Professor Michael Geist on why we need more open access to research

Michael Geist is the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law and an associate professor at the Faculty of Law. He has been awarded the 2013 Impact Connection Award by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

(ED NOTE: In this digitalization of healthcare, roles are being redefined; communication of advances, and, in research, the POTENTIAL  published advances, need to be known  as quick as possible.  However, ongoing research is subject to debate; here is one view; counterpoint anyone??  Use the comment section, please.  In a side-note, Emergency Medicine has benefited greatly by the creation of  FOAM, Free Open Access Medicine, created by top Internet savvy doc, Mike Cadogen MD)



Over the last ten years, the academic world has seen a shift towards open access (OA), that is, making research and publications open and freely available to the public. Across the globe, supporters of the OA movement have sought to bring more awareness to the issue by marking Open Access Week the week of October 21. Among the University of Ottawa’s strong OA advocates is law professor Michael Geist, who shared his thoughts with the Gazette. 

What impact can OA have on research?

I think it has a hugely positive impact. Recent studies indicate that articles published under OA are cited and read more. What is also interesting is a recent study that found no negative sales impact on books that have been made openly available.

Some disciplines publish under OA more than others. Why? 

I think there are cultural differences between disciplines. For some, OA is the emerging standard. In fact, in many instances they will publish openly without even being aware that they are doing it. For example, some disciplines will publish in an institutional repository or on a site like the SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network), which effectively makes that work free to access and download.

In other disciplines there have been concerns raised about mandated OA because they argue that the funding they receive is barely sufficient to cover their research costs. Allocating some of that same funding towards OA will make the research more difficult. But I don’t think you will see a lot of opposition to OA within the research community. It has more to do with a lack of awareness.

What are some of the factors that have led to more OA?

The emergence of the Internet has facilitated the ability of researchers to make their work available to a broader public and to do so at no real cost and without barriers. Coinciding with this are the publishers, who are increasing the cost of journals and subscription fees at a pretty alarming rate. As these come together, you see a strong pull towards OA.

How has the University of Ottawa shown leadership in this movement?

The best example is in the area of publishing. The University of Ottawa has an OA fund to help support those who want to publish under OA. That in itself is pretty unique. The University of Ottawa Press has also embraced OA. While it is not the only university press to do so, it remains a minority. 

How can we do better?

Mandate it. The reality is that all the major funders of research are leaning towards OA so we will see more and more of a shift, especially if those funders enforce OA.

What do you see as the continued challenges? 

There are the cultural challenges, making people aware of the issue and conscious of the benefits to publishing under OA. Even as we move towards mandated OA from some major funders, the need to effectively enforce this is also an issue. Some of the funders have been willing to move towards a policy but I think some are reticent to strongly enforce it. We need to see a more aggressive enforcement system.

Any final thoughts or advice?

Honestly, it is a no brainer. If you are a researcher, you want to be read and you want to have an impact. The best way to achieve that is to publish under OA.



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