Restricting access to publications from funded research: Ethical issues and solutions
S Manikandan1, N Isai Vani2,
1 Department of Pharmacology, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Pondicherry - 607 402, India
2 Department of Anatomy, Perunthalaivar Kamaraj Medical College & Research Institute, Pondicherry - 605 009, India
Department of Pharmacology, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Pondicherry - 607 402
India is becoming one of the hubs of clinical research. Commensurate with these advances, the government funding for biomedical research in thrust areas is also increasing. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Department of Science and Technology (DST) are some of the government organizations which provide financial support for various research projects. The results of the funded research projects are published in various international journals. Most of these journals have an access to paid subscribers only. Hence it is unethical to use the research grants from government (people«SQ»s money) and not allow the scientific community free access to the results of the study. To tackle such issues, these agencies should sign the Berlin declaration and create open access repositories. A public access policy should be formulated and listed in JULIET. The funding bodies in India should also join Pubmed Central (PMC) to form PMC India so that every investigator who has received grants would submit the full text of the paper published from his study and these can be made freely accessible to everyone. Universities and research institutions should also develop institutional open access repositories. The public access policy has definitive advantages and should be implemented.
|How to cite this article:|
Manikandan S, Vani N I. Restricting access to publications from funded research: Ethical issues and solutions.J Postgrad Med 2010;56:154-156
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Manikandan S, Vani N I. Restricting access to publications from funded research: Ethical issues and solutions. J Postgrad Med [serial online] 2010 [cited 2019 Sep 23 ];56:154-156
Available from: http://www.jpgmonline.com/text.asp?2010/56/2/154/65286
India is rapidly developing in the field of biomedical research. Government funding agencies like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and Department of Science and Technology (DST), are increasing their grants every year to promote biomedical research in India. In 2008-09, ICMR alone has funded 1165 extramural research projects in thrust areas and the total extramural fund spent during this period exceeded Rs.68 crores. 
The results of these funded projects are published in various reputed national and international journals. Even though many national journals have free/open access, most international journals can be accessed only by paid subscribers. Very few academic/research institutions and universities in India have access to these international journals and hence many Indian researchers are not able to access the full-text of the publications arising from government-funded research projects. As the research grants provided by the government funding agencies are actually contributions by every Indian (tax-payers), restricting access to such scientific publications raises ethical issues.
To overcome access barriers and to make results of research freely accessible to the scientific community, the open access movement was initiated.  Open access is a free, permanent digital access to the full text of research articles. There are two ways (roads) of achieving open access to scientific research. They are open-access journals and open-access archives or repositories. The former is called 'golden road' and the later 'green road', each complementing the other. 
In the golden road, the journals provide open access to their articles either by charging the author or providing the electronic version of the journal free for all. In the green road strategy, authors provide free access to their own published articles by depositing the article in either an institutional or funding agency repository, which can be freely accessed by everyone. 
The open access movement was intensified by the Budapest open access initiative,  Bethesda statement  and the Berlin declaration  (the three Bs of the open access movement). The signatories of the Berlin declaration are committed to achieve full open access by implementing a policy that requires the researchers to deposit a copy of their published articles in an open-access repository and encourages the researchers to publish in open-access journals. As on April 2010, the Berlin declaration has been signed by 274 organizations (universities and funding agencies) all over the world, out of which only one is from India - Indian National Science Academy.  The premier funding agencies in India like ICMR, DBT, DST etc. should also sign the Berlin declaration in support of the open access movement.
The fastest and surest way to open access is by the author self-archiving in individual web pages or in an open repository.  Institutional repositories play a vital role in the green road to open access.  Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR) includes the description of various repositories, and their policies are given in the Registry of Open Access Repository Material Archiving Policies (ROARMAP). Presently, ROARMAP contains 215 mandatory policies and 19 proposed policies.  These repositories and policies can be departmental, institutional, multi-institutional or funder-based. Only five institutions/universities in India have registered their repository and policies in ROARMAP [Table 1] and these are not concerned with medical/health research. All institutions/ universities in India concerned with biomedical research should form an open access repository and register in directories like ROAR, Open DOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories),  thus making them more visible. This will also facilitate a researcher to search across repositories.
