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Open Access May Remedy Traditional Journal Publishing’s Dysfunctional Aspects via Transparency

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Forschungs-Campus Garching - Fakultät für Mathematik und Informatik, Die Technische Universität München, Muenchen, Germany, October 24, 2009 | © Courtesy of digital cat.

As both criticisms of academic journal publication practices and recent empirical results suggest, transparency that Open Access (OA) tends to promote is likely to be associated with journal quality, since latest journal citation reports have shown that a significant share of highest-ranking scientific journals in medicine are published in OA.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In his extensive critique of the journal publication industry made available online in 2013, Mathias Binswager argues against the homogenization of higher education and scientific research that has been taking place in recent decades around the world, such as in Germany and Europe more generally, as quantitative measures of university excellence have become widely regarded as primary indicators on which institutional and governmental decision making has become based. This particularly applies to the journal publication procedures, since scholars and researchers receive appointments, funds and promotions primarily based on their publishing in high-ranking scientific journals, while a regular output of academic output has become widely expected in the academia.

However, given that the majority of top-ranking journals are subscription-based and most journals apply either single- or double-blind peer-review procedures to submitted manuscripts, arguably in order to increase the quality of the articles that they publish, this status quo has led to a large degree of non-transparency about the manner in which scientific journals operate. In Binswager’s view, this situation leads to deleterious effects on science, while impairing the validity of quantitative indicators of academic excellence, such as journal impact factors and article citation counts, since, provided the de facto gate-keeping functions of non-transparent peer-review procedures, scientific authors resort to tactics that are specifically targeted at increasing their chances of being published in selective journals the rejection rate of which can reach 95%. These tactics can include the strategic citation of possible reviewers, flatteringly positive assessments of approaches linked to scholars likely to act as reviewers, limited readiness to deviate from accepted theories and the reduction in the novelty of article manuscripts.

At the same time, as recent reports indicate, such as the 2015 Open Data Barometer Report, transparency, e.g., Open Access to Data, is likely to increase country-level accountability and performance, since countries with high data transparency scores tend to be high-income OECD members. As Jelte Witcherts’ 2016 empirical findings based on his survey of publishing industry experts suggest, transparency is also likely to contribute to journal quality, since his transparency measurement scale has been found to adequately discriminate between established non-OA, DOAJ-recognized OA journals and predatory OA journals and to correlate positively with the chances of rejecting low-quality manuscripts.

Since, as the 2017 Journal Citation Report by Clarivate Analytics indicates, in 2016 four of ten globally top-ranking journals in medicine are published in OA, the more open and transparent review procedures that OA journals tend to implement are not only likely not to hurt their quality, but also may increase their impact within respective scientific communities.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: Forschungs-Campus Garching – Fakultät für Mathematik und Informatik, Die Technische Universität München, Muenchen, Germany, October 24, 2009 | © Courtesy of digital cat.

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