by the NIH—a federal institution—has come under especially intense fire. Their efforts have been dubbed "socialized science," by Rudy Baum, editor in chief of the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Chemical and Engineering News. "Open access, in fact, equates with socialized science," he wrote in a 2004 editorial. "I find it incredible that a Republican administration would institute a policy that will have the long-term effect of shifting responsibility for communicating scientific research and maintaining the archive of science, technology and medical (STM) literature from the private sector to the federal government."
In fact, the ACS paid lobbying firm Hicks Partners LLC at least $100,000 in 2005 to try to persuade congressional members, the NIH, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that a "PubChem Project" would be a bad idea, according to public lobbying disclosures, and paid an additional $180,000 to the Wexler & Walker Public Policy Association to promote the "use of [a] commercial database." It also reportedly spent a chunk of its 2005 $280,000 internal lobbying budget as well as part of its $270,000 lobbying budget last year to push the issue, according to disclosure documents. The ACS publishes more than 30 journals covering all aspects of chemistry, and the organization did not return phone calls for comment.
Efforts for a PubChem Central have come to naught thus far and the NIH's efforts with PubMed Central have met with limited success. Of the as many as 65,000 articles derived from NIH-funded research, only 10,000 or so are available at PubMed Central. "We have authors sending in 4 percent of articles," says Neil Thakur, Ruiz Bravo's special assistant. "An additional 10 to 12 percent are submitted by publications."
"Having been at a research institution, if something is not mandatory for me and I'm a scientist and I'm focused on the science, then doing something like this is not something that I am going to pay attention to," Ruiz Bravo adds. "We could go to a mandatory policy with a six month deadline. We've been considering that."
The open-access movement is not confined to the U.S., of course. The Wellcome Trust in the U.K. has begun providing funds to its researchers explicitly to cover the costs of publishing in open-access journals. And the NIH has signed agreements with international repositories to make its publicly available material available there.
This open-access groundswell, ranging from the physics community's preprint arXiv to centralized, postprint PubMed Central, threatens many traditional publishers, though the most prestigious journals, such as the weekly Nature appear unthreatened. Nature declined to comment for this story (Note: Both Scientific American and Nature are owned by the same company: Holtzbrinck Publishers). Rather, it is the niche publishers that may have the most to lose. "If you are published in a journal that publishes every other month or quarterly and there is mandatory open-access in six months, then, as a librarian, you are going to cancel it," notes Martin Frank, executive director of the American Physiological Society (APS), which publishes 14 journals, including the American Journal of Physiology (started in 1898). "We consider ourselves a delayed open-access journal."
The APS makes all of its content free after 12 months or asks authors to pay for immediate free publication online, an opportunity 18 percent of authors have taken, Frank says. He also leads the Washington, D.C., Principles for Free Access to Science group, a coalition of not-for-profit publishers advocating such a middle way. "The author-pays business model has yet to be demonstrated to be viable," he notes. "Something can only be eclipsed if something else has been demonstrated that is better than it."