What is open access?
When used in relation to the dissemination of research findings, the phrase ‘Open Access’ refers to the practice of making the information freely available to anyone with an internet connection rather than leaving it hidden behind a subscription paywall.
Why is open access important?
Researchers formally share the results of their work by publishing it in the academic literature; primarily in the form of peer reviewed journal articles. The research behind most of the articles produced in Australia is publicly funded but the vast majority of the articles are published in subscription journals which means that the information is only being shared with those who have a personal or institutional subscription. By restricting access to only those who can afford to pay for access, the reach and impact of the research is severely constrained. Practitioners such as pharmacists, teachers, nurses and business people are unable to see the latest developments in their field. Researchers in developing countries are unable to join the conversation. Open access uses digital technology to maximise the visibility, accessibility and impact of research.
How is open access delivered?
The two main options for delivering open access include:
- ‘Gold Open Access’ is where the published version of the article is freely available to anyone via the journal website. If the journal is an open access journal, the entire contents of the journal will be freely available to all. If the journal is a ‘Hybrid’ journal, then only some articles will be freely available and a subscription will be required to read the full journal issue. Some open access journals and all ‘Hybrid’ journals charge authors a fee to make their article open access.
- ‘Green Open Access’ is where the author uploads, to an institutional or discipline-themed repository, an open access copy of an article published in a subscription journal. In most cases, the version uploaded will be the ‘author’s accepted manuscript’ (AAM) version (which includes revisions made as a result of peer review but not the formatting, branding and ‘value-adds’ contributed by the publisher). No payment is required but many publishers require an embargo period (commonly 12 months) before the AAM is made open access.
Open Access Mandates
Around the world, 90 research funding bodies, including the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have made it a ‘condition of grant’ that articles arising from their funding are made open access. In most cases, the obligation applies only to peer reviewed journal articles, but, in the case of the ARC in Australia, the obligation applies to all formats including books. Most funders will accept embargoes of up to 12 months, so researchers are free to choose between ‘Gold open access’ (using part of their grant to pay any article processing charges) or ‘Green open access’ which does not involve paying a fee (but researchers must upload the appropriate version to a repository).
Predatory Publishers: the ‘dark side’ of open access publishing
The availability of open source journal publishing software, such as OJS (Open Journal Systems), has lowered the cost of establishing a new journal. Most of the new journals that have been launched using this type of software are managed by groups of academics or scholarly societies. Generally, they receive subsidies from the host institution which allows the journal to be fully Open Access; i.e. free to readers AND authors.
Unfortunately, a number of opportunistic entrepreneurs are exploiting the willingness of some research funders and universities to for ‘Gold Open Access” and launching new journals that are money making ventures disguised as scholarly journals. These journals claim to be peer reviewed but articles are generally all accepted without revision provided the author pays the, generally modest, article processing charge. Articles containing serious flaws and plagiarised content have been linked to these so called ‘predatory publishers’ as a consequence of the absence any quality control mechanisms. While these journals represent less than 3% of all the Open Access journals currently available, it is essential that researchers (especially early career researchers) learn how to identify potentially bogus journals. Clues that a journal may not be truly scholarly include:
- Journal is not listed in standard periodical directories (eg Ulrichs) and not indexed by the major indexes (eg ProQuest, EBSCO, Scopus, Web of Science).
- Journal does not identify a formal editorial / review board.
- Journal’s claims to publish articles within an improbably short timeframe (eg 21 days)
- Journal claims to have an ‘impact factor’ when they are using metrics with no international standing ( eg Global Impact factor, Index Copernicus, View Factor etc) .
- Journal falsely claims journal is indexed in legitimate abstracting and indexing services or claims that its content is indexed in resources that are not abstracting and indexing services.
- Journal/publisher sends email requests for manuscripts, peer reviewers and editorial board members to scholars in unrelated disciplines.
- Journal publishes papers already published in other venues/outlets without providing appropriate credits.
- Publisher claims to be a “leading publisher” even though it is a novice organization.
- Journal has a ‘shop front’ in a Western country for the purpose of functioning as a vanity press for scholars in a developing country.
- Publisher does minimal or no copyediting.
- Journal’s “contact us” page does not reveal its location.
- The journal/publisher website includes spelling and grammatical errors.
For more information about predatory publishers (including a list of ‘suspect’ companies), refer to the website maintained by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian in Colorado. http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/
This work by Paula Callan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
This post is also available as a downloadable WORD document: Open Access_Briefing_Paper