The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the federal government's health research granting agency, today unveiled a new open access policy for research it funds beginning in 2008. According to the new policy, researchers will be required to make every effort to ensure that their peer-reviewed publications are freely accessible through the Publisher’s website or an online repository within six months of publication. Critics will rightly note that the policy is not iron-clad – publication in an online repository is conditional on the publisher's policy. Accordingly, if a publisher refuses to allow researchers to post their articles, the researcher does not violate the grant requirements by not posting. This leaves publishers with a measure of control, though a growing number of them do permit this form of archiving (database of publisher policies here).
While it is tempting to say that this does not go far enough, it is an exceptionally important development for open access in Canada.
First, even with its faults, the policy will help ensure that five percent of the world's health research scholarship – tens of thousands of articles (CIHR funds approximately 5,000 researchers annually producing as many as 30,000 articles) – are generally freely available.
Second, this is the second stage in the CIHR's move toward open access. Clinical trial data is already made available online and the granting council supports expenses related to open access publishing. As the global move toward open access accelerates, it is well positioned to do more.
Third – and perhaps most important – it places renewed pressure on SSHRC and NSERC, the other two major granting councils, to at least match CIHR. The same principles apply – taxpayer funded research should be made available to the public that pays the bills and with CIHR now on board, it is now clearly time for the other two councils to adopt open access policies.