The Canadian Space Agency Contribution to the Open Science Repository Raises Questions

Image credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The federal government has made a new commitment to open science over the past few months. In January they opened a new Federal Open Science Repository for Government agencies to publish scientific research and data for public access.

Some agencies like Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, have added hundreds of documents. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is lagging far behind though, raising questions as to where the CSA truly stands on Open Science, and who is responsible for making their contribution happen.

Government Open Science

Open Science is an increasingly popular cause, as people raise serious concerns about the lack of access to government-funded research, and how access to research is often gated behind expensive for-profit journals that are only generally available to academics and students. In recent years, there has been a strong push to open things up, and remove the “paywalls” on finished research and the gatekeeping on what is considered “legitimate” research and data sources. 

In response, the Chief Science Advisor of Canada laid out a “Roadmap for Open Science” in 2020 that recommended (among other things) that Canada should “adopt an Open Science approach to federally funded scientific and research outputs,” that agencies should work together to find “the challenges and opportunities of open science,” and that Federal departments and agencies “should make federal science articles openly accessible by January 2022 and federal science publications openly accessible by January 2023” as much as privacy and security allows. 

The Science Advisor requested that departments and agencies create Action Plans to demonstrate and explain how they’ll each be approaching Open Science. 

The terms “open data,” “open science,” and “open access” are often used interchangeably, but actually refer to different things. While “open access” generally refers to public access to finished research, and “open data” refers to being able to access the datasets that researchers draw on, “open science” is seen by the Government as encompassing all aspects of science. 

The difference is best exemplified by the discussion in the ECCC’s Open Science Action Plan, which highlights four different parts of what it calls the “Open Science Life Cycle”: “Ideation,” “Data Collection and Analysis,” “Publication,” and “Knowledge Mobilization.” “Open data,” under this framework, fits under “Data Collection and Analysis,” and includes both opening up datasets and drawing on publicly-available and citizen-generated data. “Open access,” meanwhile, refers to the activities that fall under “Publication,” including publishing in open journals and providing preprints to the public. 

The Open Science repository

In January of 2024, the Government created the “Federal Open Science Repository of Canada,” which is a shared venture between the Federal Science Libraries Network and Shared Services Canada, and which focuses on open access to finished scientific research, rather than just on access to publicly available datasets.

The contributors to the the repository include the following departments and agencies: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Transport Canada. 

Many departments have contributed heavily; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has hundreds of entries so far, as does Fisheries and Oceans; ECCC’s recent “spotlight on science” features information about how the ECCC has been “working closely with Library Services to upload their publications to the Federal Open Science Repository, with hundreds of publications available online.” 

Most publications only date back to 2020 or so, with some going back to 2017-2018, but the repository has only been active since January and is in the process of being updated.

The CSA’s undersized contribution

One would expect that the Canadian Space Agency would follow suit. The CSA has produced a detailed Open Science Action Plan that specifically names “Open Access Publications” as a top priority for the agency. The CSA said that it is “committed to advancing its actions in Open Access Publications as doing so will optimize return and impact on its funding investments, further contribute to scientific integrity and will holistically provide the Government of Canada with improved knowledge sharing.” 

The Action Plan also mentioned how the CSA is “active in the scientific research community through the establishment of various funding programs and opportunities,” pointing to the “over $54 million” that the CSA put towards academic research through grants and contributions from 2011 to 2017. It acknowledged that “scientific publications are the outputs of this funding,” and that the CSA’s rate of open access is similar to the federal science-based departments and agencies (SBDAs). 

And, in fact, Action 7 in the CSA’s Action Plan specifically points to the importance of “development of common tools for Open Access publishing,” and the Repository appears to be the end point of that development process.

Yet, when it comes to Canada’s Open Science Repository, the CSA has fallen short—almost shockingly short. While agencies like Fisheries and the ECCC have hundreds of publications in the Repository, the section devoted to the CSA only has nine entries. Even that understates the situation, as single publications in both official languages count as two distinct entries, and most of the entries consist of CSA “State of the Canadian Space Sector” reports in both languages. While undoubtedly useful, they’re already available elsewhere as part of the CSA’s Corporate Publications collection, and raise questions as to whether they truly count as “open science” for the purposes of the Repository. 

(There is also the Report of the Advisory Council on Deep-Space Healthcare, another governmental report that is also available as part of the CSA Corporate Publications collection.)

Leaving those reports aside, and accounting for the language issue, the CSA appears to have put only three scientific publications in the Repository since its debut in January. This is an enormous surprise, considering their Action Plan specifically named development of the “common tools” as a key action item, and how Open Science was the second overall priority within the Action Plan. 

This may be related to the CSA’s relationship with the Federal Science Libraries Network. While many agencies in the Repository list—like Agriculture, ECCC, Fisheries and Oceans, and Health Canada—are named as partners on the Network’s site, the CSA notably is not. The CSA does have a library: the Larkin Kerwin Library, founded in 1991, is described by the CSA as “one of the largest specialized space science collections in Canada.” But, despite that, it is not part of the Science Libraries Network, or at least is not named as a Partner Library on the Network’s website. 

As the Larkin Kerwin Library is not a partner in the Network, this may have impeded the process of adding CSA-funded research to the Repository. 

Who will implement the action plan?

When provided an opportunity for an email-based question-and-answer exchange regarding the Repository, and specifically on the issues with the CSA’s collection on the Repository, a spokesperson for the CSA said only that they “do not have an expert available for the interview.” They had no further information to provide on the situation.  

When asked who was responsible for the Repository at the CSA, the CSA spokesperson said that “the responsibility for Open Science policy at the CSA is under the mandate of the Scientific Advisor to the President and with the collaboration of the Office of the Chief Information Officer.” They then referred back to the Action Plan. 

Notably, however, the CSA spokesperson only said who was officially responsible for “Open Science policy” at the CSA. Despite being specifically asked about implementation of the Action Plan, all they could say was that it was  “under the mandate” of the Scientific Advisor to the President. 

Combined with the lack of materials in the Repository, and the apparent lack of an appropriate and available expert on the subject, it raises the question of who at the CSA—if anybody—is actually tasked with implementation of the Agency’s Open Science policy.

There are a few positive signs. Most notably, the Canadian Space Agency does provide a number of different Open Data datasets as part of its Open Data and Information Portal, including 42 scientific datasets. This includes satellite data, observatory data, and some various other datasets. This suggests that they are successfully implementing Priority 1 of their Action Plan, which focuses on open data. It may be that they are prioritizing open data over open science, considering the importance of satellite-based data for planetary scientists, climatologists, meteorologists, astronomers, and others.  

Even so, one hopes that they join the other SBDAs in populating the Repository with publications, and begin to fulfill this key governmental Open Science priority.

Related: Chief Science Advisor States Better Coordination Needed in First Annual Report

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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