Why Doesn't Canada Do It Right, Leading Instead of Following?
American Scientist Open Access Forum
A Canadian PubMed Central is not what is needed for Canadian biomedical research article output (any more than a US or UK PubMed Central is what is needed for US and UK biomedical research output). What is needed is that Canadian (and US and UK) biomedical research output (and output in all other scientific and scholarly disciplines) should be made Open Access for all users, webwide. The way to do that is for the institutions and funders of the researchers who produce the research to mandate that they make their research articles Open Access for all users, webwide, by depositing each article, immediately upon acceptance for publication, in each author's own Open Access Institutional Repository (IR). That is the solution that will scale to cover all of research, from all institutions, across all fields, across all countries. Not the founding, willy-nilly, of central repositories like PubMed Central to deposit it into directly.
Then PubMed Central (and its mirrors in the UK, Canada, and elsewhere) can harvest the biomedical content of their own country's IRs (if they wish: but why just their own countries? why not, google-scholar-style, all biomedical research articles, from all the world's IRs?).
There are two worldwide movements afoot in the area of Open Access ("Green") self-archiving: (1) an Institutional Repository movement, to create and fill each research instutions own IRs, and (2) a Central Repository movement, to create and fill multiple, national, discipline-based central repositories along the lines of PubMed Central (with vague affinities to the multiple-mirrored central Physics Repository, Arxiv). The two movements -- distributed institutional self-archiving and central disciplinary self-archiving -- are not coordinating their agendas, indeed they are hardly taking cognizance of one another. If they did, they would realize that their two agendas are incoherent, if not at odds:
Researchers' own institutions (universities and research institutes) are the primary providers of all research output. Those researchers, their own institutions, and their funders, are the ones with the joint stake in maximizing the visibility, uptake, usage and impact of their joint research output. That is what the IRs are created for. The IRs are interoperable with one another, because they are all compliant with the OAI metadata-harvesting protocol. That means that their contents -- which it would make no sense to search individually, IR by IR -- can be harvested centrally, by search engines and meta-archives that cover part or all of the distributed IRs contents (i.e., all of the world's refereed research journal article output).
That is what PubMed Central should be, and should be doing: A central OAI harvester, harvesting the biomedical research output of all IRs (or all IRs in their country, though, again, that exercise has doubtful search value for users worldwide, who would no more want to have access to the biomedical output of only one country than that of only one institution). (National central harvesting might have other uses, however, such as in inventorying and evaluating one country's research output, and perhaps in comparing national productivity and impact -- though even that is best done via metadata, gathered by global harvesters, rather than national ones.)
The incoherent, competing agendas of (1) institutional vs. (2) central self-archiving are slowing down the progress and the focus of the world OA movement because they are further confusing researchers -- who are already greatly under-informed and confused about OA -- about where and why to deposit their articles. Only 15% of researchers self-archive spontaneously today. That is why the OA movement has turned to self-archiving mandates, requiring researchers to self-archive. But the OA mandate movement is needless split and diffuse because some mandators are mandating central deposit (mostly in the national PubMed Centrals), other mandators are mandating deposit in the researcher's institutional IR, and still other mandators are mandating deposit in either one or the other.
That is not a coherent or systematic way to ensure that the mandate is clear, complete, and covers all research output, funded and unfunded, in all fields, from all institutions, across all countries. The coherent, systematic way to do that is for researchers' institutions and funders to mandate deposit in the researcher's own IRs, and to relegate central archiving to harvesting from those IRs.
Can Canada not sit and reflect on this for a few moments, and then take a rational decision, setting a clear-headed example for the world, instead of reflexively following the unthinking trends that are still keeping OA progress so diffuse and slow?
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