Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Michael Geist on the CIHR OA mandate

Michael Geist, New research policy a victory for 'open access', Toronto Star, September 10, 2007.  Excerpt:

...The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the federal government's health research granting agency, unveiled a new open access policy for the research that it funds.

The new policy – the first of its kind for Ottawa's three major research granting institutions that dole out hundreds of millions of dollars each year – will revolutionize access to health research by mandating that thousands of articles published each year be made freely available online to a global audience.

This marks an important step in the "open access" movement in Canada, which had been falling behind peer institutions in the United States, Europe and Australia. It also places heightened pressure on the publishing industry to adapt their policies to permit greater access to publicly funded research....

Notwithstanding this important development, the publishing industry remains skeptical about open access.

Last month, the Association of American Publishers launched PRISM, a lobbying effort geared toward convincing U.S. lawmakers that open access threatens independent research and smacks of government censorship. While such outlandish claims are easily countered, the lobby has forced the scientific community to spend more of its time justifying policies to make their research available, rather than focusing on the research itself.

Indeed, critics have noted the publisher pressure may have led to a last-minute change in the CIHR policy. The policy is not iron-clad since publication in an online repository is conditional on permission from the publisher....

While it is tempting to say that the policy does not go far enough in light of this loophole, the CIHR policy is likely to place renewed pressure on the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the federal government's two other major granting councils to follow suit.

To date, the SSHRC has launched only a small open access pilot project after opposition from publishers such as the University of Toronto Press short-circuited bolder plans. NSERC has proven even more apathetic, as internal documents reveal that council personnel admit that open access is not a priority.

That may change as new Industry Minister Jim Prentice focuses on Canadian economic competitiveness and fiscal responsibility. With the health field now leading the way, Canadians may at long last gain open access to the world-class research they have funded, while the publishing industry adapts to the new realities of access to research.