Impact of Open Access

Evidence of the impact of Open Access on the academy, economy and society: a look back to the way forward. Read a review of a new article published on F1000Research

Open Access has become a global issue for all involved in scholarly publishing and remains only one of the multiple challenges that the scholarly publishing system is currently facing. This blog post synthesizes important research published on F1000Research about advantages and disadvantages of Open Access in three major areas of impact: academic, economic and societal. 

“Open access refers to peer-reviewed scholarly research that is available, unrestricted, to anyone with an internet connection… Should all scientific research be made open access?” (YourGenome).

 “Consensus is difficult in open-access debate. How to provide access to peer-reviewed research articles is a topic mired in controversy. It raises questions about who research is for, how the results should be disseminated and how the whole process should be funded” (Research Information). 

“The discussion about Open Access (OA) publishing has reached the stage where some people’s eyes glaze over when it’s mentioned, while others’ glitter with revolutionary zeal” (Journals: the forgotten players in the open access debate). 

Some facts about the OA movement

Though OA (Golden and Green routes) has become a global issue for all involved in scholarly publishing - including policymakers, publishers, research funders, governments, learned societies, librarians, and academic communities - there is still a general lack of consensus regarding benefits and pitfalls of OA in different communities of practice. The article The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review  - presented in this blog post – is published on F1000Research: the Future of Scholarly Publishing Channel and  examines some major issues and trends regarding impact of OA projected on three levels: academic, economic and societal.

In order to focus  better the features of OA at the aforementioned levels, the article enumerates a series of facts about the OA movement, as follows:

For each level (academic, economic and societal) the authors of the article have identified the following facts: 

1. Academic level:

OA supersedes all potential alternative modes of access to the scholarly literature through enabling unrestricted access, mining, analyses (text- and data mining/TDM), re-use and long-term stability of research outputs. OA contributed to a broad citation advantage for researchers  (e.g. +36% for Biology,  +600% for Agricultural Sciences) as additional benefits to the non-academic dissemination of their work. Self-archiving prior to publication is a community standard in fields such as high energy physics, mathematics, and the life sciences. Such ‘pre-prints’ have majorly been associated with an overall increase in the number of citations.

In sum, evidence indicates that OA is broadly related to increased academic impact as assessed through citations:

(Studies that investigated the citation advantage grouped by their conclusion). 

OA articles receive more attention through social media (Twitter and Facebook). A social media announcement of the release of a research article increases the number of users who view or download that article; though the correlation between social media activity and citation counts for the articles can be different (weak, high with reference to Mendeley readers). 

Copyright in OA publications is non-restrictive and allows machines to freely access them (contrary to traditional closed access journals) for TDM creating new knowledge by combining individual findings.  TDM decreases the time dedicated to the search for relevant information in scholarly literature by categorizing information, highlights and annotates relevant results to specific users, and profiles researchFurthermore, TDM prevents researchers and readers from wasting time on reinventing the wheel simply because one can no longer keep up with the published literature. TDM can also serve a screening purpose similar to plagiarism scanners, helping to detect statistical errors in the scholarly literatureNon-restrictive licensing through OA promotes the wider application of TDM that can be used in various innovative ways

2. Economic level:

Due to increased subscription costs, closed access publishing is becoming an increasingly unsustainable business model with prices estimated to have increased at 250% of that for inflation, which will slowly but surely diminish the scope of access to the scholarly literature as fewer organizations are able to pay such high costsAccess to the research literature is key for innovative enterprises, and a range of governmental and non-governmental services. OA now dominates the Latin American publishing landscape, with an estimated 72–85% of articles now with full text OA articles publicly available. OA is independent of financial constraints of traditional publishers that impede knowledge sharing and has the potential to save publishers and research funders considerable amounts of financial resources. Though any publisher has to cover operating costs connected with OA publishing either  through article processing: APC costs, or management and investment or other costs. Subscription-based publishers have (partly) answered the call of the an increasing global demand for OA by giving their green light to author self-archiving, as well as through establishing numerous hybrid OA options.

3. Societal level:  

First of all, OA includes a moral aspect, where access to scientific knowledge and information is regarded as a fundamental aspect of global human equality. For example, Article 27 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” OA to the scholarly literature does not just benefit academics, but also has wider impacts on other domains in society; OA makes research available to anyone with an Internet connection who has the ability to search and read the material. Openly available research outputs advance citizen science initiatives, level the playing field for researchers in developing countries, increase engagement with researchers regarding ethical standards of publishing.

OA  in developing countries

Due to the high prices of journal subscriptions, developing countries struggle with access just as in developed countries, but to a greater extent and consequently with greater negative repercussions. Lack of access can have major deleterious consequences for students and researchers in that they do not have sufficient material to conduct their own primary research or education.

The enhancement of the research capacity in developing countries should be mostly linked to the wider issue of open licensing, which is mostly essential for effective marketing of medicines and medical research in the developing worldThe pay-to-publish system is a potentially greater burden for authors in developing countries, considering that they are not used to paying publication costs, and funding systems for OA are not as well-established as those in the Western world. 

Developing countries clearly acknowledge the need for access and as such have launched many repositories to increase access with self-archiving of research articles. In 2014, over 100 institutions in Africa launched a network of over 25 fully-operational OA repositories in Kenya, Tanzania and UgandaIn November 2015, Research4Life and DOAJ announced a working partnership that will help to ensure that the Research4Life users will have access to the largest possible array of OA journals from publishers with a certain quality standard. A lot of publishers propose full or partial waivers if they are based in countries eligible by Research4Life

Initiatives such as the Journals Online Project developed by INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) has helped to develop a number of online OA platforms in the Global South: 


African Journals Online AJOL, Latin American Journals Online LAMJOL, Bangladesh Journals Online BanglaJOL, Nepal Journals Online NepJOL, Sri Lankan Journals Online SLJOL with around 95% of their articles as full-text OA.

Predatory publishers: Think, Check, Submit

One negative effect on OA comes from entities that attempt to profit by exploiting the pay-to-publish system OA publishers use. These publishers operate a sub-category of OA journals known as vanity presses, predatory publishers or pseudo-journalsThere is a list of criteria for identifying predatory journals and an index of publishers and individual journals that meet these criteria is continuously updatedAsia and Africa contributes three quarters of authors and Indian journals form the overwhelming proportion of predatory publishers

An interesting finding is the very low involvement of South America, both among predatory publishers (0.5 %) and corresponding authors in predatory journals (2.2%). The OA infrastructure in Latin America is different compared to other developing countries, which reveals a possible reason for this asymmetric situation. Latin American journals and universities are engaged in OA publication models at a higher degree than other regions. Moreover, SciELO and the creation of Latin American databases have played a tremendous part in this process by bringing recognition and a good reputation to publishing outlets in Latin America.

The authors of the article recommend that OA supporters focus their efforts on working to establish viable new models and systems of scholarly communication, rather than trying to undermine the existing ones as part of the natural evolution of the scholarly ecosystem. Future research should investigate the wider impacts of an ecosystem-wide transformation to a system of Open Research.

Source: Tennant JP, Waldner F, Jacques DC et al. The academic, economic and societal impacts of Open Access: an evidence-based review [version 1; referees: 2 approved]. F1000Research 2016

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“So how can we point the open access juggernaut towards an approach that is fair to both researchers and readers and truly promotes the generation and exchange of knowledge?” (Journals: the forgotten players in the open access debate). 

Here are the arguments for and against OA

And what are your thoughts on this matter? 
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