THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

November 17, 2011

It is fair to say that open access to research has widespread support among academic bloggers.

Perhaps inevitably, given the nature of what they do, the idea that research findings should be available to all free of charge is a topic close to many of their hearts. Of particular interest is the notion that open-access models will expand their audience and ensure that their findings - and prowess as researchers - are recognised by the wider world.

But although you would be hard pressed to find an academic blogger speaking up for profit-making journal publishers, there is some critical analysis of the alternative.

Does open-access publishing encourage plagiarism, for example? And will "old school" academics ever give as much credence to a paper published on the internet without the reputation of a long-established journal behind it?

Melissa Terras, reader in electronic communication in the department of information studies at University College London, is attempting to answer such questions with an experiment. Going through her "back catalogue" of published research, she is making one paper a week freely available via her institutional repository. At the same time, she is blogging about each paper on Melissa Terras' Blog (http://bit.ly/vu22GL) and citing it on her Twitter feed (@melissaterras).

Dr Terras is then reviewing the impact of this approach on the paper's dissemination.

"Prior to me blogging and tweeting about the paper, it got downloaded twice (not by me)," she writes (http://bit.ly/t1rhZ0). "The day I tweeted and blogged it, it immediately got 140 downloads. This was on a Friday: on the Saturday and Sunday it got downloaded, but by fewer people - on Monday it was retweeted and it got a further 140 or so downloads. I have no idea what happened on 24 October [Monday] - someone must have linked to it? Posted it on a blog? Then there were a further 80 downloads. Then the traditional long tail, then it all goes quiet."

The first paper she included in the experiment has now been downloaded 535 times since it went live in countries all over the world - from Mexico to the United Arab Emirates.

Dr Terras writes: "I have no idea how many times it is read, accessed, downloaded in the journal itself. So seeing this - 500 reads in a week! makes me think, wow: people are reading something I have written!"

Having determined that there is a close correlation between when a paper is tweeted and downloaded, Dr Terras says there can be a "compulsion" to start scrutinising the statistics. "It gets addictive," she admits. But she also includes a note of caution: "Is this where we want to be headed: academia as X-Factor?"

For those wondering how Dr Terras' papers fared in comparison with others in UCL's repository that didn't have the associated promotion, the statistics she has reported put it in the top 10, possibly the top five, for the most downloaded papers that month.

"If I tell you that the most accessed item from our department ever in the UCL repository, has had 1,000 full text downloads, then 500 downloads in a week ain't too shabby," she writes.

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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