Open-access research publications: Canada is dragging its feet

  • Forum
  • 11/01/2018

  • Mathieu-Robert Sauvé
Les efforts des organismes subventionnaires canadiens pour rendre la production scientifique accessible pourraient être améliorés.

Les efforts des organismes subventionnaires canadiens pour rendre la production scientifique accessible pourraient être améliorés.

Credit: Getty

In 5 seconds

A new analysis co-authored by UdeM’s Vincent Larivière finds that only two-thirds of studies in this country are freely accessible.

About 90 percent of research publications funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) are freely accessible to scholars within one year of their publication.

But in Canada it’s a different story.

Only half of the studies funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and less than a quarter by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) are openly accessible in the first 12 months, a new analysis has found.

In the meantime, readers often have to pay quite a bit to consult these studies.

Canada’s funding bodies also fare poorly when compared to similar organizations in the U.K. and elsewhere. Here, only two-thirds of publications, on average, are freely accessible.

In an article published Oct. 24 in Nature, two prominent professors of information sciences – Vincent Larivière of Université de Montréal and Cassidy R. Sugimoto of Indiana University – analyse 1.3 million studies funded by organizations with open-access policies.

“CIHR, for example, has had an open-access policy for more than 10 years, but it hasn’t been implemented in the best possible way, which is why there are so many articles that are not freely available,” said Larivière, who teaches at UdeM’s École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l’information and holds a Canada Research Chair on the transformations of scholarly communications.

A weblink is required

In the U.S., the NIH – the country’s most prestigious funding body in health research – requires proof that the studies it supports are freely available. If not, then  funding is suspended or put at risk. The same is true of the Wellcome Trust, a private European funding body that has a similar policy.

“Technically speaking, final reports must include the URLs of open-access research publications – that is mandatory,” said Larivière. “Nothing similar exists in Canada.”

Larivière and  Sugimoto also demonstrate the importance of archiving research in each field. NIH-funded publications must be archived at PubMed Central, a repository expressly created for that purpose. Infrastructure of this kind makes it possible to provide open access at little cost. So-called “green access” incurs no publication costs (other than infrastructure maintenance), unlike “gold access,” by which commercial publishers can charge processing fees as high as $5,000 per study.

Open access varies widely

In their paper, Larivière and Sugimoto note significant variations within scientific fields. In chemistry, for example, 81 per cent of research financed by the NIH is freely available, whereas only 24 per cent of National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research is.

“That really shows how funding bodies have a direct impact on making research accessible,” said Larivière. Even private funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – one of the best – are aware of the importance of making scholarly research freely available, he added.

Larivière hopes his study will help push Canada’s public-research funding authorities to change their ways.

“When digital publishing started to spread in the scientific world, commercial publishers grabbed hold of research results,” he said. “Our study shows that funding bodies can once again make that research freely accessible to the public, who have  already paid their share.”

About this study

“Do authors comply when funders enforce open access to research?” by Vincent Larivière and Cassidy R. Sugimoto, was published (for free) in Nature on Oct. 24, 2018.

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