What is Open Access, and Why Do or Don’t Scientists Support It?

8 October 2013 by Paige Brown, posted in Communications


Open access publishing has been suggested to have many benefits for scientists and their research, including greater visibility and dissemination of published work and data. Open access published research articles may be viewed and cited more often, both by other scientists and members of the general public.

According to the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI):

“By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

But while the reasons for publishing open access might seem self-evident to some, why do scientists choose to publish in open access outlets? What do the scientists who do publish open access see as the reasons and motivations for doing so?

In a 2009 article in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, Ji-Hong Park seeks to answer these questions. (Although unfortunately and rather ironically, this article itself is NOT openly available). Park created a web survey to determine scientists’ motivations to publish open access.

Park found, first of all, that knowledge of and previous experience with open access research mattered significantly to scientists’ intentions to publish OA. Scientists were more comfortable with the idea when they had previous experience with OA articles and journals (perhaps by having read or cited OA journal articles, for example). On the other hand, scientists who had little or no awareness of open access were less confident about the idea of publishing their research in an OA journal. Experience matters.

Perceived visible advantage, or the “extent to which a scientist believes that publishing in an OA journal will enhance the visibility of his or her research,” also mattered. Scientists who saw a “visibility” advantage to publish open access were more motivated to do so.

Interestingly, social influence didn’t matter much to scientists’ intention to publish open access – it apparently doesn’t matter if other prominent scientists or peers are doing it or not. Also interesting, scientists not on the tenure track may be more flexible and willing to publish open access than tenured professors, and untenured professors – typically being younger than tenured professors – may more strongly consider the technological advantages (speed of publishing, direct feedback from readers, etc.) of publishing open access.

However, tenured professors are apparently more motivated to publish OA by intrinsic goals like wide knowledge distribution, than by extrinsic goals like career development. If OA is seen as good for knowledge distribution, visibility and transparency of science, tenured professors might be on board. Tenured professors were not motivated by ease of publishing OA (in fact, ease of publishing might be seen as running counter to high research impact of publishing in a specific journal).

Note: Park’s survey only considered scientists in the U.S, and other factors not described by the findings might play a role in scientists’ motivations to publish open access.

Park concludes that his results might have implications for open access journals’ efforts to raise awareness of OA publishing.

For scientists reading this post, why do YOU publish open access? What are your motivations for publishing or not publishing OA?


Park, J. H. (2009). Motivations for web-based scholarly publishing: do scientists recognize open availability as an advantage?. Journal of Scholarly Publishing,40(4), 343-369.

One Response to “What is Open Access, and Why Do or Don’t Scientists Support It?”

  1. Shannon Bohle, MLIS, CDS (Cantab), FRAS, AHIP Reply | Permalink

    If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like my Scilogs series on the Open Access / Open Data movement.

    The most popular article of which was "Open Data Tools: Turning Data into ‘Actionable Intelligence’ (http://www.scilogs.com/scientific_and_medical_libraries/open-data-tools-turning-data-into-actionable-intelligence), which has been cited in Limor Peer's "The Role of Data Repositories in Reproducible Research," published on Yale's Institution for Social and Policy Studies website (http://isps.yale.edu/news/blog/2013/07/the-role-of-data-repositories-in-reproducible-research#.Uf-wNpK1G3E). A review of it was also published in "New Tools And Ideas For Open Access And Data" by Alonzo LaMont on the website of the Welch Medical Library, which serves the faculty, students, and staff of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (http://blogs.welch.jhmi.edu/WelchBlog/content/new-tools-and-ideas-open-access-and-data#.Uf-w3pK1G3F). Excerpts were also published by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (http://nnlm.gov/mar/blog/2013/07/12/open-data-tools-turning-data-into-actionable-intelligence/) and by NYU's GovLab (http://thegovlab.org/open-data-tools-turning-data-into-actionable-intelligence). Finally, it was recommended by the e-Science Portal for New England Librarians maintained by the University of Massachusetts Medical School (http://esciencelibrary.umassmed.edu/open_sci).

    Additional articles include:

    Open Access Advocates Trumpet the Fall of the Paywall

    What is E-science and How Should it be Managed?

    Binary Moment: A One-on-One Q&A About the US Government and Open Data with Jeanne Holm, Chief Data Wrangler and Open Data Evangelist

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