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Why scientists are reluctant to publish in Open Access?

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Open Access as a model for publishing research results in the form of a book or article by scholars is becoming more commonplace and more widely accepted by the scientific community. However, despite the many advantages, some scientists are still quite reluctant to publish in Open Access. What are the main reasons for this situation?

It is not easy to be definitive, since some of the reasons are due to personal preference. But there are also some common factors, so let us try to name at least a few.

Impact Factor

Impact Factor or the lack of it, to be more precise, is one of the main reasons for choosing the established, traditional publishing model over Open Access. Impact Factor is still one of the principal metrics of an article’s scientific credibility, despite the strong conviction among academics that in fact IF does not measure the value of a scientific work. However, it can still influence the reputation of researchers and have an influence on their careers. For universities and research institutions, the IF is one of the criteria used to evaluate the work of researchers. That is why publishing in journals with a high IF is almost a necessary for scholars seeking advancement. In this situation Open Access journals are in a losing position. OA as a publishing model is still “young” and only few OA journals have gained an IF so far. Since the current system rewards publishing in journals with Impact Factors, for scientists the choice is quite simple: as long as their university or research institution expects them to demonstrate a sufficient number of publications in journals with IF, OA will continue to be the “product” of second choice. Unfairly so, as more and more studies show that OA journals have impact, as has been well presented in the article in Nature:

“Our observations yield some useful lessons. Open Access journals can have similar impact to other journals, and prospective authors should not fear publishing in these journals merely because of their access model”


The other problem with OA is APCs. Open Access is free. But it is only free for the end-user, who has free access to the results of scientific research. However, OA, especially Gold OA, requires payment to cover publishing costs. In this model, costs have to be covered by authors at the beginning of the “publishing path”. Of course, this does not mean that scholars have to pay for APCs out of their own pockets. With the increasing dissemination of OA, universities and research institutions offer special funds for covering APCs and scholars are encouraged to apply. However, OA is still at the beginning of the road to full adoption by the scientific community, so the funds are very limited and do not reach all authors. Very often authors do not even know that they can apply for such funds, as it has been shown in the report from OAPEN-UK.

The quality and reliability

There are a huge number of Open Access publishers on the market and each year new names are added. This abundance of choice raises the question of quality and reliability. For example, some time ago on Scholarly Open Access, Dr. Jeffrey Beal published a post on authors’ misconduct in OA, stating that in his view “open-access publishing enables, facilitates, and increases the rate and occurrence of author misconduct.” Although it is difficult to agree with such a far-reaching generalization, scholars may sometimes have a problem with choosing an OA publisher and with judging the quality of the services offered. In this situation, it seems a lot safer to choose a well-known and established title.

No remuneration

No remuneration may also be a reason why scientists are reluctant to publish in Open Access, especially those working in the HSS. In this branch of learning, research results are usually published in the form of a monograph and frequently scholars expect remuneration. In OA – as a general rule, there is no remuneration. This stems from the very essence of this model. This lack of compensation can be a disadvantage for authors. In an interview for Open Science, Professor Oleg Tarnopolsky who published his work with Versita Open Access Books, when asked about disadvantages of OA stated: “The author does not get any financial remuneration.”

These examples do not exhaust the list of reasons why scientists are reluctant to publish in Open Access. However, they show the main, common concerns. In order to improve this situation, a proper and clear response is needed, both from OA publishers who must show, in a transparent and credible way, that publishing in this model can bring benefits to authors, as well as from the scientists themselves who should revise the method for measuring the scientific quality of published work.

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    The above posting makes the most common and counterproductive error about OA, assuming/implying that Open Access means Open Access publishing:

    Publishing in an OA journal (“Gold OA”) is only one of the two ways for authors to provide OA.

    The other way is for authors to continue to publish in their established journals but also to self-archive the peer-reviewed draft in their institutional or disciplinary OA repository to make it free for all online (“Green OA”).

    Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Gold OA are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards.

    What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) (Green OA).

    That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs.

    The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

    Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

  2. Remuneration, even in HSS, is generally an inconsequential is inconsequential, even in the HSS. For one thing, HSS scholars do publish a lot of article without remuneration; then most monographs in HSS yield no more than a few (very few indeed) dollars spread over several years… And if a HSS scholar were told he could be published only if royalties are forfeited, his/her answer would be immediate acceptance. This is not a solid argument, and I regret that it is being revived periodically by some OA advocates as it divides the scholarly and scientific communities.

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