Sharing research online: open access

While technology is on the rise, many countries aren’t reaping the benefits of the “Information Age.” Leslie Chan, director of Bioline International– a not-for-profit that advocates for open access– thinks this lack of information is the precise reason poverty and disease still ravage developing countries.

Chan was at the University of Calgary Friday discussing Open Access, a movement aiming to make research conducted by universities and other institutions available free online. He argued that when research is published in obscure or expensive journals, it is very difficult for developing countries to access and apply it.

“We have a hard time convincing organizations, [that] in order for health [to] improve in many areas, access to publications is first priority,” said Chan.

“A lot of these journals have remained invisible internationally. The Internet can level the playing field through open-access.”

Chan explained you cannot sell research because it is impossible to put a price on it. He thinks knowledge belongs more in a barter system.

“[Scholars] live in a sharing exchange economy, the currency we deal with is very different,” he said. “The amount of social impact should take priority over how much money researchers have generated.”

He also believes academic research must be published in the most relevant medium possible. When most people today look for information, they go to the Internet. Researchers need their information to reach the widest possible audience to have the greatest impact, and the Internet is the way to go.

The Scholarly Academic Resources Coalition, Bioline International and the Open Access Scholarly Information Sourcebook are just some of the organizations advocating for this change.

Chan commended the U of C for being one of the first institutions to sign the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which includes over 5,500 signatures. He also thanked the Students’ Union for transforming what was originally Open Access Day into Open Access Week. Students are essential in encouraging universities to make research more available to the public, said Chan.

“What the public pays for– what public institutions participate in– that information should be made available to every citizen, every student, every scholar,” he said.

Libraries & Cultural Resources at the U of C provides a $100,000 Open Access Authors Fund to help researchers publish their work in Open Access Journals. These authors can then track how many people have downloaded their work and which institutions and countries are showing interest.

While acknowledging that the Open Access Initiative garners many positive responses, there are still logistical limitations that need to be addressed as the movement grows, said Chan.

There are economic limitations, including the costs of maintaining public journals, lack of participation from certain institutions and linguistic issues, as contributions come from all over the world.

But Chan remained positive that solutions will present themselves as the benefits of sharing peer-reviewed journals on the Internet grow.

He noted that the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Canadian Journal of Sociology have gone entirely open access.

“It shows that [open-access] has been increasingly debated and, better yet, practiced,” he said.

Students may find out more information at

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