April 16, 2015
According to Park and Qin, authors when talking about their willingness to publish in open access journals consider problems such as: journal reputation, topical relevance, availability of journal’s content, career benefit and the cost of publication.
I have recently carried out a review of the empirical studies on authors’ attitudes toward open access. The first conclusion I want to share with you is that I do not understand why there are so many papers about open access being hidden behind paywalls. I assume that people who write articles about the factors influencing self-archiving practices understand what open access repositories are, and so I have no idea why they sometimes forget to archive their own work. I know nothing about open access journals in information studies (except for the fact that there are some), and I understand that some people may choose a journal which only offers restricted access, but I cannot understand why people who have profiles on ResearchGate do not publish their full texts there despite the fact that the publisher’s embargo has expired a long time ago. For those who are not aware of this fact I will also add, that Arxiv.org, which is probably the most well known open access repository in the world accepts papers from some fields of information studies (follow Digital Libraries category on ArXiv.org).
Going back to the point, I would like to share with you some thoughts about a research paper concerning open access, which surprise, surprise… is open access itself. I will write a little bit about the study by Ji-Hong Park and Jian Qin, Exploring the Willingness of Scholars to Accept Open Access: A Grounded Theory Approach published in 2007. It is not very recent, although it has a very distinctive feature – it is based on a qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews, in contrast to the majority of articles on the same topic, which are usually supported by a quantitative analysis of a survey’s output. In the social sciences, qualitative analysis is seen as an important tool, especially for exploring new subjects, because it is more likely to lead to the articulation of new problems and new ideas than quantitative analysis of standardized answers for pre-defined questions. Park and Qin’s paper is strictly exploratory, because authors used grounded theory as the core of their methodological approach, which in short means that their research process was based on inductive reasoning, rather than on verification of some hypothesis. In researching new phenomenon, like open access, it seems to be a very reasonable approach.
The study has one serious limitation (apart of the fact, that interviews seem to be quite short, and since we are not able to read any of them, it is hard to judge their quality, and how exhaustive they were) – all informants were working at one university. Both graduate students, non tenured and tenured faculties were interviewed. The sample consists of representatives of both genders and various disciplines, but we can suspect that alongside gender, career level and professional background, also the wealth of the employing institution may influence attitudes towards open access, since it results in the ability to access various literature sources. As Bo-Christer Bjork, one of leading researchers of open access publishing told me in the interview “Different authors and different readers are in totally different situations. If you think about researchers working at wealthy universities in the United States, then they just do not feel the access problem. (…) It really depends on whom you ask.” This is why probably the sample is not differentiated enough, and that some further studies may show new points of view on discussed problems, if it will be based on samples from different institutions.
Another evidence of publish or perish mentality
According to Park and Qin, authors talking about their willingness to publish in open access journals consider such problems as: perceived journal reputation, perceived topical relevance, perceived availability of journal content, which is seen as both desirable from the ethical point of view (“general public should have access”) and as potentially beneficial for a researcher’s career, since it may trigger wider recognition, perceived career benefit and perceived cost of publication. For me, the most striking is the fact that only the perceived availability is partially linked to ethical concerns of open access, while all other factors seem to be linked to career opportunities. In these terms the only real advantage that open access journals may offer to authors, and which is result of their openness, is wider dissemination, which has potential to trigger more citations.
As the paper’s authors noticed: “Availability encourages career benefit in terms of wider recognition, but it seems to weaken career benefit through its relationship with journal reputation and content quality”. Since the majority of open access journals are new, and have not yet been able to gain recognition, researchers have to choose – do they want to benefit from the bigger availability of open access works or from the prestige of traditional, well known journals? This is not a new conclusion, it is only one more piece of evidence for the dominance of the competitive pressure on academics and their focus on so-called key performance indicators, like publishing output and citation scores.
Are tenured researchers more likely to choose open access journals?
Park and Qin suggest that the positive influence of open access publishing on one’s career is regarded more by tenures than by younger faculties, who are more interested in journal’s prestige. This should be seen as a very weak hypothesis, since the sample of discussed research does not allow us to make any generalisations. However, this relation may be strongly influenced by different factors, such as discipline and type of institution one is working at, although it might be a good starting point for further research.
The authors of the research also claimed that since the central value for researchers is career advancement, they are also likely to pay for it, with their time and money. It means that article processing charges will probably be a good source of revenue for prestiges venues, while it would be hard for low quality, author pays journals to survive on the open access market.
Is Impact Factor everything?
On a side note, the paper comes with one more important remark – that a prestigious venue may mean something very different for each field, since reputation is the product of the field. In other words, it is just a widespread opinion is some communities, thus it cannot be simply reduced to Impact Factor, or other scores. For each researcher, the most important thing is to be known and respected among his or her peers, who are scholars working on the very similar problems. And each of these communities, which are usually quite small, have different publishing habits and preferences. This probably means that to survive on the market an author pays journal has to become important for some research community, which does not always mean it should have an impressive Impact Factor.
I would like to thank Ji-Hong Park and Jian Qin for publishing their work in open access.
Main image is authored by: Timetrax23 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 license.