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The global hegemony in academic research – will open access change the game?

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At least 40.3% of articles published in the top Physical Sciences journals by Colombian authors are open access. There is a strong negative correlation between the share of academic papers published in open access journals and a country’s GDP per capita, says a map backed with open data.

Academic research needs well trained workers who have to be relatively well paid. Every research needs a lot of working hours from skilled staff and expensive equipment is very often essential. As a result, the academic environment is dominated by rich countries. For instance, only 70 universities from the top 500 of the Shanghai Ranking are located in countries where GDP per capita is less than or equal to 18,000 USD. Nature Index data on top Physical Sciences papers shows that there is a huge positive correlation between a country’s GDP per capita and its input to science.

Researchers from less wealthy countries have more difficulties with accessing literature. Moreover their works may have less chance to be found by researchers from the world’s leading institutions (when they publish in journals based in their countries). Open access might be part of the solution for these researchers, both as readers and as authors. It gives access to literature for everyone, and makes literature more discoverable, regardless of the place that it was published and the number of journal’s subscribers.

De Gruyter Open Author Survey has recently shown that authors from less wealthy countries are indeed more likely to publish their works (both papers and books) in gold open access model. However, this research was based on the self-declarations of academic authors. Respondents have declared a number of works published by them in both traditional and open access venues. We do not know where exactly they published their works or what number of their articles have actually been published in journals that might be called academic ones. Some of them might have found home in quasi-journals that offer no peer review.

But today, I would like to present another piece of evidence; that authors from the global periphery are more likely to choose open access journals. This evidence is based on data from Nature Index, which includes exclusively established journals, from various, well-known, academic publishers.

The data covers Physical Science only. They include a number of articles authored or co-authored by researchers from 50 countries in 28 well-known journals. Among indexed journals, 4 provide free access to their content. According to the data, when academic authors from the peripheral countries are able to contribute to the top journals which are covered by Nature Index, they are much more likely to publish in these 4 journals.

There is a strong negative correlation between the share of academic papers published in open access journals by researchers from a country and a country’s GDP per capita (Spearman -0.52). Colombia is the country with the highest share of papers published in open access journals (40.3% of articles published in top Physical Sciences journals are by Colombian authors, the real share of open access works in this group is probably even higher, because some papers published in toll access venues might also be open). Also Croatia, Greece, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Turkey, Thailand, Pakistan, Romania, Iran, Serbia published more than 30% of their output in the freely available serials. The global distribution of open access publishing in Physical Sciences is visible on the map above. This map supports claims presented in the recent report from De Gruyter Open.

The data behind the map are open.

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