Well, today is the day. The day after the new NIH mandate on Open Access (also see here for more information) to publications has begun. I think this is a great great day for science. And for society and Congress should be commended for doing something that is good for the country and the world that may have upset some of their big donors (i.e., the publishing industry).
And I think we all owe a big round of thanks to those who worked towards this goal. Clearly, there were many involved in convincing Congress to do this, from concerned members of the public, to SPARC and other NGOs, to tireless individuals like Peter Suber, and of course the Public Library of Science. For those who do not know, or may have forgotten, the Public Library of Science got it's beginnings as an initiative to promote Open Access publishing (and it was not initially a publisher of journals). PLoS was founded by Harold Varmus, Pat Brown and Michael Eisen (my brother) in 2000. The first thing they did was circulate a petition to promote open access publishing. I signed the letter as did many many others. But alas, it was not enough. And so PLoS started its journals and many realized that it would be necessary for funding agencies to step in and require Open Access publishing for work they funded. And after a long struggle, we are now here with the new NIH mandate (as well as mandates from other agencies which got there before NIH). And I think that we all owe a big thanks to everyone behind this initiative. Also it is worth checking out Harold Varmus' essay today on the new NIH initiative in PLoS Biology.
I note, however, that the NIH policy is only a first step. It does not move us completely towards true Open Access to scientific publications. There are still issues that need to be addressed, including the timing of release of publications (I think everything should be released immediately, not after a 6 or 12 month delay), the issue of Copyright, the need to get old publications into the public domain, and how putting material in Pubmed Central does not completely open it up to the world (see Peter Murray-Rust's very interesting discussion of this on his blog). So there is still much work to be done. But nevertheless, I am happy to be living in this new world where NIH has made OA a key part of it's mandate.