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Open Access in Focus – Guest Blog part III

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Open AccessGuest Blog from Mary Pickstone, Research Support Librarian m.pickstone@mmu.ac.uk 

This article was originally posted on 26th March 2014

In this week’s blog I’m going to look at some of the advantages, and some of the disadvantages, of OA.

Two of the advantages are a wider readership and quicker dissemination of research.

Research published OA is more widely read, therefore authors get a much wider audience than they would through the readership of a subscription journal.  Readers, for example those in developing countries, who may have only limited access to research literature because of the high cost of pay-per-view charges (journal subscriptions and article viewing charges) can access more journals.  The general public, small businesses, and other readers from ‘outside the academy’ can access research literature, which is, after all, often paid for by their taxes.

Research published OA is disseminated more quickly than research that is published via a more traditional subscription route and can also be re-used, subject to the conditions of the relevant Creative Commons (CC) licence attribution.

A key factor in the success of research is its impact, and funding bodies, including HEFCE via the Research Excellence Framework (REF), are looking for evidence of how this can be demonstrated. Widening the readership and a more rapid dissemination of the research through OA publication can contribute to this.

Some of the disadvantages of OA include:

The article processing charge, or APC, required by many journals to publish articles via the gold route; embargo periods imposed by traditional subscription journals on articles deposited in subject or institutional repositories; the potential threat to the viability of journals published by small publishers such as Learned Societies if subscription charges disappeared; the perceived threat to peer review, and hence quality control, of research in OA journals.

How funds are allocated amongst researchers to pay for APCs is a question currently vexing many universities, and there is a perception that it could disadvantage new and early career researchers who may need to bid for funds against more senior colleagues. APCs are an additional expense for many institutions whose libraries are paying subscriptions for journals, often the very same ones which charge APCs to publish via the gold route.

The green route to OA via repositories is thought to hinder OA as publishers try to maximise subscription income and prevent full-text access to their articles.  They do this by imposing embargo periods on published articles.  Research Councils UK (RCUK) in its OA policy has stipulated that these embargoes should be no longer than 6 months for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects and 12 months for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

The concerns about the demise of peer review are probably unfounded.  There are now many OA journals that are highly reputable and insist on a rigorous peer review process, for example PLOS One and PubMed.  Hybrid journals, which publish some articles via the gold route, apply as rigorous a peer-review process to these articles as they do to those published conventionally.

Next time I will round off this series by outlining MMU’s response to OA.    

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