Advantages confirmed, reservations refuted

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Although open access offers many advantages, some scientists still have reservations about the free availability and re-usability of scientific publications. In recent years, numerous empirical studies have been published on the hopes and fears of open access.

In their study published today, "Wirkungen von Open Access. Literaturstudie über empirische Arbeiten 2010–2021", the TIB - Leibniz Information Centre for Science and Technology now presents for the first time a comprehensive overview of empirical study results on the effects of open access. "The results help to determine the advantages and disadvantages of open access. They serve as a knowledge base for the open access strategies of scientists, publishers, institutions and political decision-makers," explains Prof. Dr. Sören Auer, Director of the TIB. The systematic review was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Comprehensive analysis of numerous studies

From a broad corpus of a total of 318 empirical studies on the effects of OA, the TIB selected 61 particularly relevant ones for a systematic comparison. The impacts examined relate to seven dimensions of OA:

  1. attention in science
  2. quality of scientific publications
  3. knowledge transfer
  4. productivity of the publication system
  5. use of publications
  6. inequality in the science system
  7. economic effects on the publication system

Many positive effects - and one negative

Dr. David Hopf, lead author of the study, summarises the results as follows: "The literature studied confirms several advantages of OA: free access leads to greater use and a more diverse audience in terms of subject and geography. At the same time, OA publications contribute more to knowledge transfer than traditionally published research results, and the publication process - the time between submission and acceptance or publication of articles - is shorter. In addition, some presumed negative fears regarding OA effects, such as lower quality of OA publications and disadvantages in the sale of print editions, can be refuted."

On one point, however, the result is less clear than expected: The fact that OA publications are cited more frequently than publications that are not freely available cannot be clearly proven empirically. Although most studies conclude that OA offers a citation advantage, a non-negligible part of the empirical literature deviates from this result. In view of a high degree of plausibility and methodological difficulties in this area, however, a positive effect can be assumed.

The studies examined also show a clearly negative effect of OA: Article Processing Charges (APCs) can discourage authors with fewer resources from publishing, for example because of low income in some regions of the world or insufficient institutional funding. However, this is the effect of a certain business model for financing OA, which has been criticised in the OA community for quite some time.

On the right track, but still much to do

The TIB study also exposes research gaps: How does the negative impact of APCs on inequalities in the science system relate to the positive impact of OA on diversity in the use of scientific publications? What exactly is the impact of OA on the career paths of scientists? Who benefits from OA and how much - are the benefits evenly distributed or do gender and access to financial resources make a difference?

These are all questions that need to be answered in the future. "The results on OA impacts show that the goal of a far-reaching transformation to OA, to which the German science organisations have committed themselves, is the right path. Four concrete recommendations can be derived from the results of the study we conducted: Further expand open access, close the research gaps mentioned, promote further research on specific impacts and counter the negative effects of APCs on inequalities with appropriate countermeasures," concludes Marco Tullney, who is responsible for the study as Head of Publication Services at TIB.

You can download the study here:

A summary is provided in this blog post:

Go to the TIB press release:

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