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Friday, August 24, 2007

Explaining the correlation between OA and citation impact

Stevan Harnad, Quality Advantage, Competitive Advantage, and the Rationale for Open Access, Open Access Archivangelism, August 23, 2007. 

Summary:  The five most probable causal factors underlying the positive correlation between OA and research impact (as listed in: "Incentivizing the Open Access Research Web") are:

Early Advantage (EA): Self-archiving preprints before publication increases citations (higher-quality articles benefit more)

Quality Advantage (QA): Self-archiving postprints upon publication increases citations (higher-quality articles benefit more)

Usage Advantage (UA): Self-archiving increases downloads (higher-quality articles benefit more)

(Competitive Advantage [CA]): OA/non-OA advantage (CA disappears at 100% OA)

(Quality Bias [QB]): Higher-quality articles are self-selectively self-archived more (QB disappears at 100% OA)

The primary rationale for OA is to maximize research usage and impact. Most basic research output will never be used in teaching and, apart from health-relevant findings, most basic research output will never be sought for reading by the general public. Nor is the need for accessibility to science journalists the primary rationale for OA, otherwise publishers could simply agree to the compromise of making their online sites freely accessible to designated journalists. Nor is OA needed for the sake of accessibility to bloggers: The important bloggings about research will come from researchers themselves, in the form of Open Peer Commentary, and are part of the Early Advantage (EA). About 10% of articles receive about 90% of all citations. This means that the most useful articles are used most. It is also the most useful articles that benefit most from OA (the Quality Advantage: QA). The competitive advantage (CA) will disappear at 100% OA, but today, when we are still only at around 15% OA, the competitive advantage is an especially important incentive to self-archive and to mandate OA self-archiving. Once OA is at 100% and the competitive advantage is all gone, there will be a level playing field, with what is used and cited being determined solely by its intrinsic quality and usefulness (QA, UA), no longer constrained by the affordability and accessibility of the journal in which it is published, as now. Hence it is the enhancement of research usage and impact, and thereby research productivity and progress, that is the strongest rationale for OA.