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The Dark and the Bright Side of Open Access

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A couple of days ago The New York Times has published an article about the “dark side” of Open Access, and more specifically about “predatory” OA journals. The term –  coined and popularized by Dr. Jeffrey Beall who some time ago started running a blacklist of that kind of journals  – has been since a hot topic above and beyond Open Access movement. The NYT article gives the impression that, to some extent, Open Access is a “shady business”.

The article sources the data from Beall’s blog:

“There were 20 publishers on his list in 2010, and now there are more than 300. He estimates that there are as many as 4,000 predatory journals today, at least 25 percent of the total number of open-access journals.”

The author presents the cases of scientists, who have been misled by or have been victims of predatory journals. The conclusion from this article is clear – predatory journals are a negative phenomenon affecting the whole Open Access.

It is difficult to argue with this conclusion because it presents facts. “Predatory” journals exist and their existence is related to Open Access movement. However, in this case, cause-effect relationship is not so obvious. The existence of “predatory” journals is not a simple effect of Open Access and still less a proof, that OA is rotten at the roots; it is more the effect of the existence of freedom on the Internet. It goes without saying that the internet is full of dubious information and initiatives; anyone willing to creating false information or dangerous websites can do so. And as science took to the internet it is hardly surprising that there are fake journals; the same situation relates to information per se. The Internet is full of misinformation but this is a well discussed side effect of democracy.

The article presents facts but also just one side of medal. It was pointed out by Peter Suber who referred to the article of David Solomon and Bo-Christer Björk, “OA Coming of Age”:

“While poor quality publishers are proliferating, often creating hundreds of cookie-cutter journals, they tend to publish relatively few articles. On the other hand, PLoS recently published its 50,000th article (…) the majority of scientists publishing in OA journals that charge APCs are savvy enough to avoid low quality publishers. It appears that they care about the quality of the journals in which they publish, as do the promotion and tenure committees that evaluate researchers.”

“The dark side” of OA exists. The scientific publishing is a profitable business and it is hardly surprising that someone is trying to take advantage of it; but the benefits of OA outweigh the disadvantages. I have written on this blog more than once, what the benefits of OA are. I will mention only about the last good news from MIT, which has recently presented a result of its Open Access Policy:

 “Only one-third of the use originates in the United States, while North America as a whole accounts for 36% of the activity. Downloads are otherwise widely distributed, with even the well-populated and research-intensive countries of China, India, and the UK contributing just 10%, 6%, and 5% respectively. Downloads from around the world include those from Nigeria and Argentina (both 0.1%), Estonia (.05%) and Malta (.02%). Europe is the origin of consistent activity, including from Italy (2%), Poland (0.7%), and Spain (.01%). Australia and New Zealand account for an additional 2% of downloads.”

That shows, that Open Access is necessary, and not only for scientific community. OA has its faults, but it should by no means be reduced merely to them.

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