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Did Someone Say Canadian Academic Journals?

revue canadienne 2

As our scientific director Vincent Larivière says, “Quebec and Canadian academic journals allow the dissemination of papers on national interests and benefit from a much higher usage than the average international journals.” (De l’importance des revues de recherche nationales, Acfas, translated from French by Érudit, 2014).

But what are the salient characteristics of our national journals? As part of the Partnership for Open Access, we present here an overview of several recent research studies that provide a better understanding of these journals.

A Fragmented and Complex Reality

A study on the socio-economic realities of Canadian academic journals (Paquin et al.,  2015) paints a rather eclectic overview of the situation. These journals run by means of various and diverse editorial structures. Some of them are completely independent, others are supported by universities or by academic societies and others still, by associations. Likewise, their revenues come from varied sources, such as grants from associations, universities and faculties, as well as memberships and the sale of printed issues.

In addition, “25% of them offer immediate open access to their content, 13% have a 12-month embargo, 26% have a 24-month embargo and only 36% of journals […] enforce strict restrictions on content access “ (Paquin et al., translated from French by Érudit, 2015). It should also be noted that more than 200 Canadian academic journals are disseminated based on a non-profit model (CALJ, 2019).

We can thus conclude that there is no single model for the dissemination of Canadian academic journals—rather, there are several.

National Journals: An Essential Contribution to Research

A globally widespread phenomenon, academic journals in the humanities and social sciences tend to develop national fields of study, as they explore social trends that are influenced, in part, by societies and nations (Fortin, 2018). For example, in Quebec, 36.6% of articles published in Canadian academic journals, both in French and in English, tackle topics related to Quebec or Canada (Larivière, 2018). But why does it seem like we’re neglecting our national journals in favor of international publications?

In the case of countries where the national language is not English, the internationalization of academic communications is often derived from an increased need for better visibility and credibility in the eyes of the scientific community, which translates, among other things, to a transition to English, as most international publications are published in that language (Pajic, Jevremov & Skoric, 2019). Indeed, in Quebec as well as in China, researchers are publishing less and less in their native tongue (Warren & Larivière, 2018). However, while research results disseminated in international journals sometimes touch exclusively on the studied regions, studies published in national journals can sometimes have a more global impact, a surefire sign that internationalization is not synonymous with universalism in the Mertonian sense of the word (Warren and Larivière, 2018).

Internationalization certainly offers some advantages, but the drawbacks abound as well. More specifically, “by attempting to become more international, academic journals in the humanities and social sciences are at risk of falling into a sort of no man’s land. In their haste to internationalize by transitioning to English and by shifting their research topics, they may lose contact with their respective communities without the benefits of being fully recognized by the international community” (Pajic & Jevremov, 2014, cited by Warren & Larivière, translated from French by Érudit, 2018).

Establishing New and Improved Metrics

As Vincent Larivière (2014) explains, national academic journals publishing articles in a language other than English are often devoid of an impact factor (IF) or Journal Impact Factor (JIF) – published annually by Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters) in the Journal Citation Reports –, since they are indexed much less often in the Web of Science database, which can lead some to believe that these journals have a lesser scientific impact. This is why the scientific community in the humanities and social sciences feels the need for better visibility and more quantifiable acknowledgments.

Impact factors, based on the number of article citations received by a journal in any given timeframe, offer a very limited view of the different functions these academic journals fulfil (Wouters et al., 2019). The proof lies in the aforementioned example about national academic journals publishing in a language other than English. As a matter of fact, it is generally agreed within the humanities and social sciences community that indicators are not as universal as we once thought, but no consensus has been reached on how to offset these limitations. According to Pajic, Jevremov and Skoric (2019), the nature of the problem revolves around two issues: we can either adjust the indicators so as to better reflect the realities of the humanities and social sciences or we can adapt our practices and culture to the means of knowledge production favoured by the indicators in their present form.

Additionally, according to Wouters and his colleagues (2019), a more nuanced set of indicators would better represent the realities of academic journals at all levels, provided that we ensure that these new indicators are “valid (reflecting the concept measured); understandable; transparent (data underlying criteria should be released, with clearly explained limitations and degrees of uncertainty); fair (systematic bias should be avoided); adaptive (updated when bias, abuse or other weaknesses become apparent); and reproducible (those who use the indicator should be able to reproduce it).”

At Érudit, we understand the issues affecting the world of scholarly publishing and, more specifically, the impact of internationalization on Canadian academic journals and the transition to a full open access dissemination model. We deem essential that the various stakeholders of the scholarly publishing community work closely together in an open collaboration to promote bibliodiversity and a fair distribution of resources. With this in mind, we would like to thank the 96 university libraries that support our actions through the Partnership for Open Access.