NIH's Public Archive for the Refereed Literature: PUBMED CENTRAL

Stevan Harnad harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Tue Aug 31 04:26:30 EST 1999


NIH's E-Biomed proposal has evolved into PubMed Central, a free online
public archive of the peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed literature in
Biology, to begin in January 2000.

This is an extremely important, timely and welcome development for
science. There is only one fundamental question that needs to be
answered about the revised proposal:

    "Will authors be able to self-archive their refereed articles in
    PubMed Central?"

The revised proposal is still unclear about this. The answer might turn
out to be that only publishers will be able to archive refereed papers.

(This would be regrettable, because publishers are not likely to want
to give away the contents of their journals for free, whereas authors
are.)

I hope the answer to the question will be yes. If so, PubMed Central
will not only quickly make the biological literature into the optimal
free resource for biological science, but it will provide a model for
adoption by all the other learned disciplines.

A few more specific comments follow:

Harold Varmus, Director, NIH, <hvarmus at mail.nih.gov> wrote:

> the NIH will establish a Web-based repository for barrier-free access
> to primary reports in the life sciences...  PubMed Central, based on
> its natural integration with the existing PubMed biomedical literature
> database

Assuming that barrier-free means free for one and all in perpetuo, this
will be an invaluable contribution to the advancement of biological and
medical research.

> the screening of non-peer-reviewed reports will be the responsibility
> of groups that have no direct relationship to the NIH.

This is as it should be. Peer review is being implemented by scientific
publishers and societies, and should continue to be so implemented.

> Peer-reviewed reports will be provided to PubMed Central from
> participating publishers and societies that have mediated the review
> process.

Here is the central question: What about the peer-reviewed reports from
NON-participating publishers and societies? Will the authors of that
work be able to archive it in PubMed Central too? Or will the work
available for free for all in PubMed only be the work published by
"participating" publishers and societies? 

> The non-peer-reviewed reports will also enter PubMed Central through
> independent organizations, which will be responsible for screening this
> material.

A similar (though less critical) question can be raised here: Will
authors be able to self-archive their non-peer-reviewed reports?
(Some screening is a prudent idea but it must not be so restrictive
as to prevent the self-archiving of preprints that are being submitted
to peer-reviewed journals.)

> PubMed Central will solicit the views of participating publishers to
> best serve their needs and enhance the value of the overall resource.

Will the availability of the peer-reviewed literature online free for
all be conditional on the active collaboration of publishers (who
currently derive their revenue from selling it) or only on the
active collaboration of authors (who give it away)?

> Publishers, societies, editorial boards and other organizations
> interested in depositing content in PubMed Central are urged to contact
> us at PubMedCentral at nih.gov.

What about AUTHORS interested in depositing their peer-reviewed and
non-peer-reviewed reports? Is, say, university-affiliation sufficient
(that would be a good first step), or is it still only publishers who
determine whether or not their authors' freely given reports can be
given away for free?

A great deal rests on the clarification of this fundamental question.

--------------------------------------------------------------------
Stevan Harnad                     harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
Professor of Cognitive Science    harnad at princeton.edu
Department of Electronics and     phone: +44 2380 592-582
Computer Science                  fax:   +44 2380 592-865
University of Southampton         http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/
Highfield, Southampton            http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           




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