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Granting councils consider mandatory open-access policies

Move by NSERC, SSHRC would align them with CIHR and funding councils in other countries.


Canada has moved a step closer towards making publicly funded academic research freely available to everyone, not just to those who have access to pricey journal subscriptions.

Two of the major federal funding agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, said they are considering adopting a mandatory open-access policy for peer-reviewed journal articles that result from research they fund. If adopted, the move would bring their policies in line with those of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and major granting councils in the U.S., Britain, Australia and the European Union.

“We want to make sure the research we produce can be made as widely accessible as possible,” said Jean Saint-Vil, NSERC’s director of policy and international relations. By making research results available faster and putting them in the hands of more people, open access can accelerate the commercialization of research findings and spur research and development, he said. It also increases citation counts for researchers and raises awareness about Canadian research efforts.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences said it, too, is developing an open-access policy for its Awards to Scholarly Publications Program, a fund that provides support for the publication of scholarly books.

A study (PDF) prepared for the European Commission by Montreal-based Science-Metrix, an independent research firm, found that open access has become the dominant form of publishing in several countries. The share of peer-reviewed journal articles published between 2008 and 2011 that were available online and free of charge has exceeded 50 percent in Brazil, Switzerland, Israel, the Netherlands and the United States, among other countries; Canada is quickly approaching the 50-percent mark. This is nearly twice the level estimated in previous studies. “What started as a subversive initiative, limited to a few fields of research – such as mathematics, physics and computer science – has gained substantial momentum, spread to all disciplines of research and become a mainstream practice supported by policy or infrastructure,” the report said.

“It’s a significant achievement,” said Éric Archambault, president and chief executive of Science-Metrix and a co-author of the study. “It’s important to have scientific knowledge universally available to everyone who might have a need for it. It shouldn’t be restricted to university users.”

The growing acceptance of open access is also seen as a reaction to the high subscription fees charged by scholarly publishers, which are putting a strain on research-library budgets.

Still, open access hasn’t been universally welcomed. Some researchers have lingering concerns about the quality and prestige of open-access journals, their impact on peer review and the rise of unscrupulous predatory publishers. In a much-debated story in Science, journalist John Bohannon recounts how more than 150 open-access journals agreed to publish a bogus article on cancer research he had written. The sting operation revealed “the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing,” he wrote.

Small Canadian journals also are reportedly worried about the potential impact of a transition to open access because this would deprive them of subscription revenue. This could result in the demise of these small journals, warned a draft report of the Tri-Council working group examining a common open-access policy.

This leads to the contentious topic of article- processing fees levied by some types of open-access journals on authors or their institutions to cover publication costs in place of subscription fees.  Article-processing fees are one reason why open access is more widely accepted in the science disciplines than in the social sciences and humanities, where large research grants are less common, said Richard Wellen, associate professor in the business and society program at York University.

It isn’t only a question of money. Dr. Wellen said many of his colleagues in the social sciences and humanities “look askance” at open access journals, partly because they are more accustomed to publishing in books, where open access isn’t as common. The timeliness of research, one of the hallmarks of open access, is also less important to these disciplines.

CIHR adopted a policy of voluntary open-access in 2008, in part because PubMed Central, an online repository, was already in place to house open-access articles, making compliance easier, noted NSERC’s Mr. Saint-Vil. CIHR’s open-access policy was made mandatory in January 2013.

NSERC and SSHRC have moved more cautiously to allay researchers’ concerns, he said. Their wariness also prompted the tri-council to take the “green” open-access route, he explained. While publishers of “gold” open-access journals make the contents of their online articles available to readers immediately and free of charge (usually by charging article-processing fees), the green model allows authors to make their papers available through online repositories or a self-archiving system after they have had them published in a subscription-based journal, and usually after an embargo period.

The tri-council policy calls for journal articles to be freely available within a year of publication either through a publisher’s website or an online repository. NSERC and SSHRC have no firm date for implementing the proposed policy. The consultation process was scheduled to close in mid-December and the agencies hope to reach a decision by September.

Green open access has another benefit. According to the Science-Metrix findings, all disciplines derive a citation advantage from open-access publishing, but the advantage comes almost exclusively from the green and hybrid models. Gold open access is associated with a citation disadvantage, except in physics and astronomy, the report found. On the other hand, many gold open-access journals tend to be newer and smaller, and these factors could be having an adverse effect on citation counts.

