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Summary of a symposium on scholarly journals

Visuel du colloque de l'Acfas

The symposium titled “Entre anglicisation de la recherche et libre accès : imaginer l’avenir des revues en sciences humaines et sociales” (Between increasingly anglicized research and open access: imagining the future of journals in the humanities) aimed to present the issues and challenges that French-language scientific journals face, as do any journal which is not published in English. Organized by the Érudit team during the 2022 Conference of the Acfas (Association francophone pour le savoir), and chaired by Vincent Larivière, full professor at the Université de Montréal and Scientific Director for Érudit, this symposium brought together dozens of researchers and professionals from the field of scientific dissemination. We present herein a summary of the presentations made during this event.

More than a hundred journals are published by Québec-based universities and scientific communities. Most of them specialize in the humanities, are non-profit and publish their content in French. While they might have existed for several decades, even a century in some cases, their future is not guaranteed. Among the issues they face, we can name the increasingly anglicized world of research, the progress of open access, the uncertainty around securing funding and the need for a stable editorial staff. While the tendency toward the ubiquitous use of English in scientific research and publishing is clearly felt in Québec, other countries and other regions of the world also face the same issues about: blank, both in the humanities and in the sciences, as Valérie Tesnière (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) reminded us during the symposium.

A Specific Culture of Evaluation

Several of these issues stem from an omnipresent culture that requires research to be constantly evaluated, which affects, to varying degrees, universities, research teams, individuals and journals. Faced with these practices and looking to obtain an optimal evaluation, researchers tend to want to have their work published in journals which have a degree of notoriety or a high journal impact factor. As highlighted by Éric Forgues (Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities) during his presentation, French-language universities rely on high-impact publishing by their teams to rank favourably on the world scene, which facilitates the recruitment of international students. However, the dominant forms of research evaluation practises are not appropriate for the humanities, where a breakthrough is often only relevant in a limited geographic or cultural context. The generalized notion of impact and the evaluation practices that stem from it devalue publishing in national-level journals and languages. However, these journals remain important for the humanities when it comes to reaching a local readership, for example those who work in the field and average citizens. In her presentation, Fernanda Beigel (Universidad Nacional de Cuyo) called for abolishing the impact factor for journals and for supporting the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

Funding and Dissemination of Minority Language Journals

Journals published in a language other than English are often non-profit and disseminated on platforms supported by public funds. However, the communities they serve are not necessarily national. That is the case with Québec-based journals, with 40% of their authors coming from outside Canada and two out of three article views coming from international sources, according to the data presented by Simon van Bellen (Érudit). Sophie Montreuil, Executive Director of the Acfas, highlighted that the objectives of her organization are to increase visibility for Québec- and Canada-based research on the international scene, while remaining French-centred.

National journals run on modest budgets. Since most of them publish in open access, a large number have little or no revenue from subscriptions. On top of being free for readers, they are also free for authors, since the journals adhere to the “diamond” model of open access. Following the adoption of the Plan S by the FRQ (Fonds de recherche du Québec), it is expected that numerous subscription-model journals in Québec will be moving toward open access. The loss in subscription revenue should be compensated by adequate external funding coming from granting agencies and research institutions, for example through collaborative models.

Janne Pölönen (Federation of Finnish Learned Societies), Dominique Babini (CLACSO-Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales) and Jason Luckerhoff (Coalition Publica) also made presentations on how a national infrastructure can support national journals, publication in languages other than English and diamond open access. This open infrastructure is managed by the community with the sole mission of ensuring both the efficient and low-cost publishing of scientific content and the access to research results for the public. Using the example of Finland, Janne Pölönen showed that multilingualism facilitates access to scientific discoveries by those in the field and by the general public, an advantage that was also noted in the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science.

Support from public organizations is essential for national journals. In Québec, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC) funds both researchers and journals in the province, and its policies have a strong influence on the development of scientific publishing in Québec, as highlighted by Anne-Marie Fortier (director of Études littéraires) and Laurence Bherer (director of Politique et Sociétés). The FRQSC (like the CRSH, its Canadian counterpart) promotes open access publishing, without requiring it. However, Simon van Bellen showed that, among Québec-based journals focusing on the humanities, those that enjoy great visibility on the international scene, with indexation in the Web of Science, are especially likely to be funded by these institutions. The journals which have a provincial scope, mostly dealing with issues centred on Québec, and those that publish following the latest norms for open access are less likely to receive funding from the FRQSC and the CRSH. However, during her presentation, Louise Poissant, Scientific Director for the FRQSC, announced that starting in 2023, following its adherence to the Plan S, the FRQ would be increasing its focus on open access publishing. By ensuring adequate funding, the Plan S will help sustain Québec-based journals by encouraging researchers to submit their articles to national and open access journals. To compensate for the loss of subscription revenue, the FRQ has pledged to expand its funding program as well as the platform through which journals are disseminated.

Promoting publishing in national journals and in national languages should be matched by an effort to increase discoverability, as mentioned by Dominique Babini. National journals are underrepresented in discovery and reference tools, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals, even if they meet the requirements. Researchers and librarians make heavy use of this tool to find journals that are relevant to their own work. Other technological developments could be deployed to stimulate publication in minority languages, such as automated translation. A parallel English translation could be published along with the original version.


This symposium generated important reflections and exchanges on open access and on the state of scientific publishing in languages other than English. It also provided a space for highlighting the issues and interests of journals, research teams, presenters and funding agencies. The situation that French finds itself in as a language of publication in Canada is not unique. Approaches developed in Latin America and in Europe should serve as inspiration for future practices in Québec.

Scientific journals on the humanities that publish in languages other than English play an essential role in ensuring that information reaches everyone in a society, while also creating visibility on the international scene. They deserve better financial and structural support, so that they can meet expectations created by new realities when it comes to publishing and disseminating, and so they can continue fulfilling their mission.