Thursday, February 26, 2009

Online access results in more citations?

Science 20 February 2009:Vol. 323. no. 5917, p. 1025DOI: 10.1126/science.1154562

Open Access and Global Participation in Science
James A. Evans and Jacob Reimer
Previous investigations into the impact of open-access journals on subsequent citations confounded open and electronic access and failed to track availability over time. With new data, we separated these effects. We demonstrate that a journal receives a modest increase in citations when it comes online freely, but the jump is larger when it first comes online through commercial sources. This effect reverses for poor countries where free-access articles are much more likely to be cited. Together, findings suggest that free Internet access widens the circle of those who read and make use of scientists' investigations.
Free online availability of scientific articles increases the likelihood of papers getting cited, especially in the developing world and in the biomedical sciences, according to this new study published in Science.
The question of whether open access drives citations has been hotly contested among scientists, policymakers, and editors, with several recent studies coming down on different sides of the debate. In the most extensive study to date -- covering around 26 million articles from more than 8,000 journals published from 1998 to 2005 -- University of Chicago sociologist James Evans, together with neurobiology grad student Jacob Reimer, found that making an article freely available on the internet increased the number of citations, but only by about 8%, which was far less than some previous claims. When the authors looked just at poorer countries, however, they found that the influence of open access was more than twice as strong. For example, in Bulgaria and Chile, researchers cited nearly 20% more open access articles, and in Turkey and Brazil, the number of citations rose by more than 25%. Free online availability "is not a huge driver of science in the first world, but it shapes parts of science in the rest of world," Evans told The Scientist. "Scientists and scholars in poorer countries are disproportionately citing articles that are freely available to them." "The results make a lot of sense," Gunther Eysenbach, a health policy and e-health researcher at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the research, told The Scientist. "In countries with lower income, the [open access] effect is bigger than in countries where researchers have access to the literature anyway -- that's quite intuitive." Stevan Harnad, an open access advocate and cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Quebec at Montreal who was not involved with the study, said that the authors should have compared public and private institutions closer to home to test whether the same effect was true in the developed world. "[Evans] looked at the big picture, but he could have cut the cake a bit finer and found the same effects if he compared the Harvards and the have nots," Harnad told The Scientist. "It's a shame that with such rich data he didn't look at other such important and pressing questions." Free online access conferred the greatest citation advantage in the life sciences, and no significant influence in three areas -- chemistry, physics and the social sciences -- which the authors chalked up to a culture of pre-print databases and personal archiving. Although open access had a modest overall influence, commercial online availability had an even greater effect. This indicates that most researchers are turning to the internet to find papers, though they may rely largely on institutional subscriptions, said Evans. "The larger influence is of things being online," whether commercially or not. Philip Davis, a Cornell University grad student in science communications who also studies the effects of open access on citation records, praised the article's size and breadth, but noted that Evans "can't measure the article-level details, he can only look at the journal level." The study lumped together articles from entire journal volumes, which overlooks author-pay models that make some but not all articles in a journal freely available, Davis noted.

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