“…there is work to be done if we want to pursue open access in a way that doesn’t perpetuate harm”

Orange and red Gerry oak leaves in foreground
Orange and red Gerry oak leaves in foreground

Say hello to Dr. Alana Westwood — Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellow and two-time FACETS author.

This post is part of our Open A Conversation Q&A series for Open Access Week.

What does open access mean to you?

To me, open access means science, data, and knowledge available to all, without barriers. I interpret open access through a lens of inclusion, with ‘access’ also meaning ‘accessible’. My dream would be publications, data, and other knowledge available accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds (i.e. plain language summaries, figures readable to those with impaired vision), connected to relevant applications, and with clear instructions for its replication and reuse.

What do you think the future of open access will look like?

Although ‘open by default’ is a great goal (one currently receiving a frenzied push), I do not believe we are ready. Based on current trends (pay-to-publish, submission of datasets to open repositories) and historical and ongoing injustices regarding the ownership and sharing of data and information, there is work to be done if we want to pursue open access in a way that doesn’t perpetuate harm. Although much datasharing is helpful, especially when adhering to FAIR principles for data management and stewardship, there are times when it can be harmful or run contrary to the pursuit of justice.

There is a growing movement in Canada towards the data sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, rooted partly in a history of unethical collection and sharing practices regarding data about Indigenous communities. Rather than pushing open by default, publishers and academic communities might consider a more nuanced approach. There are many useful models to look to, such as the OCAP standards, to ensure that communities can control data collected by and about them, and how this data will be shared (or not).

Why is open access publishing important for science?

On one hand, the intentions of open access are noble: make scientific results and data available to all, free of cost, in order to facilitate greater sharing and advance shared discovery. There is some evidence of success: studies show that open access publications are cited more often and offer tangible benefits to society (although the methods of these studies have been questioned).

I would contend, though, that the dominant open access business model (pay-to-publish) has resulted in serious unintended consequences, like the well-documented rise of predatory journals. Even worse, I fear this model is increasing inequality in science by inflating the already-substantial gap between bigger and smaller researchers in the Canadian landscape.

The fees associated with open access journals, often upward of $2000 CAD per publication, are a small consideration for a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair and their $1.4 million CAD in funding. Those same fees become unbearable for a graduate project funded by, say, the $10 000 Nova Scotia Species at Risk Conservation Fund. What about scientists at non-profits? Researchers with Indigenous organizations and governments? Citizen scientists and volunteers? Graduate students who want to team up and write a synthesis paper? Academics with small budgets who want to pay their graduate students a living wage? Forget it.

I hope to soon see large-scale studies comparing the social demographics of authors — including their research income — and how much they pay for open access (or not). Of the 96 universities in Canada, just 15 conduct 80% of competitive university research. We know that funding is skewed towards larger universities. We already know that journal authors do not match the diversity of their readers. We also know that women are far less likely to receive major grant money across disciplines than men in Canada. Of the current and former Canada Excellence Research Chairs, 75% appear to identify as male, and the vast majority appear to be white (though the most recent competition was far more diverse after equity and diversity requirements were implemented). Given that open access publishing is prohibitively expensive, who has the opportunity to do it? If open access articles lead to a boon in research visibility, who reaps the benefits?

My guess on both fronts: not underrepresented groups in science.


Responses to questions are the views of the author (Dr. Alana Westwood).

Dr. Alana Westwood, Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellow

Read Dr. Westwood’s papers in FACETS:

Protecting biodiversity in British Columbia: Recommendations for developing species at risk legislation

Cross-sectoral input for the potential role of science in Canada’s environmental assessment

FACETS

FACETS is a multidisciplinary open access science journal. www.facetsjournal.com

Canadian Science Publishing

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Canada's largest publisher of scientific journals and not-for-profit leader in mobilizing scientific knowledge making it easy to discover, use, and share.

FACETS

FACETS

FACETS is a multidisciplinary open access science journal. www.facetsjournal.com

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