15 April 2014

If I’m to be skeptical of open access publishing, I’d like to have good reasons

A.A. Agrawal (whose alliterative name I envy) has penned a letter saying the people should be skeptical of open access publishing. In brief, his reasons are:

1. “Some are for profit!” Just like most traditional scientific publishers. While Agrawal says this creates a conflict of interest, the profit incentive can also move journals to provide more and better services for authors at lower prices; see this interview with open access publisher Ahmed Hindawi.

Hindawi’s argument seems to be that in a subscription market librarians have no choice but to buy access to an entire journal in order to provide their institution’s researchers with access to any single article in it — since no other journal can substitute for the one in which the desired article has been published.

In an OA world, by contrast, authors will have the choice of taking their papers to a number of different publishers (i.e. shop around). And since the paper will be freely available to all once it is publisher, there can be no monopoly on access. This, says Hindawi, will drive prices down.

2. “Most don’t copy edit.” Data or citation needed.

3. “There isn’t a citation advantage.” This is the point that is most annoying, because it shows poor scholarship. Agrawal cites one study that finds no citation for advantage, but there have been many others. It’s worth having a look through this summary of many projects testing this hypothesis. Not all of them show an open access advantage, but many do. Picking one study alone, even if it’s a good one, smacks of confirmation bias.

4. “People care about journal prestige,” Alas, the “prestige” argument this is probably one of the main reasons that people will not consider particular open access journals. However, it ignores the prospects for article level metrics. And I am not impressed with an argument that can be rephrased as, “Your peers are lazy.”

Hat tip to Prof-like Substance.


Agrawal AA. 2014. Four more reasons to be skeptical of open-access publishing. Trends in Plant Science 19(3): 133.

Reposted at Always Researching, with a link here but not credit (yet). Hat tip to Ross Mounce for noticing.


Mike Taylor said...

"A.A. Agrawal (whose alliterative name I envy) ..."

Dude. You're called Zen. You're not allowed to envy anyone's name.

Mike Taylor said...

That aside, needless to say, you're entirely right. Agrawal's article is the worst kind of lazy, ignorant status-quo-ism. It scarcely even deserves the honour of rebuttal.