The Érudit platform has been supporting scientists and academics for 25 years by offering them free online access to numerous publications in French, mainly in the humanities and social sciences. Meeting with Frédéric Bouchard, president of this “national treasure”.
What was the original idea of the Érudit platform?
They were crazy dreamers, the founders of the platform. In the 1990s we were still very far from the technologies we have today, but with the democratization of the Internet we found ourselves at the confluence of two realities. We suspected that scientific journals would become increasingly digitized.
It was visionary that Quebecers said back in the 1990s that the future of magazines was online.
At that time, research in the humanities and social sciences was not the focus of private publishers. However, she also had to take part in this revolution. Érudit's contribution can be explained here.
The starting point is a partnership between three universities: Laval University (ULaval), the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) and the University of Montreal (UdeM).
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Frédéric Bouchard, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Montreal and President of the Board of Directors of Érudit.
Now we are working on more open science, more accessible and more democratized, not only in French but also in German and Brazilian Portuguese, and we have to be very proud of that. This helps ensure that we have a research capacity that is anchored in our society and relevant in our language.
In your opinion, did Érudit play a key role for French-speaking sciences?
French science did not have the resources to make this digital transition. It all started with the Quebecois question: How to ensure that the humanities in French are state-of-the-art? It was deeply ambitious, even subversive!
If the humanities in French did not find the means to be as avant-garde as the humanities in other languages, they would not be so important today.
It's about scientific sovereignty, about ensuring that research in all areas is taken seriously and accessible to everyone.
There wasn't much talk about open science back then, but from the beginning of Érudit there was a desire for broad and generous sharing of knowledge. The values of the public Internet – free and open – were constitutive of the project from the beginning.
However, before you can submit anything, you must have content. So the idea was initially to include the humanities in French in the topics of discussion.
Why is it important to have scientific journals in Quebec?
It is really important that every company has its own national research capacity. Consider dropping out of school. In Quebec and Japan, these are neither the same causes nor the same remedies.
A researcher who wants to compare high school dropouts in Montreal and Chicoutimi does not have to justify, when publishing his research in a French-language journal, that he is studying these questions in French. When he submits his research to an international journal, much of his text will explain why he is studying it in French.
We proudly collaborate with French researchers, but there must also be journals from Quebec.
Furthermore, centralizing everything in a single language, such as English, would be detrimental to us. The dominance of English in science is not bad in itself, as it has allowed many scientists to share their knowledge across borders, but I am convinced that thanks to open science we are moving towards greater diversity in linguistics.
I would be very surprised if in 40 or even 20 years science would only be in English. Automated translation technologies and the democratization of science will reduce the impact of linguistic standardization. However, for this to become a reality, platforms like Érudit are needed.
What role do open access scientific articles play?
Knowledge that is not passed on is dead knowledge. We cannot predict which uses of knowledge will be most relevant, but if we keep knowledge within a small circle of initiates, we limit its potential.
With Érudit, there are many high school students who discover what a university looks like through their homework research. They discover that this researcher is at UQAM, that this sociologist is from Trois-Rivières, etc.
Open Science helps show that everyone can participate in research. It also stimulates curiosity in this world full of passions and hobbies.
Obviously it is beneficial for researchers, not only here but also in less privileged countries who cannot afford journal subscriptions.
It fascinates me to meet all these people who benefit from Érudit: journalists, researchers, people in different ministries, etc.
Érudit is used daily by people all over the world. Right now someone in Tunisia is reading research that was done here. It makes our researchers internationally known.
What legacy and what future for Érudit?
Érudit is a happy act of subversion. We're just trying to change the world, and we're doing it. It is crucial that every country has its international research capacity. It would be a big risk for Canada to say: We will only rely on American platforms. Imagine if they blocked access to the server like Meta is currently doing with news on its platforms.
Research in Quebec and Canada has long led to great success. When Érudit was launched, we knew we would have a major impact through the quality of our research.
Quebec and Canada occupy a special position on the world stage because of our openness and credibility. We do not try to take control or dominate others. We can really contribute something to the world. We must give ourselves permission to be proud of what we have done and give ourselves permission to expand our ambitions.
It's a national treasure, I truly believe it.
I am convinced that our great shared successes begin with crazy dreams and then continue thanks to people who work every day to prove that it is not madness after all. I am convinced that Érudit will one day celebrate its 100th anniversary. I think we can be very proud of that.