As the worldwide move towards open access accelerates, publishers of academic journals are likely to undergo “revolutionary change, and at a pace much faster than anticipated,” the report warned. Dr. Archambault predicted that journal publishers will adapt and survive. “I don’t think they will disappear. They are too mighty and they are too smart,” he said. “It’s just that they are going to collect their money in a different manner.”

Some of the major commercial publishers, including Nature Publishing Group, Springer and Elsevier, have launched or acquired open-access titles, he noted. At the same time, financially successful and well-respected open access journals, such as PLoS ONE, have sprung up.

The impact of open access on research libraries could be even more pronounced, as publishers increasingly bypass libraries and give information directly to readers and as researchers take control of article-financing decisions. The authority that librarians have over managing journal subscriptions will shrink and so too will their budgets, Dr. Archambault predicted.

Some observers suggest that libraries could take on new functions such as in-house publishing, running online repositories and managing article-processing fees. “Instead of acting as buyers of externally produced or aggregated content, libraries now have the opportunity to become curators and champions for locally generated research and scholarship,” said Geoffrey Little, a librarian at Concordia University, in an article published in the Montreal Gazette.

Open access is likely to affect the nature of scholarly research, too, as academics begin to write for a broader audience beyond academia, predicted York’s Dr. Wellen. “Open access isn’t just about making the same kind of information available in a new way,” he said. “It’s probably going to change the way we produce information and consume information.”

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  1. Reuben Kaufman / January 15, 2014 at 13:10

    OK, “Mandatory” Open Access: This from the Open Access Policy document quoted in the article:

    “The Agencies consider the cost of publishing in open access journals to be an eligible expense under the Use of Grant Funds.”

    Calling it an “eligible expense” is one thing. Providing the funds for it is another. When I was still in harness there was no way my grants would support open access fees. Will research grants increase sufficiently in parallel with adopting the policy?

    However, as long as placing the articles in an open-access repository within a year of publication remains acceptable under the policy, with no charge to the author, I’m all for it.

  2. Stevan Harnad / January 17, 2014 at 08:50

    (Part 3 of 3)

    “Option #2: Grant recipients archive the final peer-reviewed full-text manuscript in a digital archive where it will be freely accessible within 12 months (e.g., institutional repository or discipline-based repository). It is the responsibility of the grant recipient to determine which publishers allow authors to retain copyright and/or allow authors to archive journal publications in accordance with funding agency policies.”

    Institutional Deposit and Institution-External Export.

    It is fine to leave it up to authors to sort out whether their final peer-reviewed manuscript is made immediately OA or access to the deposit is embargoed for 12 months – as long as the deposit is made immediately, and hence deposit is systematically verifiable and the institutional repository’s eprint-request Button is immediately available to allow users to request individual copies for research purposes. For this reason it is again important to require immediate institutional deposit in all cases. The deposit can be automatically exported by the reposository software, at designated dates, to designated institution-external repositories, as the fundee or funder or institution may wish.

    Facilitating Verification of Compliance.

    But it is almost as great a mistake to allow institution-external deposit instead of institutional deposit (making it needlessly diffuse and complicated to systematically monitor and ensure compliance for both the institution and the funder) as it is to allow publisher fulfillment of funding agency requirements instead of fulfillment by the fundee (and the fundee’s institution).


    The only change that needs to be made to optimize the NSERC/SSHRC/CIHR Draft Tri-Agency Open Access Policy is to require immediate deposit in the fundee’s institutional repository, regardless of whether the fundee’s chooses option #1 or option #2.

  3. Stevan Harnad / January 17, 2014 at 08:50

    (Part 2 of 3)

    Access Delay and Research Impact Loss.

    The purpose of OA is to make publicly funded research accessible to all potential users and not just to those whose institutions can afford subscription access to the journal in which it was published. This maximizes research uptake, impact and progress. Hence this is why OA is so important and why access-denial is so damaging to the potential usage and applications of research. Studies have also shown that delayed access never attains the full usage and citations of immediate OA. Hence a mechanism for ensuring timely compliance is essential for the success of an OA Policy, and immediate institutional deposit, regardless of locus of publication, is the optimal mechanism for ensuring timely compliance.

    Gentil-Beccot, A., Mele, S., & Brooks, T. C. (2010). Citing and reading behaviours in high-energy physics. Scientometrics 84(2), 345-355.

    Conflict of Interest.

    It should also be noted that publisher interests are in conflict with the research community’s interests regarding OA. Except when they are receiving extra money for it, publisher interest is to embargo and delay OA as long as possible. This means that, far from being a reliable ally in ensuring that fundees comply with a funding agency OA requirement, publishers are likely to delay making articles OA as long as they possibly can.

