Bill in Senate to Expand Public Access to Taxpayer-funded Research

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the world’s largest source of funding for biomedical research. Taxpayers provide more than $28 billion annually for the NIH [1], yet only about a third of the research studies are made publicly available in various repositories after a 12-month delay [2]. Lawmakers are trying to change this and the U.S. Senate is currently deliberating a bill that would require all research funded by the NIH to be freely available to the public within 12 months of publication.

open_access.jpgThe requirement builds upon an earlier voluntary NIH initiative to establish a web-based repository for barrier-free access to primary reports in the life sciences [3]. Unfortunately, since it’s implementation, the voluntary initiative has failed to attain a deposit rate greater than 5% by individual researchers [4]. Thus, advocates of open access to scientific research have been lobbying to make it a mandatory requirement.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the provision earlier this year as part of the FY2008 Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Bill [5]. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed and it is slated for full Senate consideration by the end of the month. The bill, S.1710, includes language requiring:

… that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

More information can be found at The Senate bill requires public access, not open access, meaning that while the research articles will be free of charge, they will still be under copyright.

Public access to research will help to accelerate scientific advancement and improve public health. As someone who advocates the public taking a greater interest in the evidence from scientific research studies to guide health and healthcare decisions, I strongly encourage you to contact your Senator and ask them to support the NIH Public Access Policy. You can use the cut-and-paste version of the American Library Association/Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ALA/ATA) text provided by DigitalKoans to send a message to your Senator right now. It only takes a minute.

According to Coturnix, the Online Community Manager at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), your message needs to be sent no later than Friday, September 28, 2007 as that’s when the bill is slated to appear before the Senate.

Open access biomedical literature resources:

Hint: To limit PubMed searches to return biomedical citations that are public access, simply add “AND free full text [sb]” to end end of your query.

UPDATE: The public access mandate was signed into law by President Bush on December 26, 2007.


  1. Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2007. U.S. Office of Management and Budget. 2007.
  2. Steinbrook R. Public access to NIH-funded research. N Engl J Med. 2005 Apr 28;352(17):1739-41.
    View abstract
  3. PubMed Central: An NIH-Operated Site for Electronic Distribution of Life Sciences Research Reports. National Institutes of Health. 1999 Aug 30.
  4. Call to Action: Influence House and Senate Vote on NIH Public Access Policy. Barbara Cohen, Senior Editor, PLoS Medicine, Public Library of Science. 2007 July 13.
  5. House Backs Taxpayer-Funded Research Access . The Alliance for Taxpayer Access. 2007 Jul 20.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.