In Houghton and Sheehan’s study they recently argued that increased access to research findings comes with substantial benefits. One of these is an increased economic impact, yet there are broader, if slightly fuzzy, benefits for society at large in gradually shifting towards an OA model:
Houghton & Sheenan emphasised the need for further research in the following areas:
- Developing estimates of the contribution of publications and other potentially open access digital objects to the stock of knowledge generated by R&D (e.g. estimating what proportion of the stock of knowledge might by affected by open access);
- Finding direct measurable links between access, use and efficiency, to enable estimation of the appropriate percentage change to apply to the accessibility and efficiency variables (e.g. direct links between access, downloads and citations, and access and levels of duplication, etc);
- Finding measures of the use of subscription-based and open access content by non-research users (e.g. users in industry, government, non-government organisations and the wider community);
- Exploring the extent of ‘leakage’ of impacts across national borders, to better understand where benefits may accrue and the potential importance of international initiatives towards open access;
- Exploring the impacts of enhanced access to different R&D categories (e.g. Gross Expenditure on R&D, Government expenditure on R&D, Higher education R&D expenditure, etc) using appropriate rates of returns for each category;
- Exploring various national data using ‘local’ rates of return to R&D reported in national studies;
- Further examining the potential impacts of a one-off change to enhanced access on the accumulation and obsolescence of the stock R&D knowledge, and exploring impacts of applying different rates ‘depreciation’;
- Exploring marginal as well as average rates of return, and the potential impacts of increases in accessibility and efficiency on marginal returns to R&D (e.g. under what circumstances are various categories of R&D facing increasing or decreasing returns);
- Examining the extent to which the ‘non-informational’ benefits of R&D cited by proponents of the evolutionary approach (e.g. Salter and Martin, 2001; Scott et al. 2002) do in fact fall outside the scope of such growth models.
Traditionally, journals have been sold on subscription to libraries. In the age of print-on-paper this was the only model available that enabled publishers to disseminate journals and recoup the cost. Unfortunately, this meant that only researchers in institutions that could afford to pay the subscription charges were able to read journal articles. Even wealthy universities could only afford a proportion of the world’s research literature. For institutions in poorer countries this proportion is tiny or even non-existent. At the beginning of this millennium, more than half the research-based institutions in the poorest countries had no current journal subscriptions and over 20% had an average of two subscriptions.
It’s not just about journals making themselves Open Access either. We also need institutions to support their authors and encourage them to choose (good) OA journals.