Having just spent an hour putting together a presentation on the role our repository can play in maximising citations, and thus preparing for the inevitable sceptisism one will always receive when talking to some people on such matters, I was reminded of an ongoing debate I have with (of all people) my father-in-law, on the issue of climate change.
Not one to pick too many debates with my father-in-law, for obvious reasons, I’m afraid I do tend to stand firm when it comes to climate change, and I frequently find myself (metaphorically-speaking) bashing my head against the wall in many a frustrating exchange. Without getting into the nitty-gritty (and please, I don’t want this post itself to turn into a debate on climate change!), my point is essentially that, even if global warming to a damaging degree doesn’t happen in the next century or two, if there is a chance that it will, and measures can be taken to mitigate it, why not do so anyway? If you were to be told there is a 70% chance your house will burn down tomorrow, but if you take this measure to prevent it then it probably won’t happen, you are more than likely going to take that measure.
And so on to the parallels with open access (OA), in particular the OA citation advantage…
For those unfamiliar with this, based on the (quite reasonable) assumptions that 1) a proportion of researchers do not have access to all published research that is relevant to them; 2) the problem would be otherwise addressed by unavailable research being freely available online; and 3) some of these articles would be relevant, and thus citable… the expectation is that published research made openly accessible online will carry a “citation advantage”. In other words, by publishing or archiving research in an open access manner, the chances of one’s work being cited improves.
Unsurprisingly, there have been many studies which have attempted to investigate this notion, many of which have provided convincing evidence for its existence. However, also unsurprisingly, there are a lot of people who argue serious flaws in concluding that it is OA that is causing the apparent advantage. I’m not going to go into all the details in this post, but for those interested in following up the debate, a good starting point would be Alma Swan’s recent summary of reported studies on the OA citation advantage.
For the purposes of this post, however, the point I want to make is where the parallels with the climate change debate come in. Even if the advantage of doing something contains an element of doubt, if there is no disadvantage to not doing it, why not do it anyway? If there is even the slightest chance that you could become better cited or achieve broader impact for your research through OA, why not just do it? As I always like to remind people, it takes little over one minute to deposit a journal article in ORO using the DOI (for proof see our screencast of this being done, and at a rather conservative pace, it has to be said!), and certainly no more than two or three minutes if you have to enter the details manually, so don’t come back with the argument that you don’t have the time!
As a closing thought, if we think of academic journals in the OA debate as oil in the climate change debate, we are only going to have less and less access to them as time goes on. Academic libraries cannot afford to subscribe to them all, and that is only going to get worse. In the same way that in 50, 100, 150 years time (whatever it may be) we will have no oil-based fuel to put in our cars, in 10, 15, 20 years time you may be even less likely than you are now to reach your desired audience by simply relying on the subscription base of a given journal. Rather than waiting to see if this happens, why not do something about it now?