How to compare research impact of toll- vs. open-access research

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Fri Dec 10 22:32:59 EST 2004

On Fri, 10 Dec 2004, Rick Anderson wrote:

> I'm not so sure that authors just want to "maximize users." 

Authors (and their institutions and their research funders) want to
maximize their research impact (I hope you're sure of that). Access is
a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for impact.
Therefore authors want to maximize the number of potential accesses
to (hence uses, hence potential citations of) their articles. (They want
to maximize that specifically among researcher-users, of course, not
necessarily the general public, but in the web age, both come with the
territory.) Moreover, there is a strong positive correlation between
usage impact and citation impact:

> It seems to me that "number of readers" and "research impact" are not 
> the same thing, nor does the former always lead to the latter. 

No, usage impact and citation impact are not the same thing, but they are
significantly correlated. Nor does the former always lead to the latter:
just often, with high probability, within 6-18 months:

> Given the choice between a journal that has many subscribers but
> relatively low prestige and a journal that has fewer readers but higher
> prestige, a rationally self-interested author may well choose the latter.

Without a doubt, but that obvious fact is completely irrelevant here, where
the proposition is to self-archive the article in either case, whether it is
published in the higher- or lower-prestige journal.

> This is not an abstract or merely theoretical consideration. One hurdle 
> for OA right now is the fact that most OA venues, whatever their 
> readership, don't confer as much prestige on their authors as available 
> non-OA venues do. This is going to make it relatively hard for OA 
> venues to compete for authors. 

What is a real hurdle for OA right now is to overcome this ubiquitous tendency to
equate OA only or mainly with publishing in OA journals. The proposition under
discussion here is OA self-archiving of articles published in non-OA journals (92%
of which have a green self-archiving policy). The prestige is whatever is the
prestige of the journal in which the article is published; the impact enhancement
comes from self-archiving it. There is no "competition between OA and on-OA
venues": try for the best journal (competing with other papers, not "venues") and
once accepted, self-archive.

(I expect what Rick has in mind here, conflating OA and OA publishing, is the usual
worry that OA journals have less prestige and impact than non-OA journals; apart
from the fact that all new journals take time to establish their quality standards
and track records, this has already been lain to rest by the ISI study that showed
no difference in impact between the OA and non-OA journals it indexes, equated
for subject matter. 
Besides, the issue here is not publishing in OA journals but OA
self-archiving articles published in non-OA journals.)

> (The problem is, of course, compounded where authors are required to
> secure additional funding to subsidize OA dissemination, and have free
> options in the non-OA realm.)

Not if they make their non-OA journal articles OA by simply self-archiving them...

> One possible solution to this problem would be to strip authors of the 
> right to choose how they distribute their articles. As we all know, 
> there are ongoing efforts in that direction -- but they're meeting with 
> mixed success so far. 

I know of absolutely no ongoing efforts to strip authors of their right
to choose where they publish their articles! The efforts are to require
authors to make their articles OA regardless of where they publish them --
by self-archiving them -- so as to maximize their usage and impact
(maximize their "distribution," if you like).

Stevan Harnad

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