Open for business: open access journals have the same scientific impact as subscription journals

The debate about who should pay for scientific publishing is of continuing importance to the scientific community but also to the general public who not only often pay for the research though charitable contributions, their taxes, and by buying products, but are also affected by the results contained within these articles. So what is the difference between open and closed (subscription) access?

Many publically funded agencies, such as the Wellcome Trust require that scientific research sponsored by them is made freely available to the public. In recent months the debate about who should pay for scientific publishing had been raised a notch.  The Research Works Act in December 2011 designed to block the  NIH‘s Public Access Policy sparked a public outcry. Over 12,000 academics have now signed ‘The Cost of Knowledge’ petition (led by Timothy Gowers a mathematician from  University of Cambridge) in a bid to increase public sharing of science.

The Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) supporting open access journals, first put forward in 2006,  was reintroduced in February 2012 with the support of the Committee for Economic Development’s mammoth review. This bill requires that all research should become open access regardless of how it is published within six months of publication. In the UK, the Finch Report released in June 2012 wholeheartedly backed the open access movement and with Sir Mark Walport being appointed as the UK’s chief scientific adviser championing open access this should continue.

Quite how these various public committees, acts, bills and white papers will affect publishing is yet to be determined. Amongst others, the Guardian has been running a series of articles examining open access. The issues aren’t as simple as just putting the results of your research on line. Scientific research goes through the quality control filter of peer review and journals act as gatekeepers who maintain peer review and provide web-based repositories. Scientists currently rely on publishing in peer reviewed high quality journals to show that their research itself is of good quality, is of importance to their field of research, and consequently improves their chances of obtaining funding to continue their work.

BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Medicine is pleased to be able to add scientific rigour to the debate by publishing an article which compared the scientific impact of both open access and traditional pay per view publishing and found that both of these types of publishing produced high quality peer reviewed articles.

One way of measuring quality is by impact factors calculated from citation data (how many times other scientists had mentioned the research). Bo-Christer Björk, from Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, and David Solomon from Michigan State University compared the impact factors for 610 open access journals and over 7000 subscription journals.

Explaining their results Prof Björk said, “If you take into account the journal discipline, location of publisher and age of publication the differences in impact between open access and subscription journals largely disappear. In medicine and health, open access journals founded in the last 10 years are receiving on average as many citations as subscription journals launched during the same time.”

David Solomon continued, “It is easy to see why scientists might be sceptical of electronic, open access journals – after all they have their reputation to maintain. Open access journals that fund publishing with article processing charges (APCs), sometimes called gold open access, are on average cited more than other OA journals. Since the launch of professionally run high quality biomedical journals in 2000 gold OA has increased by 30% per year and many of these are on a par with their subscription counterparts.”

We at BioMed Central have been publishing peer reviewed open access journals for 12 years and now has a portfolio of 270 journals in science and medicine. Thoughts on open access from some of our authors and editors can be found here:

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