My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) looks at the recently released national science and technology strategy. The column includes new information obtained under the Access to Information Act that highlights publisher opposition to open access in Canada and demonstrates the need for government leadership on the open access issue. I argue that maximizing the value of Canada's investment in research requires far more than tax breaks and improved accountability mechanisms. Instead, government must rethink how publicly-funded scientific data and research results flow into the hands of researchers, businesses, and individuals.
Achieving that goal requires action on two fronts. First, the government should identify the raw, scientific data currently under its control and set it free. Implementing expensive or onerous licensing conditions for this publicly-funded data runs counter to the goals of commercialization and to government accountability for taxpayer expenditures. Ottawa has already taken some important steps in this direction. Last month, it announced that Natural Resources Canada was making its electronic topographic mapping data available to all users free of charge over the Internet. The topographic data, which can be accessed at the aptly-named GeoGratis, provides information on the location of landscape features – such as lakes, rivers and elevations as well as roads, railways and administrative boundaries. This information is used for commercial, non-commercial, and research purposes by governments, academia and the private sector.
Second, Ottawa must pressure the three federal research granting institutions to build open access requirements into their research mandates.