News From C3

September 19, 2014

It’s Fall… And Investigators Thoughts (Should) Turn to Public-Access Requirements

I hope everyone had a good summer, and got a break from the demands of looming proposal cycles. So, maybe it’s been months since you thought about the NIH Public Access policy, which has now been around long enough that everyone probably forgot why it came about. Likely for similar reasons, NSF says it will have a public-access policy drafted by the end of 2014. Between those two agencies, a large portion of government money for scientific research already has, or will soon have, a requirement for results to be made publically available. But what does the NIH, or anyone, actually do with that information? And what are the ramifications of public access tracking for you?

First, since agencies now have quick and easy ways to call up individual investigators’ publication records, they are putting less emphasis on publications on biosketches. As Sally Rockey said “The new NIH biosketch emphasizes your accomplishments instead of just a list of publications” (see C3 Newsletter May 2014 http://www.c3science.com/news/entry/18/ ). Don’t think, however, that because there may be less publication emphasis on biosketches that the emphasis has actually diminished. Near the end of NIH’s public-access web materials lies this sentence: “Finally, the Policy allows NIH to monitor, mine, and develop its portfolio of taxpayer funded research more effectively, and archive its results in perpetuity.” We can assume that NSF’s public access policy will be similar in conception and execution. I don’t work for NIH or NSF so I can only guess at their intentions, but some of their publications make a few things clear.  First, as they said, they can and are monitoring your publications.

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Several researchers, at least one of whom is employed by NHLBI, published an article the New England Journal of Medicine in Nov. 2013 in which they analyzed whether various amounts of NHLBI funding for clinical trials had resulted in satisfactory amounts of publications. They also looked at citations of publications and some other metrics. They concluded that the rate at which smaller clinical trials were publishing was not highly satisfactory. Big expensive trials fared better.

 “Nonetheless, we acknowledge that the NHLBI, working in concert with other parties, could play a more active role in better understanding the proximate and root causes of the delay in publication of trial results, in redirecting our funding priorities toward the trials that are most likely to be published quickly and to have high impact within the biomedical community, and, when appropriate, in communicating to grant and contract recipients our expectation of timely publication. The data presented in this article and elsewhere have already stimulated intensive internal policy dialogues at the highest levels of the National Institutes of Health.”

My point in this newsletter, though, is not which types of trials published more papers, but the fact that funders are doing this type of research, by linking study numbers to published papers. They also looked at time to publication, and stated that lag times to get papers out were too long. The way they link this information is too complicated to explain here, but various people attached to agencies have published papers on how they pull and pool this data. The takeaway, though, is that agencies are linking grant numbers to published papers to see whether their funding is resulting in publications and how long it is taking. While we can argue all day about whether publications should be the primary measure of success (and people have published papers looking at whether other measures would be more meaningful, such as policy changes, new drugs on the market, or changes to clinical practice) most people agree that these hard-to-measure metrics are a long way from being readily available for use. C3 also sees plenty of pink sheets where reviewers say that the publication record of the investigator is too skimpy to support giving him/her money. Bottom line: get those papers out and out as quickly as possible (see C3 Newsletter http://www.c3science.com/news/entry/17/ on selecting a journal). And, don’t forget a well-written, well-edited paper that’s properly formatted for the journal has a much better chance of being accepted on first submission, significantly decreasing your time from funding to publication. 

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