Open Access Benefits for the Developed and Developing World: The Harvards and the Have-Nots

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2009 14:59:19 -0500

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      SUMMARY: Evans & Reimer (2009) show that a large portion
      of the increased citations generated by making articles
      freely accessible online ("Open Access," OA) comes from
      Developing-World authors citing articles OA articles
      more. It is very likely that a within-US comparison based
      on the same data would show much the same effect: making
      articles OA should increase citations from authors at
      the Have-Not universities (with the smaller journal
      subscription budgets) more than those from Harvard
      authors. Articles by Developing World (and US Have-Not)
      authors should also be cited more if they art made are
      OA. This raises the question of how many citations ? and
      how much research corrseponding research uptake, usage
      and progress ? is lost by publisher embargoing their
      authors for 6-12 months from making their articles OA.


Evans & Reimer's (2009) study (E & R) is particularly timely and
useful. It shows that a large portion of the Open Access citation
impact advantage comes from providing the developing world with
access to the research produced by the developed world. Using a much
bigger database, E & R refute (without citing!) a recent flawed study
(Frandsen 2009) that reported that there was no such effect.

E & R found the following. (Their main finding is number #4):

#1 The citation impact of articles when they are commercially
available online is greater than when they are not available online.
(This is unsurprising, since online access means easier and broader
access than just print-on-paper access.)

#2 The citation impact of articles when they are freely available
online is greater than then when they are not freely available
online. (This confirms the widely reported "Open Access" (OA)
      (E & R cite only a few other studies that have previously
      reported the OA advantage, stating that those were only
      in a few fields, or within just one journal. This is not
      correct; there have been many, many other studies that
      likewise reported the OA advantage, across nearly as many
      journals and fields as E & R sampled. E & R also seem to
      have misunderstood the role of prepublication preprints
      in those fields (mostly physics) that effectively already
      have post-publication OA. In those fields, all of the OA
      advantage comes from the year(s) before publication --
      "the Early OA Advantage", which is relevant to the
      question, raised below, about the harmful effects of
      access embargoes. And last, E&R cite the few negative
      studies that have been published -- mostly the deeply
      flawed studies of Phil Davis -- that found no OA
      Advantage or even a negative effect (as if making papers
      freely available reduced their citations!). 

#3 The citation advantage of commercial online access is greater than
the citation advantage of OA. (This too is unsurprising, but it is
also somewhat misleading, because virtually all journals have
commercial online access today: hence the OA advantage is something
that occurs over and above mere online (commercial) access -- not as
some sort of competitor or alternative to it! The comparison today is
toll-based online access vs. free online access.)
      (There may be some confusion here between the size of the
      OA advantage for journals whose contents were made free
      online after a pospublication embargo period, versus
      those whose contents were made free online immediately
      upon publication -- i.e., the OA journals. Commercial
      online access is of course never embargoed: you get it as
      soon as its paid! But there are also questions to be
      asked about the comparability between different journals:
      Are the OA journals comparable to the non-OA ones for
      age, subject matter and quality, overall? Previous
      studies have made within-journal comparisons, field by
      field, between OA and non-OA articles within the same
      journal and year, field by field. These studies found
      much bigger OA Advantages because they were comparing
      like with like, and because they were based on a longer
      time-span: The OA advantage is still small after only a
      year, because it takes time for citations to build up;
      this is even truer if the article becomes "OA" only after
      it has been embargoed for a year!)

#4 The OA Advantage is far bigger in the Developing World (i.e.,
Developing-World first-authors, when they cite OA compared to non-OA
articles). This is the main finding of this article, and this is what
refutes the Frandsen study.

What E & R have not yet done (and should!) is to check for the very
same effect, but within the Developed World, by comparing the
"Harvards vs. the Have-Nots" within, say the US: The ARL has a
database showing the size of the journal holdings of most research
university libraries in the US. Analogous to their comparison's
between Developed and Developing countries, E & R could split the ARL
holdings into 10 deciles, as they did with the wealth (GNI) of
countries. I am almost certain this will show that a large portion of
the OA impact advantage in the US comes from the US's "Have-Nots",
compared to its Harvards.

The other question is the converse: The OA advantage for articles
authored (rather than cited) by Developing World authors. OA does not
just give the Developing World more access to the input it needs
(mostly from the Developed World), as E & R showed; but OA also
provides more impact for the Developing World's research output, by
making it more widely accessible (to both the Developing and
Developed world) -- something E & R have not yet looked at either,
though they have the data! 

Last, there is the question of the effect of access embargoes. It
would be useful to look at the effect of OA on embargoed versus
unembargoed content, and to look at the size of the OA Advantage
after an interval of longer than just a year. (Although early access
is crucial in some fields, citations are not instantaneous: it may
take a few years work to feel the citation impact of that early
      Evans, JA & Reimer, J. (2009) Open Access and Global
      Participation in Science Science 323(5917) (February 20

      Hajjem, C., Harnad, S. and Gingras, Y. (2005) Ten-Year
      Cross-Disciplinary Comparison of the Growth of Open
      Access and How it Increases Research Citation
      Impact. IEEE Data Engineering Bulletin28(4) pp. 39-47.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Thu Feb 19 2009 - 20:00:58 GMT

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