Thursday, July 27, 2006

At the recent "1st European Conference on Scientific Publishing in Biomedicine & Medicine - Open Access and Researchers, 21-22 April, 2006, Lund Sweden", Tim Brody, Chawki Hajjem and Stevan Harnad presented a slide stack which contains a data tidal wave of evidence supporting Open Access. Multiple graphs from a broad range of sources, disciplines, sectors, timelines etc dealing with, and mostly convincingly slaying, many of the bugbears associated with Open Access.

Of specific interest to the research community in my neck of the woods (Canada) are the statements on last three slides (#80-82):
Canada is losing about $640 million dollars worth of potential return on its public investment in research every year.

The Canadian Research Councils spend about $1.5 billion dollars yearly, which generate about 50,000 research journal articles. But it is not the number of articles published that reflects the return on Canada’s research investment: A piece of research, if it is worth funding and doing at all, must not only be published, but used, applied and built-upon by other researchers. This is called ‘research impact’ and a measure of it is the number of times an article is cited by other articles (‘citation impact’).

The online-age practice of self-archiving has been shown to increase citation impact by a dramatic 50-250%, but so far only 15% of researchers are doing it.

We will now apply only the most conservative ends of these estimates (50% citation increase from self-archiving at $100 per citation) to Canada’s current annual journal article output (and only for the approximately 50,000 Canadian articles a year indexed by the Institute for Scientific Information, which covers only the top 8000 of the world's 24,000 journals). If we multiply by the 85% of Canada’s annual journal article output that is not yet self-archived (42, 500 articles), this translates into an annual loss of $2, 125, 000 in revenue to Canadian researchers for not having done (or delegated) the few extra keystrokes per article it would have taken to self-archive their final drafts.

But this impact loss translates into a far bigger one for the Canadian public, if we reckon it as the loss of potential returns on its research investment. As a proportion of Canada’a yearly $1.5bn research expenditure (yielding 50,000
articles x 5.9 = 295,000 citations), our conservative estimate would be 50% x 85% x $1.5.bn = about $640 million dollars worth of loss in potential research impact (125,375 potential citations lost). And that is without even considering the wider loss in revenue from the loss of potential practical applications and usage of Canadian research findings in Canada and worldwide, nor the still more general loss to the progress of human inquiry.

The solution is obvious, and it is the one the RCUK is proposing: to extend research’s existing universal 'publish or perish' requirement to 'publish and also self-archive your final draft on your institutional website'. Over 90% of journals already endorse author self-archiving.

A recent UK international survey has found that 95% of authors would self-archive – but only if their research funders or their institutions required them to do it (just as they already require them to ‘publish or perish’).

The actual experience of the f institutions that have already adopted such a requirement (CERN, U Southampton, U. Minho, U Zurich, Queensland U. Tech) -- has shown that over 90% of authors will comply.

The time for Canada to close its own 50%-250% research impact gap is already well overdue. Canada should immediately follow the UK model, adopting the web-age extension of "publish or perish" policy to "publish and self-archive on the web. " This tiny and very natural evolutionary step will not only be of enormous benefit to Canada’s researchers, its institutions, its funders, and its funders' funders (i.e., the tax-payers), but it will also be to the collective advantage of worldwide research progress and productivity itself.