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Mandating Access: Assessing the NIH's Public Access Policy

Staudt, Joseph (2019): Mandating Access: Assessing the NIH's Public Access Policy.

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Abstract

In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandated that the full text of NIH-supported articles be made freely available on PubMed Central (PMC) -- the NIH's repository of biomedical research. This paper uses ~ 1 million NIH articles and several matched comparison samples to examine how this "PMC mandate" impacted researcher access to the biomedical literature and publishing patterns in biomedicine. Estimates of the mandate's impact on forward citations to NIH articles tend to be noisy and inconsistent across samples, models, and specifications, and the largest upper limits of confidence intervals cannot rule out substantial increases. However, the most credible estimates suggest that the mandate had a relatively modest effect on citations, which is consistent with most researchers having widespread access to the biomedical literature prior to the mandate, leaving little room for the mandate to increase access. I also �find that NIH articles are more likely to be published in traditional subscription-based journals (as opposed to "open access" journals) after the mandate. This indicates that any discrimination the mandate induced, by subscription-based journals against NIH articles, was offset by other factors -- possibly the decisions of editors and submission behavior of authors.

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