Friday, February 27, 2015

Canada's tri-agency open access policy

Kudos to Canada's three major research funding agencies (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council or SSHRC, CIHR & NSERC) on their new open access policy.

In brief, for grants awarded as of May 2015 (January 1, 2008 in the case of CIHR), researchers are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication. Researchers can select whether to make their work openly accessible via an open access repository or through publishing in an open access journal.

In many respects this is an exemplary policy. Strengths of the policy include:

  • researchers are required not just encouraged to make their work freely available
  • the aim is free accessibility - this is clearer and simpler than technical definitions of open access that appear equally simple but introduce potential problems down the road - see my Creative Commons and Open Access Critique series for details
  • researchers are responsible for ensuring that they publish in journals that will allow compliance with this policy - this reinforces that the primary rights in results of published research rest with the researchers and the public that funded the work, not the publisher
  • researchers are strongly encouraged to deposit their article in an accessible online repository even when publishing in an open access journal
  • open access publication fees (APCs) are an allowable expense under the granting conditions. This is excellent because it provides the option for researchers who feel the services provided are of value to them and this makes sense in their context, and this will improve the prospects for some open access journals. By leaving the decision about how to use funds to the researchers this gives market incentive to spur competition. For example, researchers using their own grant funds that could otherwise be directed to other purposes have far more incentive to seek a good price, or even to ask whether such services are really necessary, than researchers accessing block funds otherwise unavailable to them (e.g. the UK approach). Being forced to make such decisions about whether to pay APCs, hire research assistants, or fund travel and conference expenses gives scholars a needed incentive to reconsider the whole publishing system. As far back as 1994, Odlyzko wrote about the impending demise of the scholarly journal. The stickiness of the current system developed and primarily suited for print publication and physical delivery is far from optimal in the internet age
  • the harmonization of the policy for all three granting agencies will facilitate education and compliance
  • the policy includes an open data policy for specific data under CIHR funding. This too is wise. We have only begun to consider the issues surrounding opening access to data with many different types of research, such as the primary rights and policies of third party organizations that researchers work with, confidentiality and other rights of human research subjects. At this point, my perspective is that to open up research data what we need most is support and infrastructure, an appropriate role for the university library, with careful development of policies over time that will likely be discipline and situation specific.
No policy is perfect, and here are my suggestions for improvement:
  • Researchers should be required and not just strongly encouraged to deposit a copy of their research in a Canadian open access repository, even if they have published in an open access journal or deposited in a disciplinary repository. The only way we can ensure ongoing preservation and open access to the results of Canadian-funded research is by keeping a copy of the works in repositories over which we have control. Journals come and go; whether open access or not, there is no guarantee that a journal will remain available forever. Open access journals can change their business models. Funding for a disciplinary repository maintained elsewhere could dry up.
  • 12 months is too long. The permitted embargo should be shortened to 6 months, with a view to eventually elimination.

Odlyzko, A. (1994). Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending demise of scholarly journals. Journal of Universal Computer Science 0:0. doi 10.3217/jucs-000-00-0003

My response to the tri-agency draft policy is posted here.

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