The Missing Outcry — Are the NIH and Its Researchers Shirking Their Obligations?
Publishers have been the whipping post for those who feel that reports deriving from taxpayer-funded research should be made available free of charge to taxpayers. This has occurred despite the fact that there are alternative ways to get the directly funded research results to the taxpaying public. In most cases, these alternatives depend on the researchers themselves fulfilling the terms of their grants by filing reports and data with their funding agencies, which then make the reports available online via government Web sites. They also depend on the funding agency enforcing its own policies. But what happens when studies reveal that NIH-funded researchers aren’t depositing their reports or their data within the time allotted to them? What happens when the NIH itself doesn’t chase down the reports it requires from its taxpayer-funded researchers? Very little, it seems, despite the fact that on its face, this seems like a pretty egregious abrogation of duties... There are at least three studies showing low rates of compliance — two of these (one focusing on publication after registration in ClinicalTrials.gov, and the other focusing on mandatory reporting requirements for the same) were covered recently here. A third study of publication events, published inPLoS Medicine in 2009, was highlighted in our comments on an earlier post covering the first two studies... researchers should keep their promises to the taxpayers funding their research by actually sharing the data, writing up the reports required of them, and depositing both with their funding agencies when the terms of their funding require such actions... Many publishers also support authors in this regard, including the oft-maligned Elsevier, which will help authors deposit their materials. Despite this and the mandatory nature of the reporting requirements, not only were publication rates of trials registered at ClinicalTrials.gov surprisingly low, but perhaps most alarming was the low rate of compliance with mandatory reporting requirements... I think the reason for radio silence on these gaps in reporting is sad and simple — the most vocal critics of what happens to government-funded research have fixated on publishers for more than a decade... Publishers are an easy target because they are perceived as “the other” in the scholarly and research world (despite the fact that most publishers are run by academic societies, universities, or academic researchers); because publishers have consolidated operations and well-known names (Elsevier, Wolters-Kluwer, Springer); and because publishers have a relatively small and coordinated set of direct payers. Researchers, on the other hand, are a diffuse group with diffuse funding. As a US taxpayer, it’s hard for me to be upset at anyone in particular because NIH or DOE researchers are pretty anonymous, don’t function as a corporation, and are hard to tag with individual blame. That doesn’t make the fact that researchers are apparently taking money from taxpayers and then breaking their promises to taxpayers any more acceptable. If one concern at the heart of the open access (OA) movement is that taxpayers deserve to get what they’ve paid for, then a major problem is upstream of publishers — it’s in the 78% of grant agreements that are being abrogated by researchers every year, researchers who accepted taxpayer dollars, completed the research, and then blew off their reporting requirements. Sorry, their mandatory reporting requirements."
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