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Leslie Chan on the Impact of Open Access

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The Hindu newspaper recently published a highly revealing interview with Leslie Chan, champion of the Open Access Initiative, about the impact of Open Access on scientific development.  A few extracts from the interview in particular deserve some additional comments.

While Leslie Chan mainly discusses the benefits of Open Access for science and the impact of OA on social and national development, he also refers to the advantages it can bring to students and professors. Yet his most interesting remarks focus on the impact factor and the introduction of structural changes to the university system.

When asked whether OA can be an alternative to traditional publishing, where peer-reviewed journals are the norm, Leslie Chan responds:

“The days of traditional journals are numbered, along with the impact factor.”

Chan notes that in reality, the impact factor only reflects the prestige of the journal title, not the actual impact of a particular article.

“Today, technology is changing how readers discover relevant research materials, and article-by-article use, Regardless of journal title, is fast becoming the norm.”

While I tend to agree with Chan that the importance of the impact factor is slowly going to diminish, at least when it comes to measuring an article’s impact on scientific development, I am not convinced about his claim that the days of the impact factor are numbered. Unfortunately, the IF not only attributes prestige to a given journal, it also effects on the reputation of scientists. This leads to a status quo that no one involved is particularly keen on challenging. For anything to change in this regard, it would first require a general consensus among the scientific community, along with some important structural changes. Therefore, altering the current paradigm would represent a long and arduous process. On the other hand, such a shift may be accelerated by introducing reforms in university and government policies – reforms that prioritise access to research results, thus defining a better way of “measuring” the value of researchers.

When prompted about the changes that ought to be carried out in universities, Chan advances that:

“The set-up of an institutional repository should be the primary means that each institution should have for making the research output of their faculty openly accessible”.

Moreover, he adds that universities should fund and reward researchers who publish in high-quality Open Access publications – a process Chan describes as “[moving] prestige to Open Access”.

Indeed, as long as printed journals are regarded as the only reputable outlet for scientific research, scientists will always be reluctant to publish in Open Access. Therefore, universities should do their best to popularise the new publishing model and encourage their employees to embrace it.

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