Low citation gains via gold open access: study

Advantages to making research freely available are still limited when publication is via gold journals

There may be a citation advantage to making research freely available, but not by publishing in “gold” open access journals, a study for the European Commission has suggested.

An analysis of articles published via various open access models found that in all fields but physics and astronomy, publishing in journals giving immediate open access to articles was linked with a lower rate of citation by other academics.

The disadvantage was “marked” in the arts, humanities and social sciences, economics and business and chemistry, says the report by Montreal-based research evaluation consultancy Science-Metrix. But its findings echo previous studies suggesting that in general open access publishing increases citation.

The study, produced on behalf of the European Commission, also found that half of scientific papers published in 2011 can be accessed online for free, about twice the level of previous estimates.

Articles in biomedicine, biology, and mathematics and statistics were the most likely to be free to access. The lowest rates were in the social sciences and humanities, applied sciences, engineering and technology.

The report, published on 21 August, surveyed all methods of publishing, including “green” open access self-archiving of articles in repositories and “hybrid” models, where articles in otherwise subscription-based journals are made free by paying a fee. It found that all fields derived a citation advantage from publishing via open access compared with subscription-based publishing.

Making research results freely available is thought to boost their impact because access to them is increased, sometimes earlier than it would be through conventional publication, said Éric Archambault, lead author of the study.

But work published in gold journals tended to be less highly cited because “a lot of gold journals are newer, younger and less well established, so they don’t attract the best articles yet”, Dr Archambault said.

However, in 15 years, “gold journals will be more highly cited” than subscription-based ones, he added.

Funders are increasingly requiring the results of publicly supported research to be made freely available. Research Councils UK has expressed a preference for the gold model but the European Commission has not.

Martin Eve, lecturer in English literature at the University of Lincoln and co-founder of several open access humanities journals, said new gold open access journals could help themselves by ensuring that they were discoverable, including appearing in respected indexing services. “Simply being online and available for free is not enough,” he said. He cautioned against shying away from gold open access journals, despite their lack of “reputational capital”.

However, Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, said that the “huge amount of confusion” among academics over open access, coupled with some universities’ reliance on citation metrics, meant that this could well be the result.


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