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To open or not to open? – Hard to say

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Green and gold open access should be discussed as separate phenomenons, with a different set of factors that may foster or inhibit their growth. While green open access is driven mostly by the ethical beliefs of researchers it also requires knowledge that a lot of academic authors lack.

In my second post presenting the output of the Key Challenges of Research Communication De Gruyter Open Author’s Survey, I wrote that there is no link between authors’ habits considering gold and green routes to open access. Now I must confess, that is not the complete truth. In fact, between a share of gold open access papers in all articles published recently by an author, and a share of self-archived papers in his/her portfolio, there is a weak, negative correlation (Spearman -0.28). However this correlation is very likely an artefact. Survey questions were designed in a way that did not allow a respondent to declare the same paper as both gold open access and green. Only papers published in toll access might have been declared as self-archived by an author. So it is quite obvious that a share of gold open access papers in an author’s portfolio negatively influence the share of his/her toll access works, and in consequence, a percentage of green OA papers in his/her output.

When I calculated the share of self-archived papers in all articles published in toll access only, I realized that this number does not correlate at all with the share of gold OA works in a portfolio (Spearman -0.06). However, those authors who published at least one paper in gold open access are more likely to have at least one self-archived paper in their portfolio (29% vs 36,7%). So, it seems that even if there is a link between publishing in gold and green open access, it is on the entrance level only.

Gold depends on the rules of academic promotion

I believe we should talk about green and gold open access as separate phenomenons. To publish in gold open access, authors have to choose an open access journal (or a hybrid journal, which usually charges high publication fees for making an article open). As a result, shares of gold open access papers in a researcher’s portfolio are a result of his/her choices that employ many more factors than openness. In fact openness, for majority of researchers, is not even one of the most important factors while choosing a journal to publish in. Authors try to balance a journal’s Impact Factor, quality of peer review etc. with chances for getting a particular paper published, and in consequence their beliefs about open access have little to do with their real publishing behaviours. If they end up with open access as the best place for publishing a paper everyone is happy. But when they realise that a toll access venue is better in this particular case, no one is in despair.

We may expect that the situation with green open access is different. The vast majority of academic journals nowadays (e.g. all De Gruyter’s journals) allow self-archiving of  an OA copy of a paper published behind a paywall. Therefore, we may assume that green open access is virtually independent from an authors choices regarding a place to publish work in. Here, personal beliefs, but also funders policies, have a bigger role to play.

Green depends on ethical reasoning

We asked those authors who claimed to publish a paper in green open access why they did so. Only one answer was allowed to this question, and the authors were asked to choose the reason that was the most important to them, even if more reasons applied. Among 312 respondents who claimed to self-archive some of their recent papers in open access repository or somewhere else on the Internet, 5 failed to provide us an answer to this question. 46.9% of the rest claimed that they did it because they believe that “the general public should have access to the research”, so because of ethical reasons. Secondly, the biggest group chose increasing chances to get cited as a main reason. But it was only 15.3% of respondents. Thirdly, the most popular reason was undergoing some kind of open access policy (7.1%). A further 5.2% chose “because it helps researchers in low-income countries” as the main motivation,which might be also treated as an ethical reason. So together, 52.1% researchers archived their works because of ethical reasoning mostly.

406 authors that published in a toll access paper in the last 3 years claimed that they did not archive an open access copy of any of their articles. We asked them why they did not do so, and again 5 respondents failed to provide an answer. Among the others, 29.6% said that they did not know about such a possibility. 27.4% said that they were not allowed by publishers to do so. A further 24.6% claimed that they did not have the time to do so, while 6.9% declared that open access is not important for them. As much as 11.,5% chose the “other” option, and responses they gave as an explanation showed huge confusion and a lot of misconceptions around green open access. Taken together, this shows that a lack of knowledge and the legal complexity of copyright are the main problems inhibiting green open access. This correspondents well with the data that I presented earlier, showing a higher skew of green open access distribution than in the case of gold open access. Those authors who have better knowledge on copyright issues tend to publish quite a lot in green OA, while a huge number of researchers do not use this route at all.

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