After a flurry of activity, the open access debate has been quiet in recent years. Two new reports, however, may reignite the debate. There are many arguments for and against open access, but one of the most persuasive for academics could be whether open access conveys a citation advantage to an article. So the question is, does publishing your article in an open access journal mean more of your peers will cite the article – or does it make no difference at all?

The first report of relevance is a bibliographic study of the potential advantage conveyed by publishing in an open access journal [Eysenbach, PLoS Biology (2006) 4 (5), e157]. Eysenbach compared citations on articles publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which offers both open-access and non-open-access publishing options, over a six month period in 2004. He found that both the mean number of citations and the proportion of articles cited at least once was higher in the open access group compared with the traditionally published group (which can, in any case, be made openly available after six months). Overall, according to Eysenbach's data, open access articles are cited earlier and more often than their counterparts. He concludes that publishing in open access journals (or at least in the open access stream of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) brings an advantage in terms of immediacy of impact and total impact. This will be grist to the mill for proponents of open access, but it is well worth noting the caveats to these conclusions. The study was made in the highly competitive sphere of biological research and the conclusions may not be broadly applicable to other disciplines. There is also likely to be bias in terms of the self selection of authors who chose the open access publishing route, i.e. those that believe their work is more broadly interesting to a large audience may choose open access. The data are also drawn from one particular, and rather unique, journal, and may not be applicable to other journals in other disciplines.

Meanwhile, a survey of researchers' opinions conducted by the Publishing Research Consortium concludes that it is not the way of publishing that can hamper the scientific enterprise, but the way in which it is funded. Although the report does not tackle the open access advantage question directly, its findings are pertinent to the debate. The authors, Ian Rowlands and Rene Olivieri, conclude that, contrary to the arguments postulated by open access proponents, free access to journal content is not a significant contributory factor to scientific productivity in the biomedical sciences. Rather, their survey concludes that it is the struggle for funding and the stop-go fashion in which most these funds are administered that presents the greatest obstacle to productivity (and continuity).

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(06)71554-1