Funding agencies of various countries have made the green road mandatory for researchers who obtain funds from them. Grants provided by many of these funding agencies include open access fee for subscription-based biomedical journals allowing immediate free access to their published research. Their publication and data archiving policies are listed in JULIET; but none of the funding agencies in India feature in the list.  It is high time that funding agencies in India adopt an open access policy and get enlisted in JULIET.
Public Access Policy of NIH
National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a premier funding agency of biomedical research in the United States of America (USA). Recognizing the issue of inaccessibility of publication arising from its funded research project, NIH made it mandatory for all investigators who obtain funds from NIH, to submit the final peer-reviewed journal manuscript to Pubmed Central (PMC). PMC is a comprehensive electronic archive of peer-reviewed articles published in biomedical and life sciences journals that provides free access to its content. , The National Library of Medicine (NLM) is preserving and providing access to printed biomedical literature for decades. As technology is advancing rapidly, NLM created PMC to serve as a central repository of life science literature, with contents from two journals - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Molecular Biology of the Cell. Currently PMC contains nearly 2 million articles which can be accessed freely. Pubmed is a database of citations and abstracts from biomedical journals and it should not be confused with Pubmed Central.
Pubmed Central International (PMCI) is a collaboration between PMC and the funding agencies in other countries, aimed at creating a network of digital archives thus permitting the contents of each archive to be shared by others in the network. In January 2007, the Wellcome Trust and other funding agencies in the United Kingdom (UK) joined together to form UKPMC.  UKPMC provides free access to publications of funded research in UK and also the contents in PMC. In October 2009, Canada joined the PMCI network.  In addition to the content in PMC, PMC Canada provides free access to all publications resulting from research funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research. PMCI is on the lookout for more centers worldwide to enhance public access to medical literature.
At present India does not have a policy for facilitating access to publications arising from government-funded research projects. The government funding agencies like ICMR, DBT, DST, etc. should join hands and collaborate with PMC to form PMC India. An Indian version of PMC (PMC India) will also essentially help to develop the services that suit the needs of India rather than USA. This will establish a comprehensive and sustainable repository providing free access to full text articles published from funded research in India. It should be made mandatory for all researchers getting grants from government funding agencies to submit the full text/final peer-reviewed manuscript to PMC India so that free access can be provided. Even though immediate free access is ideal, an embargo period of 6-12 months can be allowed to protect the interests of the publisher. The proposed public access policy for India is illustrated in [Figure 1]. As journals can join PMC, journals published by professional associations should be encouraged to do so. For non-Medline-indexed journals, it is advantageous to join PMC, as PMC can submit the journal's citations to Pubmed.
The Way Ahead
First, the goals of the public access policy of India should be defined and a roadmap to assist organizations in planning their strategy should be designed. These goals should be explained to the political leaders with a call to set up a sustainable financial and administrative structure. Professional bodies and societies should be encouraged to support open access and advised to convert their official publications (journals) to open access. Each organization should establish a repository which is compliant with the international standards for interoperability.  Freely available tools such as 'E-prints', the archive creating software should be adopted and the staff should be trained to use it. Publishers should be asked to accept the terms of license adopted by the repository. Last but not the least, the barriers need to be identified and removed at all levels (author, institutional, political, publisher). Even in this modern era, some universities in India lack computers and internet connectivity. This should also be taken care of.
Allows the publication to be easily read, cited and get wide international exposure.  Providing free access helps in disseminating the results of research which essentially paves the way for further research and advancement of scientific knowledge.It also helps in preventing duplication of work thereby saving time and other resources.As the articles in PMC are integrated with various resources like sequence database and chemical compound database, this might foster intentional and serendipitous discoveries.Researchers can perform a rapid and comprehensive search of the full text which aids in data mining.Making research outputs freely accessible allows the funding agencies to evaluate the effectiveness of their funding strategy and realign them. 
Restricting accessibility of publications arising from funded research is unethical. As India does not have a public access policy, it should be formulated. The funding agencies should sign the Berlin declaration and adopt open access. They should also collaborate with Pubmed Central to form PMC India which can provide free access to the full text of articles arising from government-funded research. Every attempt should be made to remove the barriers and implement the public access policy in India.
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