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Scientists Ambivalent About Open Access

Scientists Ambivalent About Open Access

Scientists overwhelmingly support the notion of making research papers freely available, but fewer publish their work in so-called open-access journals that make papers free immediately upon publication. Hindering some scientists are doubts about the quality and influence of open-access journals compared with traditional journals, according to results of an online survey conducted by Science magazine.

Broadly speaking, traditional journals earn revenue from subscriptions, while open-access journals charge authors a publication fee of hundreds to thousands of dollars. We polled readers about their views on open access as part of a special issue on communication in science last month that included revelations of shoddy peer review by some fee-based open-access journals.

The online survey, which drew 254 respondents, found strong support for the principle of free access: Nearly three-quarters of respondents consider it “very important” that research papers are freely available. Just over half prefer immediate open access to making papers free after 6 or more months. (On Science’s website, research papers are freely available 12 months after publication.) Two-thirds of respondents prefer providing access through a repository or author’s website.

Yet 42% of respondents had not submitted a paper to an open-access journal in the past 3 years. Only 17% had sent at least half of their papers to open-access journals during that time, and just 10% publish exclusively in such journals. The most popular reason cited for publishing in these journals is that open access “increases visibility” compared with subscription-based journals. Many respondents also favor making papers immediately available to the lay public and to scientists in developing countries who cannot afford traditional journal subscriptions.

Among the 148 respondents who said they rarely or never publish in open-access journals, 63% feel that traditional journals are more valued by peers and tenure committees. A sizable number (44%) are deterred by publication fees. Researchers also express doubts about the quality of open-access journals: Only 27% of respondents are “very confident” and 35% are “somewhat confident” in the rigor of peer review.

Notwithstanding any misgivings about open access, nearly half of respondents think that most journals will “eventually” be fully open access.

To see the full survey results, click here.