Open Access has a moral agenda: to increase the flow of scientific information to researchers in developing nations.
Yet a new study suggests that authors in developing countries are no more likely to write papers for Open Access journals and are no more likely to cite Open Access articles.
The article, “Attracted to open access journals: a bibliometric author analysis in the field of biology,” was published this week in the Journal of Documentation. Those without a subscription can access the final manuscript for free. The author, Tove Faber Frandsen, is a PhD student at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The study involved 150 journals in the field of biology. The authorship study measured the share of publications in an Open Access journal written exclusively by authors from developing countries. The citation study measured the share of references to Open Access journals. Frandsen writes:
authors from developing countries are not more attracted to OA journals than authors from developed countries [...] authors from developing countries do not cite OA journals more than authors from developed countries.
Frandsen acknowledges that her research focuses on publication and citation, and not on reading, and that we should be careful not to confuse citation rates with usage. Open Access to the scientific literature has been associated with increased article downloads.
In the introduction to his widely-acclaimed book, “The Access Principle,” John Willinsky describes the dire state of a medical library in Kenya with access to only 5 journals. We are given the image of a faculty completely unable to conduct medical research and are left with a feeling of moral outrage. It is not fair, something has to be done, and Open Access is the answer.
The fact that authors in developing nations cite as many subscription-based articles as their counterparts in developed nations questions the notion of a crisis of access to scientific information. The image of an empty library may be a strong rhetorical device, but a poor indicator of a researcher’s true connection to the literature.
Patrick Gaulé, a Swiss economist who focuses on access to scientific literature in developing countries commented on the paper:
Our own research reveals that researchers in developing nations routinely share copies of articles among colleagues, thus bypassing formal subscription barriers.