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NIH Note to Reporters Concerning Electronic Publishing in the Life Sciences

  September, 3 1999 16:46
your information resource in human molecular genetics
In a statement today to editors and publishers of scientific journals and other members of the scientific community, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced its plan to establish a repository for electronic distribution of primary research reports in the life sciences. The new NIH-supported site is to be called PubMed Central. It will be integrated with the widely used bibliographic site, PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/), and is intended to be one of several repositories in an international system first proposed by NIH Director Harold Varmus, M.D., in May 1999. According to today's announcement, PubMed Central will begin receiving, storing, and distributing content — including peer-reviewed articles, preprints, and other screened reports from existing journals, new journals, and reputable scientific organizations — in January 2000.

The mission of the NIH is to conduct and support medical research and to disseminate the results of that research widely to the public and the scientific community. The NIH will make use of electronic-publishing technology to fulfill the dissemination goal by establishing and maintaining PubMed Central, a Web-based repository that will archive, organize, and distribute peer-reviewed reports from journals, as well as reports that have been screened but not formally peer reviewed. Screening and peer review of manuscripts will be the responsibility of scientific publishers, professional societies, and other groups independent of the NIH. As a result of the interest in this proposal and the comments from the scientific community, the scope of the content has been expanded to include the life sciences in general, including plant and agricultural research as well as biology and medicine.

"In the four months since we proposed what we then called E-biomed, we have heard from hundreds of people and have had discussions with dozens of interested organizations," said Dr. Varmus. "Whether the views support or oppose the proposal, these comments have included valuable suggestions. Our focus remains as it was: to make important research literature available without barriers on the Internet, and we now have a plan for a system that ultimately will enrich the reading experience, deepen discussions among scientists, and enhance information flow from the world's investment in life sciences research," he said.

Attached: Summary about E-publishing sent August 30, 1999, to journal publishers, scientific organizations, and scientists, and posted at new web address http://www.nih.gov/welcome/director/pubmedcentral/pubmedcentral.htm. The original proposal for a system called E-biomed appeared for comment on May 5, 1999. An addendum was published on the site on June 20, 1999. These documents are also at this site.

PubMed Central:
An NIH-Operated Site for Electronic Distribution of Life Sciences Research Reports

In the four months since we proposed E-biomed — a system that would make results from the world's life sciences research community freely available on the Internet at this site (http://www.nih.gov/welcome/director/ebiomed/ebiomed.htm) — we have heard from hundreds of people and have had discussions with dozens of interested organizations. Whether they support or oppose the proposal, these commentators have made valuable suggestions, many of which have been incorporated into this statement.

Although the fundamental principles that motivated our proposal remain, specific aspects have evolved in significant ways. First, the scope of the content has expanded to include the life sciences in general, including plant and agricultural research as well as biology and medicine. Second, the screening of non-peer-reviewed reports will be the responsibility of groups that have no direct relationship to the NIH.

In an effort to put the system into operation, the NIH will establish a Web-based repository for barrier-free access to primary reports in the life sciences. This repository — which we consider to be the initial site in an international system — will be called PubMed Central, based on its natural integration with the existing PubMed biomedical literature database. PubMed itself will extend its coverage of the life sciences and continue its linkage to external online journals.

PubMed Central will archive, organize and distribute peer-reviewed reports from journals, as well as reports that have been screened but not formally peer-reviewed. In addition, it will coordinate with similar efforts to establish servers internationally, including those overseen by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). Scientific publishers, professional societies, and other groups independent of the NIH will have complete responsibility for the input to PubMed Central. Copyright will reside with the submitting groups (i.e., the publishers, societies, or editorial boards) or the authors themselves, as determined by the participants.

Peer-reviewed reports will be provided to PubMed Central from participating publishers and societies that have mediated the review process. The submission of content to PubMed Central can occur at any time after acceptance for publication, at the discretion of the participants. Although early deposition offers the greatest benefit to the scientific community, we recognize the concerns of publishers about financial consequences of rapid submission and will welcome content submitted at any time.

The non-peer-reviewed reports will also enter PubMed Central through independent organizations, which will be responsible for screening this material. Many of the non-peer-reviewed reports will be "preprints," both deposited in PubMed Central and subjected to formal peer review by journal editorial boards. In other cases, these reports may never be submitted to a journal for traditional peer review, yet will be deposited in PubMed Central because, in the judgment of the screening organization, they provide valuable data to the research community. Some publishers and societies have already planned preprint servers, and we believe that such groups — and other responsible groups yet to be constituted — can bring diversity and experience to the oversight of the non-peer-reviewed material. We emphasize that this material will be clearly distinguishable from the peer-reviewed content of PubMed Central.

NIH's responsibility will be limited to maintaining this central repository, specifically:

  • Facilitating the input of SGML-tagged content from submitters;

  • Developing technology for enhanced retrieval, presentation, and navigation;

  • Improving the access to and utility of the content in PubMed Central for other information resources, publishers, and database groups;

  • Coordinating with the repository efforts of international partners in the system; and

  • Archiving the content and working to guarantee accessibility in the future.

An international advisory committee will be constituted by learned societies interested in fostering the development of PubMed Central and the collaborating international repositories. One of the important functions of the advisory committee will be to establish criteria for certifying groups that may submit peer-reviewed or screened material to PubMed Central. In the meantime, the initial criteria will be:

  • Any journal currently indexed by the major abstracting and indexing services: EMBASE, Biosis, MEDLINE, Science Citation Index, Agricola, PsycINFO, and Chemical Abstracts.

  • Any organization with at least three members who are principal investigators on research grants from major funding agencies and foundations (for example, NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA, or HHMI in the United States, and equivalent organizations abroad).

In order to facilitate participation in this initiative, some of the expenses associated with publication may shift from readers to authors. As they do with journal subscriptions, page charges, and reprints, NIH grantees (and those of other funding agencies) may choose to use funds to pay any additional expenses, e.g., submission and document preparation charges.

Participating journals and other organizations will submit complete research reports to PubMed Central and access to the entire report will be free to individuals through PubMed Central. The status of all reports — peer-reviewed or screened — and the identity of the contributing organization will be clearly indicated. The PubMed Central staff will work with the publisher to establish an efficient data flow and make this content available as soon as possible. They will also work to satisfy publishers' needs to preserve the distinctive appearance of their journals' contents in PubMed Central without compromising the overall utility of the repository. Appropriate links to the publisher's site will also be included. PubMed Central will solicit the views of participating publishers to best serve their needs and enhance the value of the overall resource.

We now invite the scientific community to engage in this exciting new venture. We plan to be ready to make reports accessible through PubMed Central by January 2000. Publishers, societies, editorial boards and other organizations interested in depositing content in PubMed Central are urged to contact us at PubMedCentral@nih.gov.

August 30, 1999

Contact: Anne Thomas / (301) 496-4461

Message posted by: Frank S. Zollmann

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