FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

The European Union recently proposed Plan S, which aims to make all government-funded research open access (OA) and was accepted by 11 prominent funding agencies across Europe.

This initiative would deter researchers from publishing in traditional-style journals, such as Nature and Science, and attempts to circumvent issues perpetuated by paywalls so that information is more readily available to the public.

Open access refers to any scholarly research that is free, easily accessible, and often available online.

A brief history

The OA movement has been around since physicists and computer scientists began archiving data online, as early as the 1970s.

This way of using the internet to store and organize data gained immense popularity among librarians worldwide.

As the internet gained momentum, subscription costs for traditional journals started to rise and, consequently, neither public nor academic institutions could afford to access much of the research that was available. This resulted in a problem now known as ‘serials crisis.’

As a result, publishers were forced to drastically lower prices and provide grants to under-financed institutions and less economically stable countries.

Since then, the movement for OA publications has continued to grow, and has garnered both support and disdain globally. 

Types

OA publishing is widely classified into three main types: Gold OA, Green OA, and Hybrid OA.

Gold OA articles are immediately available online after publishing, but researchers must foot the costs of processing the article, including editing and peer review.

Doing so eliminates subscriptions and subsequent paywalls, but article processing charges (APCs) could present a large financial barrier to already underfunded research projects.

Green OAs have no APCs and are published in traditional journals, but are ‘self-archived’ in repositories, where they become available after an embargo period set by the publisher. The repository can be institutional or external and is often subject-based, which allows the general public to navigate a vast body of research more easily.

Hybrid OAs are the most prevalent and are offered by publishers that function as traditional journals.

Hybrid OAs are seen as a transitionary model that allows the copyright to stay with the author, giving them the right to publish the final version of the article without an embargo period.

Open access in Canada

Within Canada, there are three major federal granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The three have come together and adopted a tri-agency OA policy that aims to expand the audience for the research they fund.

Canada has set an international precedent with this action and is working toward creating a more accessible scientific community.

Open access at U of T

The University of Toronto has adopted a similar policy and has readily available resources to help researchers make their findings OA. The initiatives introduced include TSpace, Open Access Week, Digital Special Collections, and Journal Production Services. University of Toronto Press also has four OA journals and continues to expand its collection.

Beyond Canada

As with any new movement in science, there are many detractors from the OA movement. In an industry worth more than $25 billion, publishing companies see OA as cutting a hole in their pockets.

The reputation of journals and the ‘publish or peril’ mentality have contributed to a robust industry, and many researchers view publishing in prestigious journals as the only way to further their careers.

The reputation that journals, such as Nature, carry in the scientific community make their demise seem unlikely.

Regardless of type, OA has garnered immense support worldwide. For government-funded research, it is a way of giving taxpayers a return on their investment. The movement could help combat misinformation, provide data for mining and commercial purposes, and help shape public policy.

The increased exposure associated with publicly available research also helps scientists in underfunded institutions gain access to new information. This results in a higher citation rate, which  is a key measure of an article’s value.

Despite protests, the OA movement is revolutionizing how research is shared to the public and among fellow researchers.

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