Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The case for OA, focusing on Canada

James Till and Joan Leishman, Be Openly Accessible or be Obscure?  University of Toronto Bulletin, October 11, 2006 (scroll to p. 15). Excerpt:

Patterns of scholarly communication are changing.  Open access (OA) archiving and OA publishing are receiving increasingly substantial support. “Be openly accessible or be obscure” may soon join, or even replace, “publish in high-impact journals or perish” as a mantra heard ad infinitum or nauseam by academics. Why is this happening? One important reason is that more and more universities are establishing OA institutional repositories (IRs). An example is the T-Space IR of the University of Toronto Libraries. Four years ago, Peter Suber, a research professor of philosophy at Earlham College (Richmond, Indiana) and an eloquent advocate of OA, identified three reasons for the increasing number of IRs: the development of open source software for building archives; the acceptance of a standard for making the archives interoperable (the Open Archives Initiative metadata harvesting protocol); and the decision by several universities and laboratories to launch archives and fill them with the research output of their faculty. In 2002, when Suber wrote this, eprint archiving was already popular in some disciplines, mainly in the physical sciences, mathematics and related fields, as a result of widespread use of the arXiv subject-oriented repository. Since then, other subject-based repositories have been established or have grown in popularity. An example is the PubMed Central
repository, established by the U.S. National Institutes of Health....

Why OA? Examples of arguments in support of OA are these: 1. The Impact Argument: OA leads to increased benefits for authors and their institutions in the ever-accelerating “competition for eyeballs.” Evidence is accumulating that OA articles are cited more often and/or are more immediately recognized and cited than non-OA articles. 2. The Accountability Argument (or Taxpayer Argument): Researchers and scholars are accountable to the public that supports them. Taxpayers, who have paid once to support the research, should have access to the outputs of that research and should not be required to pay again for such access. (This is especially so when, in the OA publishing model, important actions that add value to the publication process, such as high-quality peer review and skilled editing, continue to be provided). 3. The Good Public Policy Argument: Greater access to published research outputs will increase scientific and economic benefits through greater knowledge uptake and scientific discovery. 4. The Serials Crisis Argument: Libraries are increasingly unable to provide access to conventional journals because of the ever-rising cost of subscriptions, particularly for biomedical and health sciences journals.

Suber has suggested that the single largest obstacle to OA is “author inertia or omission.” The most effective way to overcome this obstacle, says Stevan Harnad, a professor at Southampton University, is for institutions (including funding agencies, universities and their individual departments) to require (mandate) self-archiving of research articles. Such a requirement could be a condition of continuing support of the kind needed for the initiation of productive research and scholarship. At present, there’s an ongoing tug-of-war between some major funders of biomedical and health research (such as the Wellcome Trust and the Research Councils in the U.K., and the National Institutes of Health in the U.S.) that support OA and some prestigious advocates of caution. The latter usually have some vested interest in the conventional publishing model and include the Royal Society, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a strong lobby of commercial publishers....

In October 2004 the governing board of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) adopted OA in principle.  SSHRC is currently in an implementation phase.... Genome Canada currently has a policy that deposition of published manuscripts in the PubMed Central repository is expected to occur within six months.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) does not currently have a policy about OA to the outputs of research but has recently established an advisory committee on access policy. Attention will be paid not only to the peer-reviewed published results of research but also to physical outputs of research and to data deposited in public databases. An initial draft version of a proposed access policy will soon be posted on the CIHR website and comments about the proposed policy will be sought....[PS: The draft is now online for comment.]

What can the University of Toronto community do? ...Senior members of the academic community can lead by example and begin to foster the implementation of OA in their own areas of research....During the past year, the advisory committee on the university library put OA high on its agenda to encourage and elevate discussion. The library has a role to play in creating awareness and supporting OA archiving in research repositories including the university’s own T-Space.  [PS:  Toronto faculty should also support Toronto's Project Open Source | Open Access.]

All members of the university community should pay increasing attention to the implications of OA. As Linda Hutcheon, University Professor of English, has recently pointed out, the “ethical and political implications of the kind of sharing of knowledge that OA allows are appealing to many of us. But what may be just as exciting is the possibility that rethinking the medium-specificity of ‘publication’ of research might lead to a positive rethinking of the criteria for tenure and promotion.”