When it comes to self-archiving of final author manuscripts, many authors either do not understand or blatantly disregard government and publisher policy.
According to the NIH Public Access Policy, authors must deposit a copy of their final accepted manuscript into PubMed Central no later than 12-months after publication of their article. Some journals, like Science, permit a much shorter embargo period of just six months.
Comparing the public access dates of 322 final manuscripts deposited in PMC and published in Science between January 2010 and March 2012 reveals some interesting details. While 18% (59) of authors selected 180 days (Science‘s embargo policy), 30% (95) selected a shorter span of time; of this set, 3% (10 authors) selected an embargo date of less than one week after publication.
The majority of authors (52% or 168) occupied the other end of the spectrum, selecting an embargo period of more than 180 days, with 14% (45) of authors choosing the NIH policy embargo policy of 360 days, and 10% (33) of authors depositing in arrears — making their manuscript publicly available more than a year after their article was formally published. It is not known from the data how many authors disregarded the NIH policy and did not submit their manuscript to PMC.
To me, these results suggest that many authors are poor custodians of their final manuscripts when it comes to following publisher and funder policies. Either authors do not understand them or simply disregard the details.
Second, it also suggests that if these embargo periods are important to funders and publishers, both could do more to enforce them. For example:
- Publishers could archive manuscripts on behalf of their authors. Many publishers already do this as a service to authors, which ensures that all manuscripts declaring NIH-funding are properly deposited as mandated by law.
- PubMed Central could store a simple file with journal embargo periods and calculate the public access date automatically. This would resolve the ambiguity in embargo dates.
Either solution would do much to ensure that authors fulfill their commitment to their funders, publishers, and to the general public.