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Canadian journal breaks new ground in open access science

Jules Blais, editor of FACETS pose stand next to their new website April 11, 2016 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Canadian scientists have a new outlet for their research and it's homegrown.

On Tuesday, Canadian Science Publishing – an organization born out of the downsizing of the National Research Council – officially launches FACETS, an online multidisciplinary journal that is Canada's most ambitious effort yet to carve a niche in the burgeoning world of open access science.

"In the last 15 years, we've seen a massive transition in the way academic publishing is being done," said Jules Blais, an environmental scientist at the University of Ottawa and editor of FACETS.

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That transition has seen a shift away from printed research journals, with a traditional business model based on subscriptions and institutional site licences, to one where research papers are freely available to anyone online.

Initially viewed with suspicion, if not disdain, by major research journals, open access publishing now plays a significant role in the production of scientific literature. Its champions say that it accelerates and democratizes science because it makes research findings more accessible.

Many public funding agencies now require the scientists they support to make their findings available in open access form. In 2014, Canadian Science Publishing surveyed the community and found that 25 per cent of research done in Canada is already published in open access journals.

"That was the point when we decided, 'Okay, we have to do this,'" executive director Suzanne Kettley said.

That left Ms. Kettley and her colleagues with the task of finding a sustainable business model for the new journal. They settled on one in which the authors of a research paper bear the costs associated with its online publication, including editing and management of peer review (the process by which scientific research papers are independently and voluntarily vetted by experts).

FACETS will charge a fee of $1,350 for each paper it publishes, a few hundred dollars less than the cost of publishing in PLOS ONE, the world's leading open access journal, which uses a similar model.

But while PLOS ONE requires only that a scientific paper be technically sound for publication, FACETS will also require that each paper it publishes contributes new knowledge, Dr. Blais said.

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FACETS will also publish opinion pieces and articles on science policy, he added, providing a forum that could lead to a more public airing of issues related to science in Canada and its interaction with government and politics.

Based in Ottawa, Canadian Science Publishing is a not-for-profit that was founded by Ms. Kettley and other former staff of the National Research Council when the council stopped publishing its own research journals in 2010. It currently publishes 21 academic journals, including those it inherited from the NRC. But FACETS is the first title it has launched that spans all scientific disciplines and is meant to serve the full spectrum of researchers, both internationally and in Canada.

Peter Binfield, a San Fransisco-based publisher who was involved in launching PLOS ONE and, more recently, the open access journal PeerJ, said it was a good time for experimentation as publishing moves toward less specialized journals with findings that can be easily searched and combined in a cross-disciplinary way to make new discoveries.

"I think it's clear that the entire publishing landscape will be fully open access in 10 years' time," he said.

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