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While Inclusion into Citation Indices Can Indicate Open Access Journal Quality, Its Impact on Visibility May Be Uncertain

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2011 MidSouth e-Resource Symposium at MSU Libraries, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, USA, August 10, 2011 | © Courtesy of Mississippi State University Libraries/Flickr.

Though scientific databases, e.g., the Web of Science, make an extensive use of citation indices, such as the Social Sciences Citation Index, into which Open Access journals are increasingly included, whether these journal and paper indices are effective may be less certain than assumed, as recent empirical data cast doubt on the impact of Open Access on citation rates.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


Citation indices, such as those developed by Clarivate Analytics for the Web of Science, aim to include high-quality global and regional journals across a wide range of scholarly fields, while expressly arguing that this significantly contributes to the visibility of both scholarly articles and the journals in which they appear. These efforts also seem to be driven by the efforts to differentiate between recognized, highly reputed journals and low-quality predatory ones.

This is especially relevant for emergent scholarly fields for which in 2015 Clarivate Analytics has launched the Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI). This index has a significant importance for Open Access journals in these fields. Thus, ESCI includes a relatively short roster of Open Access journals, such as Open Learning, Open Library of Humanities, Open Review of Education Research, Open Theology and, in the near future, Open Cultural Studies.

Moreover, on a regular basis, Clarivate Analytics conducts reviews of its indices, to ensure that only high-quality periodicals are included, such as those that do not engage in self-citation practices, which is supposed to contribute to their citation performance and impact factors, even though this remains to be proven empirically. At the same time, for Open Access journals in emergent scientific fields, such as the Open Dentistry Journal, the inclusion into citation indices, e.g., ESCI, is represented by their developers as an important stepping stone toward the enhanced presence in scientific databases, such as the Web of Science, and consequently improved article discoverability.

Yet as the pre-print version of the article by Pablo Dorta-González, Sara M. González-Betancor and María Isabel Dorta-González, published on May 30, 2017 in Scientometrics, indicates, articles or journals published in Gold Open Access do not demonstrate significantly higher citation performance than their non-Open Access counterparts. In other words, as such Open Access may fail to contribute to article-level visibility or journal impact performance. Additionally, Dorta-González et al. have used the empirical data for article and journal citation performance from the Web of Science database for the period between 2009 and 2014, which is before the launch of the ESCI.

On the one hand, the validity of these findings can be limited to the period from which their empirical data were sample, as Gold Open Access has not become more important in terms of market share than other Open Access formats until 2016. On the other hand, the study of Dorta-González et al. suggests that, other things being equal, Open Access journals do not necessarily provide citation advantages over their closed-access, subscription-based counterparts.

At the same time, these findings also cast doubt on the contribution of long-standing citation indices to article or journal visibility, especially in the Open Access sector that covers both established and emergent scientific fields. However, one can also argue that the conclusions of Dorta-González et al. demonstrate the need for additional citation indices, such as the ESCI, that bring newly launched, peer-reviewed and high-quality journals, both in the Open Access sector and in the subscription-based one, into recognized academic databases.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: 2011 MidSouth e-Resource Symposium at MSU Libraries, Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, USA, August 10, 2011 | © Courtesy of Mississippi State University Libraries/Flickr.

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