Open Access Week: a researcher’s perspective part II

This week (October 19-23) is Open Access Week – a good opportunity to think and write about this topic. On Monday I wrote in a blog post:

Open Access can be looked at from many different angles, including the researcher, the science library, the institution, the funding organization, the journal, the science journalist, and the general public. Most arguments for or against Open Access depend on that angle. As a researcher, I am most interested in whether Open Access will make my work easier. Again, a researcher can look at Open Access from different roles: reader, author, reviewer, editor.

In that blog post I then wrote about the role of the researcher as a reader. Now I want to look at the perspective of the researcher as an author.

Choice of journal
The decision of where to publish a manuscript for most researchers probably works something like “find the best journal where I can publish my work with the least amount of trouble”. Best journal usually is a subjective decision, but probably correlates with the Impact Factor of a journal. As the average quality of manuscripts is higher in a better journal, this will help to value your research in the eyes of granting agencies and job search committees. Better journal often means higher rejection rates and/or higher numbers of readers. Both factors – and journals that publish a relatively small number of papers – favor a subscription business model1.

Publication cost
Most Open Access journals use an author-pays model to pay for publication costs. Funding agencies or institutions may pick up these costs, but authors may be left with costs of $2500 or more.

Institutional Repositories
Self-archiving in institutional repositories (green access) is a great way to make your publication freely available if the paper is published in a journal that is not Open Access. Unfortunately this often requires extra efforts by the researcher, and the publication will be more difficult to find in the repository than in the journal. This creates little incentive for a researcher to get involved in self-archiving.

Citation advantage
The effect of free access to the scientific literature on article downloads and citations is difficult to measure. Some2, but not all studies3 show higher citation rates for articles that are freely available and this citation advantage might be modest4. Citations are generated by other researchers who have access to your paper, and therefore I'm not surprised if there is not much of a difference between papers in Open Access journals and popular journals that are subscribed my many institutions.

Better Access
Researchers in poorer countries will have easier access to papers published in Open Access journals, although many subscription journals wave access fees through initiatives such as Hinari. Open Access makes it easier for journalists, high school students, patient advocacy groups and many more people to read your papers. This is obviously of great value to these groups, but I haven't seen many examples where the paper author directly benefitted from this.

Social responsibility
The argument that publicly funded research should be available to everybody at time of publication can be a motivation for many scientists, but I would be careful to turn this into an obligation. Different countries have different traditions, but in my home country Germany the independence of research and researchers (including the decision where to publish) has become a constitutional right after the atrocities committed in the name of “science” in Nazi Germany. All major German research organizations support Open Access, but in contrast to other countries there is no Open Access mandate.

Summary
Publishing in an Open Access journal has surprisingly little benefits for the author of a paper, and often means additional costs. Unless we want to mandate Open Access publishing from authors because it benefits the other stakeholders (which at least in Germany would be difficult), we should make publishing in an Open Access journal more attractive to authors. It looks like PLoS ONE is doing exactly that, as 400 manuscripts published per month testify.

fn1. Heber J. Science in the open. Nature Materials 2009 doi:10.1038/nmat2497

fn2. Eyenbach G. Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles. PLoS Biology 2005 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040157

fn3. Davis PM et al. Open access publishing, article downloads, and citations: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2008 10.1136/bmj.a568

fn4. Evans JA and Reimer J. Open Access and Global Participation in Science. Science 2009 10.1126/science.1154562

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8 Responses to Open Access Week: a researcher’s perspective part II

  1. Bob O'Hara says:

    bq. All major German research organizations support Open Access, but in contrast to other countries there is no Open Access mandate.
    Nice to know! But do they provide funds to assist in publishing?

  2. Martin Fenner says:

    The “2003 Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities”:http://oa.mpg.de/openaccess-berlin/berlin_declaration.pdf was signed by (among many other research organizations from other countries) the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Max Planck Society (MPG), the Helmholtz Association, the Leibniz Asociation, the Fraunhofer Society, the Wissenschaftsrat and the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (who represent the German universities).
    Researchers working at the MPG or Helmholtz Association don’t have to worry about publication costs. The DFG, the largest funder for researchers at universities, is giving authors 750 € to pay for publication costs. Last week the DFG decided to provide additional money to universities and research institutions, but not directly to authors, for Open Access publication costs. The “press release”:http://www.dfg.de/aktuelles_presse/pressemitteilungen/2009/presse_2009_57.html is unfortunately in German.

  3. AJ Cann says:

    It’s fairly clear the the drive towards open access publication is currently coming from factors pushing researchers towards it, i.e. funder and institutional mandates. To be truly successful, we will also need factors which pull authors towards open access. What might they be? Well, instead of charging authors to publish, journals could, say, fund a PhD student for a year, but clearly that’s not going to happen ;-)
    The pull, then, is going to have to come from impact factors – make open access journals the *best* places to publish rather than second choice.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    AJ, as I tried to explain briefly in the blog post, and as Jörg Heber goes into detail in the _Nature Materials_ editorial that I cited, subscription access usually makes more business sense than author pays for journals with high impact factors. Journals with high impact factors often have high rejection rates. Journals could charge for paper submissions and not just accepted papers, but most journals probably don’t want to raise the barriers for paper submissions.
    PLoS ONE is trying to become an attractive journal for authors not by aiming for a high impact factor, but by making it easier to have a paper accepted. This will work if PLoS ONE can establish a system of post publication peer review that is accepted by funding agencies and job search committees. As many funding agencies are proponents of Open Access, it would be in their interest to promote post publication peer review (article level metrics, comments, Faculty of 1000, etc.).

  5. AJ Cann says:

    I’m happy for journals to charge high subscription fees if they waive them for charities and developing counties. And for researchers out of jobs between institutions, and for patient groups. And for any taxpayer who wants to read publicly-funded research.

  6. Richard P. Grant says:

    AJ also wants a pony.

  7. AJ Cann says:

    As long as everyone get to ride it.

  8. Jim Till says:

    Repositories like “UK PubMed Central”:http://ukpmc.ac.uk/ can add value for researchers by integration of research articles with a range of other online sources. See, for example, “Upgrades coming to UKPMC”:http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/2009/10/upgrades-coming-to-ukpmc.html, _Open Access News_, October 20, 2009.