EC study finds low citation gains for gold open access

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

August 29, 2013

Source: Alamy

Gilded pages: the youth of gold journals may disadvantage them

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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Reader's comments (4)

COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES The Open Access (OA) citation advantage has been repeatedly demonstrated for Green OA, that is, articles published in any journal at all, but made open access by their authors be self-archiving them free for all online. But the significant citation advantage for OA articles over non-OA articles -- which has been found in every field tested -- is based on comparing like with like: journal articles appearing in the same journal and year, and even sometimes matched for topic via title words. Testing for a citation advantage of OA journals (Gold OA) over non-OA journals requires comparisons between journals, instead of between articles within the same journal. As a consequence, even if efforts are made to compare journals within the same field, there is no way to ensure that they cover the same subject matter, nor, perhaps even more important, to ensure that they are of the same quality. For journals do differ not only in subject matter but in the quality of their content. As Eric Archambault notes, Gold OA journals are handicapped by the fact that they tend to be younger, and hence have not had a chance to establish a track record for either subject matter or quality. But even for journals of the same age, and even if they are closely matched for subject matter, it is impossible to match them for quality. And to make it even worse, journal average citation counts are sometimes taken as a proxy for quality! Hence equating them for quality that way would guarantee that there could be no citation advantage between matched OA and non-OA journals! The good news is that there is no reason to believe that the OA citation advantage that has been repeatedly demonstrated by within-journal comparisons using Green OA should not also generalize to OA provided by Gold OA -- for articles of comparable quality. One last point: Our studies have found that the size of the OA advantage is itself correlated with quality (or at least with quality as measured by citation counts): The size of the Green OA advantage is greater in journals with higher average citation counts. We tentatively conclude that the citation advantage is greater for "more citeable" articles. A lower quality article will not gain as much by making it more accessible as a higher article. OA may even lower the citation counts of low quality articles by levelling the playing field, making all articles accessible, and hence making it possible for authors to access, use and cite the best articles, rather than just the ones they can afford to access via institutional subscriptions. Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636
Gold versus green OPen ACcess has been debated and this study will probably add to it. It would be interesting to see if there are studies that examine if gold route to open access prices out people. Http://
I was wincing in anticipation of shoddy conclusions coming from this study. It's not surprising that citation rates are lower when you throw in a lot of bottom-of-the-barrel journals, all of which call themselves "open access". Comparing like for like gives a much better picture, and in fact within Pubmed-indexed articles, we see the average numbers of readers on Mendeley being twice as high for papers published under some sort of open license. I published my results here: The data and analysis code are available to anyone who wishes to replicate my results. (Apologies for not having them online in a more usable form.) Here's the text cite in case this comment field strips out the link above. Gunn, William. Social Signals Reflect Academic Impact: What it Means When a Scholar Adds a Paper to Mendeley. Information Standards Quarterly, Summer 2013, 25(2): 33-39.
Arti - You may be surprised to find how accessible the majority of Gold OA options are. PLOS ONE, for example, offers fee waivers for those who can't afford it, and many institutions are setting up OA funds to pay publication fees on behalf of authors.