Scholarly publication in (slow) transition to open access


[Further Reading/Information: EU Commission announced new measures to open up science in Europe and UK open-access policy was announced.]

Data from citation indexes can be analyzed to determine the popularity and impact of specific articles, authors, and publications, and the introduction of the Journal Citation Reports (JCR from Thomson Reuters) had given bibliometrics a great methodological push. Science indicators research has also been instrumental in the development of the field of scientometrics since the seventies (Russell & Rousseau, 2002).

The past few decades have seen a large number of citation analysis studies being undertaken in various research fields, from natural sciences to social sciences and humanities. Citation analysis results have also been used widely in scientific evaluation for purposes such as tenure and promotion of academics (Borgman & Furner, 2002). Today bibliometric techniques are increasingly used as an intrinsic component of a wide range of evaluation exercises. However, the current tendency is for institutions to be graded more on the visibility of their products then on their long-term reputation or resources (Russell & Rousseau, 2002).

A number of academic journal databases exist today, offering indices of citations between publications and mechanisms to establish which documents cite which other ones. They differ widely in cost to the user. Scopus and the JCR are major citation indexes that limit their records to those journals deemed by experts to be scholarly and significant to the journal’s given discipline (Bergman, 2012). Both are subscription based, generally to libraries. Other, freely available, citation indexes include CiteBase, CiteSeerX, Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search.

The JCR’s citation indices have been used as the data source for most of the citation analysis studies reported in the literature to date. They have contributed significantly to the wide application of a citation analysis approach in various studies and in scientific evaluation, but have also drawn considerable criticism, especially when applied to the evaluation of scholars.

JCR is considered to be one of the largest academic citation databases, containing over 46 million records relating to 11,261 high impact journals (Pleabani, 2010), including 1,400 journals that are open access (Zhang, Li, Liu, & Zeng, 2012). Scopus is also regarded to be large, with 46 million records (Delasalle, 2012) relating to 18,500 peer-reviewed journals (1,800 of them open access; Elsevier, 2012). It is worthy of note that these two databases register about10% of the open journals indexed in their respective databases.

According to the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), an authoritative listing of peer-reviewed scholarly open access journals, the volume of high quality peer-review journals is growing quickly, as well as the number of authors who want to publish in open access journals.

DOAJ represents a great opportunity particularly for “hybrid open-access journals” where only some of the articles require payment and the rest are open access. ‘Gold’ and ‘Green’ open access journals also suggest new funding models (Oppenheim, 2008; Houghton & Oppenheim, 2010). Authors can use the JISC-funded RoMEO, a searchable database of publisher’s policies with simple guidelines about how to publish self-archiving journal articles.

JCR citation indices indicate that the number of times a document is downloaded in full text format from an electronic archive relates statistically to the number of times it is cited in other indexed journals. There is also evidence that the number of downloads influences citations, and that citations influence downloads (Moed, 2005). Interesting analyses on the relationship between citation and download can also be found for Citebase, an impact-ranked search service that indexes open access papers in ArXiv.

Other research indicates that free access to scientific articles increases the number of resulting citations; open access academic articles are cited by peers more quickly than articles published in non

-open access journals. Studies indicate that open academic publications are therefore likely to benefit science by accelerating the uptake of research findings and by maximising the impact of scientific production (Eysenbach, 2006; Piwowar, 2010; Wagner 2010; Borgman 2011, Norris, Oppenheim, & Rowland, 2008).

However, it is also fair to mention that other authors have expressed skepticism about whether open access articles are cited frequently (Davis, Lewenstein, Simon, Booth, & Connolly, 2008;Brody, Harnad, & Carr, 2006; Gargouri et al., 2010).

A remarkable example of a repository of open access academic content is the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), which encourages the early distribution of research results and content, downloadable at no charge to the user. SSRN has registered 56 million downloads to date, totalling 1,000,000 per month. The SSRN eLibrary has indexed 7.7 million references and 5.2 million citations.

The ‘open access’ movement in the scholarly literature can offer promising possibilities for stimulating scientific work, by: a) providing access to research; b) speeding up scholarly communication and scientific dialog between researchers; and c) offering greater visibility and impact opportunities.

A few weeks ago UNESCO convened the World Open Educational Resources  Congress. One of its invited speakers was Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig – co-founder of Creative Commons – who explained that knowledge elites ought to ensure free access to content for those sections of the population who can’t pay for it. He emphasized that being a member of the academic community carries an obligation to enable access to one’s own work. Lessig also explained the importance of adopting new forms of access that remove unnecessary controls that are automatically built into the current system of publication. He added that while he believed that author rights are important — “I am against abolitionism… I think copyright is essential” – and didn’t believe in a dichotomy of “open” and “closed” work, he considered it important to recognize more flexible models of publication.

As Zhao (2005) acknowledges, it is well known that JCR citation indexes is still the main data source for citation-based science evaluation, pushing scholars to publish in journals indexed there.

The slow move of journals to open access and the low participation rate of faculty in institutional repositories indicates that simply promoting the benefits of new formats of scholarly communication is not enough. If full-text open access scholarly publications were to be used as data sources for citation-based science evaluation, scholars might become more motivated to make their work available for open access, knowing that it is counted in bibliometric evaluations.

Finally, it seems necessary to bring open access and new publication formats into the tenure evaluation system. Doing this can not only contribute to the tenure process, but may also serve to promote open access and a more efficient knowledge dissemination.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks for Eric Meyer and David Sutcliffe who provide valuable feedback to improve this text.

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