Six months ago, Melissa Terras decided to investigate whether putting her past research papers in University College London's free repository and publicising them via blog posts and Twitter would help them find a wider audience than they would get from journal publication alone.
The reader in electronic communication in UCL's department of information studies has completed her experiment and reported the results on Melissa Terras' Blog.
"Some rough stats, first of all," she writes. "Most of my papers, before I blogged and tweeted them, had one to two downloads, even if they had been in the repository for months (or years, in some cases). Upon blogging and tweeting, within 24 hours, there were, on average, 70 downloads...That's a huge leap in interest."
A graph of the 10 most downloaded papers from her department exemplifies the success of her experiment: seven of them are hers, and every time she blogged and tweeted about them, the download number rose dramatically.
In total, she writes, " out of the top 50 downloads in our department in the last calendar year feature me...My stuff isn't better than my colleagues' work. They're all doing wonderful things! But I'm just the only one actively promoting access to my research papers. If you tell people about your research, they look at it."
For those thinking of following her example, she has some tips: never tweet at midnight or on a Friday, for example, when people are sleeping or their minds are on other things.
Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, is another advocate of open access to research papers, and he has also debated the issue in a recent post on his Reciprocal Space blog.
"I had an argument with my colleague in the tea room the other day," he writes. "Specifically, he criticised open-access journals such as PLoS ONE both for their lack of sub-editorial services and for creating a home for poor-quality science.
"This got my goat, not least because I had made my first submission to PLoS ONE just the day before."
Addressing his colleague's criticisms of the publishing model, which is gaining ever greater support in academic circles, Professor Curry says that while grammatical errors can slip through, "articles accepted by the journal are formatted and certainly look like the real thing". He also rebuts the accusation that PLoS ONE in some way allows "poor-quality science" to prosper. "The publication of mediocre science is by no means the exclusive domain of open-access journals. There is an awful lot of it out there, as anyone involved in peer review will know," he writes.
"It would be quite wrong to assume that PLoS ONE will publish anything. In fact the journal rejects about 30 per cent of submissions...half of which end up being published elsewhere. So, although...the editors and reviewers have to manage high volumes of submissions...the criterion that manuscripts have to report work that is 'technically sound' still appears to be providing a useful filter."
While acknowledging that these counter-arguments do not prove definitively that the PLoS ONE model is the future of academic publishing, he argues that the journal "has helped to establish an ethos that chimes well with publicly minded scientists."
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