    “Option #1: Grant recipients submit their manuscript to a journal that offers immediate open access to published articles, or offers open access to published articles within 12 months.”

    Fundee Freedom to Choose Journal.

    It is very good to leave the fundee’s choice of journal completely free to the fundee. But it is also imperative that no matter what journal the fundee chooses to publish in, the peer-reviewed final draft should always be deposited in the fundee’s institutional repository – and deposited immediately, not after a 12-month delay.

    Fulfilling Eprint Requests During Embargoes.

    Institutional repositories have a Button with which users can request and authors can provide a single electronic copy for research purposes with one click each. This Button facilitates uptake, access and usage immediately upon deposit, rather than having to wait till the end of a publisher embargo. Hence this “Almost-OA,” made possible by the Button, is another strong reason why all papers should be required to be deposited in the institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication. (A further reason is that engaging the institution in ensuring that the conditions of a funder OA policy are fulfilled motivates the institution to adopt an OA policy of its own, for all of its research output, funded and funded, in all disciplines.)

    Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2012) Open Access Mandates and the “Fair Dealing” Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.)

    “The Agencies consider the cost of publishing in open access journals to be an eligible expense under the Use of Grant Funds.”

    Fundee Freedom to Choose Whether to Pay for OA.

    It is very good to leave it entirely up to fundees to choose whether or not to use their grant funds to pay publishers extra to make their work OA. As long as fundees retain their free choice of which journal to publish in, and all are required to deposit in their institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication (whether or not the deposit is embargoed, and whether or not they publish in an OA journal) there is no harm in allowing grant funds to be used to pay publishers for making their article OA, if fundees wish. (Given the options, and the scarcity of research funds, it is unlikely that many fundees will choose to pay, rather than just deposit.)

  4. Stevan Harnad / January 17, 2014 at 08:52

    (Part 1 of 3)

    The Canadian Draft Tri-Agency Open Access Policy is excellent in preserving fundees’ free choice of journal, and free choice about whether or not to use their research funds to pay to publish in an OA journal. However, deposit in the fundee’s institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication needs to be required, whether or not the fundee chooses to publish in an OA journal and whether or not access to the deposit is embargoed for 12 months. The immediate-deposit requirement makes it possible for the fundee’s institution to monitor and ensure timely compliance with the funder OA policy. It also motivates institutions to adopt complementary OA policies of their own, for all their research output, funded and unfunded. The immediate-deposit requirement also facilitates providing individual eprints by the fundee to individual eprint requestors for research purposes during any embargo. Institutional repository deposits can then be automatically exported to any institutional-external repositories the fundee, funding agency or institution wishes. On no account should compliance with funding agency conditions be left to the publisher rather than the fundee and the fundee’s institution.

    “Grant recipients are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication, either through the publisher’s website (Option #1) or an online repository (Option #2).”

    Monitoring and Ensuring Compliance.

    A funding agency Open Access (AO) Policy is binding on the fundee, not on other parties. Hence it is a mistake to offer fundees the option either to comply or to leave it to another party (the publisher) to comply.

    Funder Requirements Bind Fundees, Not Publishers.

    The fulfillment of funding agency conditions for receiving a grant is the responsibility of the fundee, and the funding agency needs a systematic and reliable means of monitoring and ensuring that the fundee has indeed complied, and complied in time.

    Institutional Monitoring of Compliance.

    To ensure compliance (and timely compliance) with an AO requirement it is imperative that the responsibility rest fully with the fundee. The funding agency’s natural ally in ensuring compliance is the institution of the fundee, which is already very much involved and and shares a strong interest with both the fundee and the funding agency in ensuring the fulfillment of all funding agency conditions.

    Immediate Institutional Repository Deposit.

    Hence whether or not the fundee publishes with a publisher that makes the article OA immediately, or after an embargo, the fundee should be required to deposit the final, peer-reviewed draft in the fundee’s institutional repository immediately upon publication. (Indeed, the most natural, effective and verifiable date is the date of acceptance, since the date of publication varies greatly, is often not predictable or known to the fundee, and often diverges from the published calendar date of the journal – if it has a calendar date at all.)

    The institution of the fundee can then use the date-stamp of the deposit in the institutional repository and the date of acceptance of the article as the means of monitoring and ensuring timely compliance. (This is also the natural point in the author’s workflow to do the deposit.)

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