Friday, 5 September 2008

Open Access publication does not give a Citation Advantage

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal looking at the citation advantage of publishing in an Open Access format (Davis et al. 2008) concludes ...

Open access publishing may reach more readers than subscription access publishing. No evidence was found of a citation advantage for open access articles in the first year after publication.

The reason this is important, and the focus of research, is that those who support Open Access publication claim the citation advantage as one of the benefits to authors. Articles free at the point of access are more likely to be located, read and therefore cited by others.

Many of the arguments over the citation effect concern methodology, and samples are exclusively taken from the sciences. The BMJ article, however, appears to be conclusive that any effect is not due to Open Access. Possible explanations include:

  • The process of academic writing and peer review ensures that only relevant material is cited whatever the form of publication (Craig 2007).

  • Most researchers working in academic/research institutions are supported by tens of thousands if not millions of pounds of institutional subscriptions to databases and journals as well as generous Inter-Library Loan budgets. From their individual point of view all literature is free at the point of access giving Open Access publication a limited advantage.

  • Open Access journals are integrated into library provided interfaces that mix Open Access and paid for subscriptions journals - supported by institutional subscriptions. The distinctive nature of Open Access content is obscured by this process. Exclusively using Google Scholar or similar tools, however, has the opposite effect, finding Open Access material you can see and paid for content you can't.

Interestingly Open Access publications are downloaded more frequently, achieving a wider reach. Downloads have been suggested as an alternative to citations to measure article impacts. However, the forthcoming replacement of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), the Research Excellence Framework (REF) will use citation analysis not downloads to assess impact.

There is another way. Publishers (see Sherpa/ROMEO website) will normally allow last accepted versions to be posted on institutional repositories like BURO. If you contribute to BURO you have the option of publishing in paid for content journals and engaging with Open Access, with the additional benefit of a wider readership and the possibility of participating in any projects that develop impact metrics based on downloads.



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Caldwell, T., 2008. Open access citation effect illusory. Information World Review, 03 September 2008. Available from: [Accessed 06 September 2008].

Craig, I.D., Plume, A.M., McVeigh, M.E., Pringle, J. & Amin, M., 2007. Do open access articles have greater citation impact? A critical review of the literature. Journal Informatics, 1(3), 239-248. Available from: [Accessed 21 May 2008].

Davis, P.M., Lewenstein, B.V., Simon, D.H., Booth, J.G., and Connolly, M.J.L., 2008. Open access publishing, article downloads, and citations: randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 337, a568. Available from: [Accessed: 06 September 2008].

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