Debunking the Open Access Myths, Open Access Week 19-25th October 2015

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Nature’s 2015 Authors’ Insights Survey suggests that open-access (OA) perceptions are changing.  However, our journal’s team find that concerns are still rife. As part of International Open Access Week, SfE’s OA journals, Endocrine Connections and Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports (both published by Bioscientifica), are addressing the most commonly expressed OA ‘myths’ and reviewing the evidence to refute them. 

Myth #1: Open Access has less impact

Impact factors (IF) reflect the average number of citations to recent articles. There are currently 11,697 journals with IFs listed on Web of Science , 1,226 of which are OA publications. 56 of these OA journals have an IF of 5 or greater with Living Reviews in Relativity taking 1st place with an IF of 19.250, ranking 55 overall.  At 30 years of age, OA publishing is only a tenth of the age of traditional scholarly publishing, yet OA journals already represent 10% of the most ‘impactful’ titles.
1The rise of alternative journal metrics allows authors and publishers to gain a more holistic view of a journal’s impact. Each year, Altmetric compiles a list of the 100 top scoring articles. In 2014, an OA article published in PNAS topped the board with a score of 5044. In the same year, 36 of the top 100 articles were OA. This means over a third of high-impact articles come from only 10% of journals on Web of Science.

Myth #2: Open Access articles are cited less

Obtaining article citations first requires an article to be read. OA articles are free to read by anyone, anywhere, guaranteeing a large readership. A paper published in FASEB found that, “For the first year after publication…freely accessible articles received roughly a third more unique visitors,” as measured by IP addresses. A British Medical Journal study also found that OA articles received “89% more full text downloads… and 23% more unique visitors” than their non-OA conterparts.

Many studies have investigated whether or not OA articles have a citation advantage. Since 2004, The Open Citation Project has kept an up-to-date record of these studies. To date, 46 have shown a positive correlation between OA and citations, 17 found a negative correlation and 7 were inconclusive.

Myth #3: Open Access is lower quality

Quality OA journals undergo the same rigorous peer-review process as traditional subscription journals. Any difference in article quality at this level is a reflection on the peer-review process, rather than the publishing business model.

However, authors publishing OA do have an increased risk of encountering predatory publishers, an exploitative version of the OA model, and should be wary of them. Beall’s List is compilations of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers”. Journals published by these companies should be avoided.

A new initiative, ‘Think, Check, Submit’, conceived by Tom Mowlam and supported by a number of leading STM organisations aims to help researchers identify trusted journals by providing a simple checklist for assessing the credentials of a journal and publisher. By raising awareness of these predatory publishers and disreputable journals they can hopefully be more consistently avoided, ensuring that only high-quality OA research is published.

Myth #4: Open-Access is more easily plagiarised

By offering free access, concerns have been raised that OA publishing also increases the risk of plagiarism. While this increased risk may be present, a comprehensive screening process and online systems used by publishers across OA and traditional journals, ensure this risk never becomes an actuality. As Peter Suber says in his book ‘Open Access’, “OA is not an attempt to relax the rules around plagiarism…and in no way interferes with [plagiarism] punishments.” Indeed, as the original OA articles are freely available and indexed in many search engines online, identifying plagiarised work would, in fact, be easier.

Myth #5: Open Access is expensive

2The Author’s Insights Survey, published by Nature, found c.50% of respondents were unwilling or unable to pay the OA article publication charge (APC).

However, APCs are not a new concept. Some traditional subscription journals often apply page and/or colour charges, with prices ranging from a few hundred pounds up to £1,000. These charges are not dissimilar to many OA APCs. PLOS, for example, now charges between $1,450 and $2,900 per article, while Bioscientifica’s journals Endocrine Connections and EDM Case Reports charge only £750 and £250 respectively.

A number of studies also suggest that often, APCs are not even a requirement. According to the Directory of Open Access Journals, 65% of the OA journals listed do not charge authors an APC but are instead funded directly by universities, research councils or professional societies.

The SOAP project, which analysed scientists’ experience of OA, also found that 50% of researchers who had published OA in 2011 did not have to pay a fee and of the other 50%, over half had their fees paid by funders and a further 24% by research institutions.

In a short time, OA has already proved to be an effective and efficient model of publishing high-quality research for a global audience. To quote the 2015 STM Report, “Open access will continue to be one of the defining features of the next stage of STM publishing.”

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