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Though Open Access to Publicly Supported Reports is Increasingly Anchored in Policy, It Still Divides Scholars’ Opinions

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United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., USA, October 22, 2011 © Courtesy of Daniel Mennerich/Flickr.

As the United States’ Congress writes into law Open Access to federally funded research findings, recent survey results indicate that Open Access continues to be misunderstood in the scientific community.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In early April 2018, research reports prepared on behalf of the Congressional Research Service, which produces a large quantity of high-quality research papers for the attention of Congress members and, theoretically, the general public on a wide variety of topics, such as trade, patents and agriculture, have become mandated to be published in Open Access. This move reduces barriers to accessing these reports, since they do not have copyright protection, are governmentally funded and were difficult to find. Additionally, this transition to Open Access makes workaround solutions for accessing materials that are already in the public domain through third-party websites redundant. This adoption of Open Access by the United States federal government represents another instance of policy-making that recognizes this format as promoting research searchability, visibility and transparency.

At the same time, in the academic community Open Access remains a controversial subject, primarily because individual scholars overemphasize the use of article processing fees by Open Access journals. As much is suggested by the results of an online survey organized by the Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance (AMHP) among 202 respondents, which where summarized by Pamela C. Day in her report published in January 2018. However, Open Access journals are in need of revenue streams, precisely in order to be able to conduct thorough peer reviews of their submitted manuscripts and maintain their overall quality that impact factors and database listings reflect. For instance, the AMHP journal has 300,000 USD in expenses which includes salaries for editorial staff, manuscript review expenses, online journal hosting expenses and typographic costs.

Subscription revenues of this journal, amounting to circa 100,000 USD, fall short of covering these expenses, which demands reliance on other sources of cash flows, such as article processing charges (APCs), if the journal transitions to Open Access. Though in the framework of the Gold Open Access model journal publishers do not monetize their content, once APCs are paid, this survey also indicates that surveyed scholars in their majority do not have objections to Open Access per se, while clearly preferring that Open Access publications remain non-commercial, which falls into the purview of Creative Commons licensing terms. Likewise, around 66% of research participants were found to use institutional repositories for their published works in response to requirements or mandates. Over 50% of survey respondents also indicated that the repository versions of their articles are as good or useful as the final versions accepted for journal publication.

While in this survey, the rate of Open Access adoption has been found to vary from 18% for art least one article published to 29% for more than one paper published in an Open Access journal, the respondents have also indicated sensitivity to publication fees (70%) and impact factor (60%). However, as 42% of the surveyed scientists indicated that they had no budget for publishing in Open Access, the perceptions in relation to Open Access may be driven not only by journal quality, but also by lacking ability to pay APCs. Thus, while de factor Open Access, such as repository use, has made significant progress in the scientific community around the AMHP journal, perceptions of Open Access appear to lag behind.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., USA, October 22, 2011 | © Courtesy of Daniel Mennerich/Flickr.

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