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Open Science? France Has an Impressive Second Plan

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining a half-dozen Canadian and U.S. open science advocates in an online meeting with Senator Laure Darcos of the French Parliament. In advance, we were provided with the Second French Plan for Open Science: Generalizing Open Science in France, 2021-2024, published in July 2021 (with the first French plan launched in 2018). During our meeting, more than one of us commented on how the Plan set a far more advanced and progressive national agenda than anything we could point to in our countries. At the conclusion Senator Darcos expressed surprise at this, saying she had come to this meeting in hopes of emulating and borrowing from what our governments were doing, and here we were saying that the opposite would be the better course for science.

In that spirit, let me make an appeal for Canadian and American national plans for open science by pointing out the inspiring steps that France is taking to improve the country’s ability to more effectively bring research to bear on the pressing urgency of the pandemic, climate change, and social injustice. While I will show that all three countries are in fact, very closely aligned in their support and development, on this side of the Atlantic, we are decidedly short on national plans for open science.

The first thing to note is that this is France’s “second plan” for open science. Two of our national research agencies – Canada’s tri-agency and the NSF in the U.S. – are taking related steps in funding open data initiatives (a prominent aspect of the Second French Plan). Also notable at the outset is that a French senator, with responsibilities in the area of culture, is reaching out internationally to researchers for ideas on promoting open science.

As for the Plan itself, the strategies, policies, laws, and goals it lays out do indeed serve as models for this continent’s open science efforts. To begin with, France has a Research Programming Law that boldly sets a national goal of complete open access for the country’s scientific publications by 2030. This goal is backed by a National Fund for Open Science. Its achievement is subject to measurement by an Open Science Barometer (which was reading 56 percent open access for French research publications in January 2021). In contrast, Canada and the U.S. suffer from a decade-old set of public access laws and policies that require the availability of “final drafts” 12 months after the research is published, with few signs of this getting better.

France also sees that open science requires openness all the way down. The Plan makes the use of open source software in science a priority. The country has established an Open Source Task Force and plans to create a prize for such software to promote its collaborative and inventive use in facilitating all phases of research. France appears to recognize that science thrives, especially in the digital era, under a distinctly non-proprietary and radically open intellectual property regime that it is prepared to underwrite as a national policy.

The Plan’s open science spirit extends, as well, to the language of research. Its endorsement of “bibliodiversity” has a strong Canadian resonance, not only as it creates a space for French-language research publications, but as it applies more broadly to decolonizing Indigenous initiatives. Referencing the Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Scholarly Communication, the Plan stresses “the importance of native languages [in research] to engender a social anchoring of scientific knowledge and a plurality of thought systems.” Offering more than lip service to language and knowledge rights, the Plan promises support for “translation tools and services for scientific texts” to further the “international circulation of knowledge.”

Now the extent to which the Plan encapsulates initiatives already underway and supported in Canada and the U.S., sans a national plan, is reflected in elements such as bibliodiversity and open source software. For example, we at the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) have recently discovered that among the more than 25,000 journals deploying our open source Open Journal Systems (OJS), research is being published in a remarkable 56 languages. And by the same token, PKP is actively working with the two models upheld by the Plan in its call for “the diversification of economic models” for science: (a) The “subscribe to open” model (introduced in a 2017 Slaw column) that we are working with nine publishers in their conversion of over a hundred subscription journals to open access, and (b) the “diamond OA”model for born open access journals, in which neither reader nor author are charged, with 60 percent of the estimated 29,000 diamond OA journals using OJS, according to a recent study. Finally, what PKP does is the result of another measure central to the Plan, which is conducting “research on research with an open science perspective.”

Now, all that PKP strives to achieve for open science has been supported since 1998 by federal (and private) funding agencies in Canada and the U.S. Yet what has gone missing in both countries is a national plan for open science on anything like the scale of the Second French Plan for Open Science, in breadth, coherence, and national commitment. While we remain grateful for the support, vision and programs of these agencies, have we not reached the point of recognizing that open science is something on which the future of the planet depends? Is it not time for both Canada and the U.S. to launch big bold national plans for what they already recognize and support as vital to research’s contribution to humankind?

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