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Open Access increases citations – yes or no?

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The issue of citations is crucial for all researchers and scholars who are interested in publishing their scientific work in the Open Access model. The wide availability of scientific articles and books that is the result of publishing in OA helps scholars to gain a higher level of paper downloads and citations. I have written about this phenomenon of Open Access more than a few times. However it is always worth exploring this subject further with new examples of the influence of Open Access on the level of citations.

This time I would like to refer to the report “A longitudinal comparison of citation rates and growth among open access journals” by David J Solomon, Mikael Laakso and Bo-Christer Björk. The researchers analyzed data from multiple sources to explore the outlined research aims which was:

“Compare Source-Normalized Impact per Paper Version 2 (SNIP2) Citation Averages for OA journals with that of subscription journals during the period 1999 through 2010”

The results of their analysis are very interesting. According to the presented data high quality OA publishing is growing at a rapid pace and helps to gain a higher level of citations, comparable to or higher than subscription journals. As you can see below,  in 2010 the Weighted Source Normalized Impact per Paper Version 2 (SNIP2) Citation Rates for Health Science Journals is almost the same for subscription journals and OA journals with APCs. What is interesting, is that OA journals without APCs fall much behind.

For Non‐Health Science Journals situation is pretty much the same:

Even more interesting, is that the SNIP2 Citation Averages is much higher for OA journals that were established from scratch than for journals that were converted to the OA model.

These data show that Open Access may have a positive impact on the level of citations of a specific paper.

On the other hand, the report “Does Online Availability Increase Citations? Theory and Evidence from a Panel of Economics and Business Journals” by Mark J. McCabe and Christopher M. Snyder shows data which are not so conclusive. The researchers have analyzed 100 journals in economics and business in the context of JSTOR. Each journal has many volumes and experiences a different pattern of online access. As we can read in this report:

“The dataset merges citations data together with historical information on online availability. The citations data was acquired from Thomson ISI. For each of the 100 journals in our sample, ISI lists every article published since 1956. Each published article is linked to all cites from all of the over 8,000 ISI-indexed journals for each year from 1980 to 2005. The database includes detailed information on journal and article title, publication date, author name, affiliation, and location for both the citing article and the cited article. To this basic citation data we merged hand-collected information on online availability of the full-text article.”

The results are quite intriguing. On the one hand, results confirm to some extent the positive impact of OA on the level of citations. The report states “JSTOR shows significantly positive effects, averaging around a 10% subscription elasticity (meaning that a doubling of JSTOR subscriptions causes a 10% increase in citations).” However the final conclusion is rather negative:

“At the same time the modest size of these effects, and the current lack of evidence that free online access performs better, implies that the citation benefits of open access publishing have been exaggerated by its proponents. Even if publishing in an open-access journal were generally associated with a 10% boost in citations, it is not clear that authors in economics and business would be willing to pay several thousand dollars for this benefit, at least in lieu of subsidies”

The question whether OA does or does not increase the level of citations is continually raised in the scientific community. There are many analyses and reports that seem to confirm this thesis; however, there is no shortage of results that say just the opposite, that OA has no impact on citations. As is often the case in science, the result of research often depends on the adopted methodology and the subject of study. But in the end, the one person who needs to answer for this question is the researcher itself. Open Access does not always help to gain a higher level of citations for a particular paper, but in general, there is a lot of evidence confirming that the described phenomenon takes place. How researchers will use the opportunities provided by Open Access is a matter of personal choice.

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