15 December 2005

Open Access - Get the Facts

A piece that writes very positively about open access's future quotes a survey from the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER) that examined academics' attitude to different forms of publishing. According to figures given in a story referred to by the first article, some 96.2% of those surveyed support peer review - the standard academic process whereby a paper is sent to referees for comments on its accuracy. So far, so good.

Except that the headline given on the second site is "Academic authors favour peer review over open access" - as if the two were in opposition. In fact, most open access titles employ peer review, so the 96.2% in favour of it were not expressing any opinion about open access, just about peer review.

However, the second article does quote two other figures: that "nearly half" of the academics surveyed thought that open access would undermine the current system (which requires academic institutions to take out often hugely-expensive subscriptions to journals), and that 41% thought that this was a good thing.

To find out whether this 41% refers to the entire sample, or only to those who thought open access would undermine the old system, I naturally went to the CIBER site in order to find out what the real figures were. It turns out that the 41% refers to the whole sample, not just those who viewed the rise of open access as likely. Among the latter group, more than half were in favour.

The Publishers Association and the International Association of STM Publishers, which sponsored the report, must be pretty gutted by the results that a significant proportion of academics rather like the idea of open access destroying the current system. But not peer review. As Microsoft likes to say, in a rather different context, and with a rather different effect, Get The Facts.

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