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… And Access for All?

Open Access (OA) journals have emerged as a contentious alternative to traditional paid-access (PA) journals.  The mission of OA journals is to increase accessibility and visibility of academic research; access of which would otherwise be limited to a small proportion of society.  Proponents for OA have challenged conventional approaches to publishing and have proposed a shift in how we ought to disseminate scientific (academic) research.  The OA movement is not without its criticisms, especially in terms of the sustainability of its business model and the quality and integrity of the published research.

In this Gradyifing post, I am going to detail some of the pros and cons for Open Access journals.  I personally have not published in an Open Access journal, but I would like to hear about your thoughts and experiences when it comes to choosing whether to publish with OA vs. PA.

Why Open Access?

PA journals are expensive, plain and simple.  Queen’s libraries spent ~$9.8 million on acquisitions alone in 2007/2008, giving students access to 80,000 serial titles and 625 databases.

Unless you’re affiliated with a university or a research institution, you are going to have major barriers to accessing emerging peer-reviewed journal articles, as they exist behind a very expensive pay wall.  For example, it would cost $30.00 to access an article that my colleagues and I recently published without a subscription.  I’m not sure how many non-academic Canadians this problem affects; however, the high cost of subscriptions would directly (and negatively) impact students, researchers, and doctors in developing countries.  Eliminating the access barrier would allow researchers from developing countries to contribute meaningful research to their fields, as well as improving the quality of educational resources for instructors and students alike.

In Canada, a majority of research is funded by taxpayers; however, the results of these studies are rarely made available to the very public that funded the work.  In a sense, making the results public is like providing a return on an individual’s investment.  Others may argue that the published results are not the important consideration; rather, what comes out of the research (i.e. drug development, social policy, disease screening tools, etc.) is the real return on investment.  I am personally of the belief results from studies should be made public, to allow people to draw conclusions for themselves and to understand how the results were obtained, rather than being fed a sound bite from the evening news.

Publishing your research in OA journals has the capacity to reach more people compared to PA journals.  Given that the new audience are not likely researchers in your field, the impact of your work has the capacity to extend beyond the intimate circle of your colleagues.

Criticisms of Open Access

The idea of Open Access is noble and serves to benefit far more people than PA; however, at the end of the day, publishing has its costs and must be run as a business.  Indeed, major publishers turn a large profit but they also invest in technologies that will ultimately benefit their users (databases, search engines, etc.).

Critics state that authors may be deterred by publication fees associated with OA journals, which range from $1350 – 2900 per peer-reviewed publication in PLoS or BioMed Central (BMC), depending on the issue (regular vs. special issue).  A proposed solution that would alleviate the financial burden on the researcher is to have the university pay a flat rate to an OA journal.  This would cover all researchers in the institution who get accepted for publication in that journal.  While this approach would effectively stack another cost on the library budget, publishing in OA journal could attract more attention for the university and its research programs.

Another criticism of the pay-per-publication business model is that it incentivizes publishers to accept a greater number of submissions, which could seriously compromise the integrity of the journal.  However, given that reputable OA journals employ the same peer-review process as PA journals, the number of articles accepted should not be the concern.

In 2011 PLoS ONE accepted 70% of submitted articles, while Nature accepted only 8%.  The acceptance (or rejection) of articles may in fact be a tool used for categorizing the prestige of the article rather than a filter for ‘good science’.  Journal prestige is a concept that is alive and well, but may need to be revisited.  If an article passes an appropriate peer-review process, should it not be published?

Making an article readily available (open access) will likely have a greater impact on the advancement of a field, compared to cherry picking where an article ought to be published (based on journal prestige/impact factor).  However, given that there is incentive for authors to publish in journals with high impact factors, this attitude may take some time to take hold.

Where will you publish?

Probably in a PA journal, and finances and impact factor will likely be the primary drivers of this decision.  However, as the OA movement continues to grow and new, more sustainable business models evolve, we certainly will see a shift in how academic writing is disseminated and consumed.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with Open Access journals in the comment section below.


Posted in All, General, Student Perspective Tagged with: ,
2 comments on “… And Access for All?
  1. Sharday says:

    This follows perfectly on the heels of Amanda’s IF article. Specifically, it adds substance to the question “does IF matter?” with additional questions (perhaps implied) like “is there something that makes peer review legitimate or illegitimate, beyond the process itself? Is there some way in which there are tiers of peer review quality?”

  2. Anton Angelo says:

    This is a good overview of one type of Open Access publishing, the “gold” route. readers might be interested to know that there is a second “green” route to OA as well, and its a bit like having your cake, and eating it too. By submitting your work to an institutional or disciplinary pre-print repository, you can have the impact factor of the paid subscriber only journal, and get your work out there for free. Even if you decide to go for an open access option, putting your work in a repository like arXive or your institution’s repository will raise your citation rates. Talk to your local librarian, and they will be happy to help.

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