In this guest post, Jeffrey Demaine explores some tipping points in Open scholarly communication, and what it means in the context of Canada’s research landscape.
After more than a decade of incremental progress towards OpenAccess publishing, some national research-funding bodies are ready to engineer disruptive change in the way scholarly communication works. With eleven European science funding agencies recently announcing that research arising from their grants must be OpenAccess, the business model of academic publishing is at a pivotal moment. Interestingly, this “Plan S” sets out a set of principles that must be followed with no regard for the consequences for the publishing industry. This ‘let the cards fall as they may’ approach has led to a great deal of discussion and some push-back from academics. On the other side of the Atlantic a similar directive from research funders may be about to (unintentionally perhaps) catalyze a shift towards OpenScience. In May of 2018, the three main Canadian science funding agencies (the “Tri-Councils”) released a draft policy on research data management (RDM). This policy builds on the statement of principles that the Tri-Councils adopted in 2016 that set out the desired (but not as yet mandatory) best practices in terms of RDM. If adopted, the new policy will require all researchers who receive funding from the Tri-Councils to have an RDM plan in place starting in 2019.
In and of itself this new rule is not terribly exciting. Yet even for broader non-Canadian audience this is interesting in the precedent that it sets in terms of OpenScience. With the Tri-Councils having already mandated in 2015 that publications be OpenAccess, this latest policy on RDM completes the three pillars of the OpenScience framework (OpenAccess + OpenData + OpenSource). Although the proposed policy on RDM does not explicitly require that datasets be freely accessible to the broad public (that is to say, “Open”) because there may be ethical or proprietary reasons why a researcher may want to control access, it is clear that much Canadian-funded research data will end up in institutional or discipline-specific repositories that are very much OpenAccess. So the proposed policy is not simply an incremental change that can be seen in isolation. With its implementation the scholarly communication landscape in Canada will have reached a tipping point: all Tri-Council-funded research will be required to conform to the OpenScience model.
Are Canadian universities prepared to see value in the publication of datasets and reward professors when these are cited?
The policy is great news for the handful of bibliometricians in Canada, who will have a new and richer layer of metadata that can be incorporated into their analyses. Once the RDM policy is implemented in 2019, researchers will be motivated to learn about data citation. Academic librarians have an important role to play in helping researchers create RDM plans, and will have their work cut out to get researchers on board with ORCIDs and in helping them register for DOIs. To achieve some synergy across the three pillars, there will need to be good coordination between the librarians who advise researchers on RDM, those who oversee the institutional repository, and those concerned with research impact (whether they be in the Library or a more administrative department). One would hope that this will lead to a tighter integration of the Library’s services with research across campus.
However, while Canadian universities and academics are providing input on this new policy there does not seem to be any understanding of where this is leading. In contrast to the lively discussion around “Plan S” as librarians in Europe try to figure out what the resulting OpenAccess publishing model will be, there is no corresponding debate about OpenScience in Canada. The Tri-Council’s initiative to promote responsible RDM is seen simply as sound policy. But what will it mean for academic libraries if more data, code, and papers are Open? Are universities going to leverage this newly available data to conduct e-Science and to replicate research? The new policy makes it clear that “Researchers who responsibly and effectively share their data should be recognized by funders, their academic institutions and users benefiting from the reuse of the data.”. Are Canadian universities prepared to see value in the publication of datasets and reward professors when these are cited? With only a few bibliometrics librarians in this vast country, who will recognize this reuse?
More nebulous is the effect a wholesale shift to OpenScience might encourage the dominance of a few corporations in the commodification of research workflows.
Unfortunately, the majority of university administrators and faculty have only a passing understanding of the field, and there is little integration of bibliometrics into the strategic planning and management of research. Consequently, although all the pieces necessary for an OpenScience workflow will soon be in place, I worry that many Canadian universities will not have the expertise to analyze the interplay between citations of papers and of datasets. Moreover, the opportunity to imagine how an institutions can leverage all this data to perform research in silico may be missed. The new policy may simply be seen as another administrative burden placed on faculty by federal bureaucrats in Ottawa.
Will OpenScience reinforce corporate control over scholarly communication?
More nebulous is the effect a wholesale shift to OpenScience might encourage the dominance of a few corporations in the commodification of research workflows. For example, Elsevier and Springer now see themselves not only as publishers, but also as information services providers who make their money through data analytics about their users. They are putting in place (admittedly free) online tools that cover every aspect of the research process. By forcing researchers to find places to store and profile their datasets, code, and articles, the Tri-Council’s de facto push for OpenScience may drive universities into the arms of these “publishers”, who then will sell management tools to university administration built on the research workflow of their own faculty. It would be ironic if in the process of establishing the infrastructure for the free exchange of research output in all its forms, we left the back door open for the commercialization of university administration. At the very least, university Libraries should be prepared to take on new responsibilities in the monitoring of compliance with the policy and in helping their university manage its research data through such new tools as Mendeley Data.
So it remains to be seen if this new policy will be a catalyst for change after all. Canadian researchers may simply be content to comply with the rules about OpenData and leave it at that. Academic librarians will provide support for RDM, a few bibliometricians will try to capture this activity, and the tipping point is never reached. Yet with a bit of imagination the new OpenScience environment could give rise to a different model of how research outputs are used. I hope to generate some discussion about this topic at the 3rd annual Canadian conference on bibliometrics to be held in May 2019 in Quebec City.
- The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council; the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.
- Gorgolewski KJ, Poldrack RA (2016) A Practical Guide for Improving Transparency and Reproducibility in Neuroimaging Research. PLoS Biol 14(7): e1002506. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002506
Jeffrey Demaine is an academic librarian and information scientist who has worked in the back offices of Canada’s higher-education sector for two decades. While he now writes code to manipulate metadata, his first bibliometric analysis involved leafing through the printed volumes of the Science Citation Index to track citations by hand. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org / ORCID #0000-0003-4586-1317
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