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Is Asia the leader of the global shift towards openness?

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Only 20% of researchers from Asia declare that they have no access to publication funds, which makes the situation in this part of world better than in Europe and in North and Central America. Asian colleagues seems to have more money to spend on APC and are more likely to publish in open access. Are these results true?

I do not have much time to dig into the Author Insights Survey 2015 by the Nature Publishing Group (NPG) and its sister company Palgrave Macmillan. But since the authors of the research were kind enough to make the data open (licensed under CC-BY) and publish it on Figshare, I had a quick look at the dataset. It seems to me that the research has uncovered at least several interesting problems, but first of all I think I have to mention its limitations.

Is it real?

Although the dataset is big, (it contains 21,000+ observations), it is not representative of the whole research community. The sample was not randomly picked from a list of all scholars (which is hardly possible, since a complete list probably does not exist). The authors of the research contacted people belonging to company mailing lists (internal and external), e.g. the contact list of Nature authors, which is probably not representative of all researchers. What is more, a low response rate was obtained (4%), so in fact the respondents are self-selected volunteers. People with strong opinions on examined subjects (in this case – open access) are more likely to respond to surveys, so the sample might be biased. Both of these problems apply to all research carried out on open access. This means that none of this research can be treated in isolation as a sufficient source of information, and there is a need to continue to compare the results of one survey to another. However, this is difficult, since different problems are addressed in various research papers.

Open Access Funding is going well

Going back to the point, I will quickly run through the NPG/Macmillan database published on Figshare using IBM SPSS software to obtain some basic descriptives. What I find most interesting is that only 24,9% of respondents declared that they have no access to resources to cover publication costs! This means that the vast majority of authors have access to at least some funds to cover APCs. Which means that one of the most crucial problems of open access publishing is partially solved.

The question was: “How much funding (in USD) do you have access to this year to cover publication costs for payments such as article processing charges (open access fees), colour or page charges?”. Well, in my opinion, it might be more appropriate to ask “Do you have access…” at first, and then ask about the amount, instead of asking directly “How much…”. The survey also fails to ask about how much one wants to pay from his/her own pocket for APC. And we know from previous research in some disciplines it is quite common to pay at least part of an APC with your own money, while in other fields it occurs rarely.

The question was answered by 21,093 respondents, of which 17% answered that they “don’t know”. 25,7% of all respondents declared that for them “Reasonable publication costs are permitted, but no amount is specified”. The median mean for the researchers who gave an amount is in the range of 100 to 499 USD. This is not much, in comparison to the average APC on the market, but one can find journals with such moderate fees. And 25% of those who declared an amount, can afford to pay a fee of 1000 USD or more, which should be fair enough for most disciplines. It is worth noting that some of the researchers who declared that a “reasonable cost” suits them, are probably also able to publish even in very expensive journals. This gives us quite an optimistic view on the depth of the APC market.

Asia – the global leader

When I checked out how the answers to these questions look on the global map, I was even more surprised. Only 20% of researchers from Asia (N=3,274) declared that they have no access to publication funds, which made the situation in this part of world better than in Europe (N=7,528 and 32.5% researchers without access to funding) and in North and Central America (N=5,572, 31.1% without funding). It is not sure whether these differences are a result of a bias in the sample construction, and it would be very good to have them verified by other surveys. For definite, Asian scholars were represented by researchers based in China (N=1,027), Japan (N=554) and India (N=339) mostly, while other countries have small share in the sample.

50% of the Asia-based researchers who gave an amount, declared to have access to 500 USD or more to cover publication fees this year, so they also seem to be able to afford more than the rest of the sample. The National Natural Science Foundation of China seems to be the important player in fostering open access globally, since it funds 27% of all Asian researchers who answered the survey, and 89% of them (!) declared to have some APC funding for publications available this year (9.6% do not know).

We should look east

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that respondents from Asia more often choose to publish in open access. The average share of open access articles in all articles published within the last 3 years is 25.1% for the whole sample, and 31.1% for Asia. The average share of open access articles with APC paid is 17.1% for the whole sample and 22.7% for respondents from Asia.

Is Asia the global leader of openness? According to Author Insights Survey 2015 by NPG/Palgrave Macmillan, yes. Is this result true? It is hard to say at the moment. We need more research to answer the question. I can only say that it corresponds well with my own personal experience. When I was writing my PhD thesis I could easily find a lot of open access literature dealing with my subject and the majority of it was written in English but signed by researchers working for Chinese institutions. This is not enough to say anything for definite, but open access advocates from Europe and US should probably pay more attention to the situation in Asia, which seems to be quite interesting.

Data Source: (NPG), Nature Publishing Group (2015): Author Insights 2015 survey. figshare.

Image: China festival of lights, dragon. Photo by Alias 0591, licensed under CC-BY.

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