Open Access, Journal Quality and Impact (Part 2 of Several Reports)

by Wade Lee

In May, we wrote about UT faculty perceptions of and experiences with open access (OA) publishing.  As promised, we continue today with our series of special reports on our survey results.  In our October 2011 survey, we asked faculty which of a variety of factors they felt were important considerations when choosing a publishing venue.  Fifty-three percent indicated that being published in the most highly ranked journals in their field was very important (an additional 35% ranked this of medium importance).  Additionally, 77% indicated that the formal recognition of their work as a scholarly product (i.e., for promotion/tenure purposes) was a critical issue.  In their answers to the open-ended questions, several members discussed journal prestige, with one specifically mentioning an Impact Factor threshold necessary before he or she would publish in a journal.

How is journal rank determined in academia?  Journal Impact Factors (calculated by Thomson Reuters) are often used as a proxy measurement for the relative prestige of a journal.  While they were originally conceived as a way for librarians to rank journals for purchasing decisions, they have been (mis)used for the ranking or evaluation of individual authors as well.  An Impact Factor is simply the average number of citations per article in a journal over the previous two-year period.  Thus, a very highly-cited article published within the last two years will increase the Impact Factor of a journal.  Due to the skewed distribution of the citation rates of articles in a journal, most articles receive fewer citations than the Impact Factor would indicate.

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How does this relate to Open Access?  It is perhaps a common misconception that OA journals do not have Impact Factors.  To the contrary, Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database indexes 1066 Open Access journals, the majority of which have Impact Factors calculated and published in Journal Citation Reports.  (To have an impact factor calculated, the journal must have been indexed by Web of Science for at least 3 years.)  We determined the Impact Factor and relative rank within its subject discipline (by quartile) for the 688 journals that are published solely in English.  As with non-Open Access journals, OA journals appear in the full range of impact quartiles, although as a group slightly more appear in the lower quartiles.  We found that 18.2% are ranked in Q1 (the top 25%) of their disciplinary journals, 23.2% in Q2, 31.7% in Q3, and 26.8% in Q4 (the bottom 25%).  There are 177 journals ranked in the top 25% of their discipline.  Certain Open Access publishers, such as Public Library of Science (PLoS) and BioMedCentral (BMC) are well-represented among these top-tier journals.   See Appendix (opens a 3-page PDF file).

It is important to remember, also, that this analysis is just for journals that are entirely Open Access.  Many commercial and society publishers of subscription-based journals have options for authors publishing in their journals to pay an extra fee to make their individual article available in an Open Access manner — a system sometimes called hybrid or author-choice Open Access.  These articles appear in the same journals (with the same impact factors) that researchers have always published in.

Many OA journals provide ways to assess an article’s impact beyond simply substituting the journal’s Impact Factor as a proxy for influence.  A number of OA journals and OA disciplinary repositories allow authors to see not only how many articles have cited their work, but how many times it was accessed or downloaded, or allow other researchers to comment on the work.  All of these are direct and oftentimes more immediate measures of the interest in and impact of an author’s work.  Thus OA metrics may be more accurate for measuring scholarly output and influence.  Over time, this may even make the prestige ranking of an OA journal more meaningful than one that is based on the traditional Impact Factor alone.

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For further reading:

Swan, A. (2010). The Open Access citation advantage: Studies and results to date. University of Southampton.

This paper presents a summary of reported studies on the Open Access citation advantage. There is a brief introduction to the main issues involved in carrying out such studies, both methodological and interpretive. The study listing provides some details of the coverage, methodological approach and main conclusions of each study.

Wagner, A. B. (2010). Open Access Citation Advantage: An Annotated Bibliography. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship.

This annotated bibliography lists studies and review articles that examine whether open access (OA) articles receive more citations than equivalent subscription; i.e., toll access (TA) articles.


OA at UT: A Snapshot (Part 1 of Several Reports)

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Last fall, the university’s open access steering committee distributed a survey to faculty, researchers and teaching assistants on both campuses to gauge their interest in and understanding of open access (OA) scholarly communication and publishing.  Survey results indicated that there is a wide range of both experience and views at The University of Toledo regarding OA.

“I currently serve on 2 OA editorial boards …” –Professor, Main Campus.

“The whole point of publication is to reach a wide audience.”   -Professor, Health Science Campus.

“I have not had any experiences with OA, but I do believe in its purpose.” — Lecturer, Main Campus.

“No personal experience, but peers do use this.” –Assistant Professor, Health Science Campus.

“I don’t know anything about open access.” -Associate Professor, Main Campus.

Both those who had previous experience with OA as an author, referee, or editor and those without such first-hand experience were in surprising agreement on most attitudes toward OA, except when it came to their preferred publishing model: traditional or OA.

As shown in the graph below, active OA participants (in blue) largely agree with those aware of OA but who have not actively participated (in red).   They seem to differ only in their agreement with the following statements:  “OA is the preferred method of scholarly communication” and “Publishing in traditional subscription-based journals is the preferred method”.

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~~~~~~~~ Researchers are largely in agreement about OA ~~~~~~~~ OA Active = blue / OA Non-Active = red

So, except for Non-Active preference for traditional publishing methods, proportionate rates of views about OA are very similar.

Other elements of agreement are reflected in the statistics below.

Of ALL respondents (both campuses, all ranks, categories), a majority considered the following to be very important:

  • The “indexing or discoverability” of their work (55%)
  • Their work needs to be “available to a wide audience.”(54%)
  • The citing of their work by other researchers (52%)

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However, there remain some critical areas of concern that may influence the viewpoint on OA for some.  Of ALL respondents:

  • 70% are very concerned about the “formal recognition of their work as a scholarly product” (i.e., for promotion and tenure purposes) with 77% reporting that being published in a “peer-reviewed journal” is very important.
  • 53%  are very concerned about the permanence of their published work.
  • 53% are concerned about the individual financial aspects associated with publishing
  • 51% consider it very important to be published in the most highly ranked journal(s) in their field.
  • and 46% reported a very critical concern over the protection of their intellectual property.

These are all legitimate concerns that can be addressed by learning more about OA.  One of the biggest misunderstandings that lingers is the notion that OA publishing means not peer-reviewed.  For a list of helpful FAQs regarding OA, please see our LibGuide.

“The problem for scholars needing tenure is that sometimes these journals are not respected.”   –Professor, Main Campus.

“I don’t like to have to pay to publish.”  –Professor, Health Science Campus.

“sounds like an excellent venue for the dissemination of scholarly information.”  –Associate Professor, Main Campus

“…all journal [publishing] should be open access if the research has been carried out with tax-payer money.”  –Assistant Professor, Health Science Campus.

Overall the campus survey revealed some clear demarcations.  While more than one third (35%) of respondents reported having no experience with OA, nearly half (47%) reported having published articles in OA journals and a quarter (24%) indicated using OA publications in their research.  One third of respondents reported knowing colleagues who have participated in OA and approximately one quarter of respondents indicated at least an awareness of OA.  Furthermore, more than a quarter (28%) of respondents currently involved in research would consider publishing in OA journals.  Some of the notable differences in responses correlated to the campus and academic rank of the respondents.

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The complete survey results set is available for viewing.

to be continued …