Thursday, 5 June 2008

Free access leads to increased research

Elsevier publisher has claimed that the WHO HINARI program (of providing free access to articles made available by collaborating publishers to registered organisations in certain low income countries) leads to a significant increase in the number of publications from researchers in the qualifying countries. This claim has been criticised by a number of e-publishing experts. The conclusions were arrived at from an informal study of ISI data carried out by a person at Elsevier publishers. Critics say that ‘without knowing the methods and the data, the conclusions are meaningless. For all we know, the increase could be due largely to open access literature being increasingly available to scientists in the developing world. There are other measures of impact other than publishing in ISI indexed journals, and these may be particularly relevant to researchers from the developing world. We desperately need good research on publishing and citation patterns of researchers from developing countries to better understand the various effects of the different means of increasing access’.

Kimberly Parker, HINARI Program Manager, has since said that “with such a simple analysis it is impossible to prove HINARI alone has caused this increase.... We believe we're a contributing factor in the growth. This particular piece of research was something that came to hand; we are pleased to be able to say that we look to be a contributing factor but we can't prove it. ... “. Others have said that increased access whether through the increasing number of open access resources or through donor programs are bound to stimulate research activity, and it requires in depth studies to show whether programs such as HINARI are the sole contributors to increases in scientific activity.

Usage figures are critical to assessing the value being made of research publications, and happily those from OA resources are increasingly being monitored and made publicly available for study (see other postings to this blog). It would be good to have access to the usage figures of the UN programs (HINARI/AGORA/OARE) so that their comparative value can be assessed.

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