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The quality of open access journals – what do academic authors think?

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Predatory journal – that sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? However, the problem of low quality open access journals is overemphasized. 67.4% of academic authors who answered Key Challenges of Research Communication De Gruyter Open Author’s Survey, know a high quality open access journal dealing with their research topic. The knowledge of high quality OA venues is the most common in the field Medical and Life Sciences. Authors who published more papers in the last 3 years than their average disciplinary colleagues are more likely to know a top-tier OA venue.

The question of open access journals quality is one of the major issues in the discussion about open access, especially if the discussion is taking place among researchers who are less familiar with this publishing model. This is, in major part, a result of black PR campaigns and hostile activity of some bloggers and journalists who publicize low quality OA journals that otherwise would not be spotted at all. However, these campaigns were successful enough to raise a general alertness about the quality of OA journals which unfortunately does not translate to alertness about the quality of works published by traditional venues. Opponents of the openness artificially highlight the existence of low quality open access journals and do not discuss the quality of toll access journals at all.

In the NPG survey, perceived low quality of open access journals was found to be one of the major factors chosen by the respondents as a reason for not publishing in open access. However, since this question was asked only to authors who have not published in OA journals, still no more than 20% researchers working in science and not more than 40% of those dealing with humanities claimed to think that OA journals are worse than traditional ones. In the survey by Taylor and Francis respondents were asked if they agree with the idea that OA journals are of lower quality than traditional venues, which resulted in a 35% share of those who support this claim. Therefore, there is no research evidence that conviction over the lower quality of OA journals is shared by the majority of researchers, although it seems to be quite a popular perception. On the other hand, it is possible that the general view that researchers have on open access is less important for their publishing decisions than their opinions about every particular journal that operates in their field.

Therefore, we have decided to ask all of the academic authors taking part in the Key Challenges of Research Communication De Gruyter Open Author’s Survey, if they know of an open access journal of high quality operating in their field.

As a result, we found out that 67.4% of authors of academic papers who answered our survey know a high quality open access journal dealing with their research topic. What is more, among authors who personally did not publish in an open access journal, 43.6% still claim to know a high quality OA venue, versus 75.4% among those who published in an OA journal themselves.

There are significant disciplinary differences in these statistics. Social scientists are the group with the smallest knowledge on good quality OA journals in their field – 63.7% claim to know one. For researchers working in the fields of Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering it is 65.3%. In the case of Arts and Humanities as many as 70.7% know a good open access venue. The knowledge of high quality OA venues is even more common in the Medical and Life Sciences (81.1% of authors claim to know such a journal).

Career level, type of contract and geographical location do not influence the chances of knowing a high quality open access journal. However, authors who published more papers in the last 3 years than their average disciplinary colleagues are more likely to know top-tier OA venue (73.1% vs. 65.5%). This might be because of their better knowledge about available publishing options in general.

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