Open up! On the Benefits of Open Access Publishing

February 7, 2017

By Jeff Clements, Ph.D.

During my undergraduate degree, I remember all too well the many times when I would search for a journal article that I needed to write a paper, only to be stymied by my institution’s inability to afford a journal or publisher’s suite of journals. Of course, Interlibrary Loans could help me get my hands on those papers eventually, but rarely was it sufficient. As a result, I ended up spending money out-of-pocket for journal articles during a time in which personal finances were dismal

This reality is commonplace for many students both near and far. For many Canadian students, access to journals has been dwindling. Particularly in developing nations, scholars-in-training have limited access to journals published by conglomerate publishers. Furthermore, expensive subscriptions to scholarly journals can deprive everyday citizens from becoming more scientifically literate. So, what are we to do?

Cue the open access movement. 

Open access publishing—making access to published works free for readers to both read and share—has recently been adopted by many academic journals in an attempt to remove barriers to scholarly works. Open access publishing in academia typically comes in two forms: green and gold. While the ‘green’ option allows scholarly authors to openly share their work through different outlets (e.g. a personal webpage, social media, etc.), the gold option provides readers with free access to an article directly from the publisher. This has resulted in the establishment of fully open access journals (such as the brand new one from Canadian Science Publishing, FACETS), as well as hybrid journals (where the journal offers the option for authors to pay for their article to be open access). Nonetheless, by implementing open access, barriers to accessing scholarly works begin to diminish and readership can be increased.

While open access certainly seems like a great idea from the readers’ perspective, it comes at an expense to authors—literally. Currently, the cost of making a scholarly article open access is substantial, generally running authors more than USD $1000 per article. So, is there any benefit from the authors’ side of the coin? It turns out that there is!

The prestige and productivity of scholarly authors is often gauged by citations—when another scholar references the work of a scholarly author in a subsequent article. The more citations that an author gains on their publications, the better. The chance at increasing citations is a benefit to authors for increasing the impact of their work and for career development. Interestingly, one of the ways that appears effective for increasing citations is publishing as open access.

In a study recently published in FACETS, I was able to show that open access articles in hybrid marine science journals received more citations than articles that were closed access. For my study, I collected citation data from articles in three hybrid marine ecology journals with similar impact factors as a microcosm to test for open access effects on citations: ICES Journal of Marine Science (Oxford Press), Marine Ecology Progress Series (Inter-Research), and Marine Biology (Springer). I also controlled for a number of other factors that could potentially influence citation rates, including self-citations, article type, time since publication, the number of authors, and the year that the article was published. I found that open access articles received, on average, 57%, 38%, and 24% more citations than closed access articles for ICES Journal of Marine Science, Marine Ecology Progress Series, & Marine Biology, respectively. 

Although the trend observed in my study could be driven by authors’ self-selection to publish only their best work as open access, the results are in line with numerous other studies showing a citation advantage for open access articles. In addition, my study only focused on a narrow field of academia: marine science. However, these ‘microcosmic’ studies are important for highlighting the benefits of open access to authors that reside within a defined academic discipline, and more of them are certainly needed. 

Ultimately, the consistently documented citation advantage of open access for authors of scholarly works should motivate authors to publish open access and, in turn, increase the accessibility of scholarly works for students, researchers, and the public. However, the financial burden to doing so is still substantial. Given the documented benefits of open access publishing to both authors and readers, it’s about time that authors, readers, publishers, and librarians work together to determine new ways to support open access publishing. Alleviating the financial burden to authors will help to stimulate open access publishing and will lead to more efficient scientific communication between scientists and with the public. Such a transition is crucial in an age where scientific literacy is increasingly needed. 

It’s time to act now! It’s time to open up. 

Jeff Clements is a postdoctoral fellow in the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island. His research lies in the fields of anthropogenic change and marine biology and ecology. He is broadly interested in the biological and ecological processes characterizing marine environments, how these processes can be influenced by their environment, and how global change stressors (ocean acidification, hypoxia, and warming) might impact these processes. More specifically, he is interested in global change processes that shape animal behaviour and physiology, and how such changes in behavior and physiology can influence population and community ecology. Alongside his core research, Jeff is a strong proponent of open science and is also interested in the ways that social media can benefit academics.

Filed Under: FACETS Open Access

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