Debunking the myths of Open Access

Myth: Open Access journals are not peer-reviewed.
Reality: Most OA journals conduct peer-review, just like their subscription brethren. An inspection of the website of a journal helps you tell if the journal is doing quality work.

  • How many articles have they published, are those articles found in curated databases such as Scopus or Pubmed (NB: Google Scholar is not a curated database, it’s a scrape of the web).
  • Is the publisher listed at DOAJ?
  • How many readers do their articles have on Mendeley?
  • Are the articles consistent in appearance, readable, well-formatted, free from typographical errors, etc.

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Myth: Publishing in Open Access journals is the only way that peer-reviewed articles can be Open Access.

Reality: There are two routes through which OA can be delivered – gold OA is through journals and green OA via repositories. The belief that all OA articles are gold hasn’t been true since the beginning of the OA movement and, in fact, in almost all fields (bar medicine and biomedical sciences), OA publication in green.

roarOne reason for the misconception is that open access repositories are a relatively novel and less well-known resource. In this digital age however, there is ever increasing access to repositories – many of which listed on the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR). These repositories are a great source for the (legal) sharing of published, peer-reviewed articles.

Myth: Publishing in Open Access journals is expensive.
Reality: Costs for publishing in OA journals are often on par with page charges or color figure fees in subscription journals. Many universities have institutional funds that can be used to pay these fees, many publishers will waive fees for those with substantiated financial hardship, and some society journals don’t charge anything at all. There are low cost options, too, such as PeerJ (Heliyon, which is an Elsevier journal comparable to PLOS ONE and has a comparable publication fee).

However, it’s well known that many peer-reviewed OA journals do not charge publishing fees – the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has been tracking the number of fee-less OA journals for almost a decade, and recently reported that more than 60% of peer-reviewed Open Access journals are free to publish in.

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Myth: Open Access authors pay author-side fees themselves.
Reality: A study carried out by the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) revealed that <15% of author-side fees are paid by the authors themselves; the vast majority of these fees are covered by funders and occasionally by universities.

study of open access publishingIn addition to this, authors who follow the green (rather than gold) OA publishing practice, never pay any fees to do so. Through gold OA publishing, roughly one third of peer-reviewed OA journals have author-side fees. This means that only one third of <15% of OA authors have to front up the cash for the publication of their article – despite half of peer-reviewed OA articles being published in fee-based journals!

Myth: Sending my best work to an Open Access journal will harm my career.

Reality: OA publication can be the best way to get your work out there. It’s often faster, disseminated more broadly, and could even be more highly cited.

Myth: Publishing Open Access means giving up the widely-recognized brand names that colleagues respect.

Reality: Many of the largest funders now require OA publication, and no publisher wants to exclude good work. You can still publish in Cell, Science, or Nature – just pick the open access option when your article is accepted.

Myth: Traditional publishing prevents authors from making that same work available through Open Access channels.
Reality: Many traditional publishers actual allow authors to follow through on green OA routes, and others will do so upon request – see the Sherpa RoMEO database to find out more about various publisher policies. This sort of green OA is lawful, despite the rights having been given to the publisher. Even when this is not the case, authors could retain the rights through author addenda or Rights-retention policies of employers or funding bodies (e.g. the Wellcome Trust, NIH, Harvard and many other universities).


Myth: I have my pre-prints on my website (or in a repository, like arXiv). I don’t need Open Access.
Reality: You are in fact already practicing OA – a form called “green OA” to distinguish it from paid “gold OA” – Congrats!

Myth: Academic freedom is restricted when authors are forced to publish Open Access.

Reality: While this may hold true for gold OA, it certainly doesn’t for green! Green routes are entirely congruous with traditional, non-oOA publication. For this reason, it is important to ensure clarity between gold and green OA, especially in the context of OA mandates that may be imposed upon researchers.

(See the this weeks Guardian articles on Open Access myths and last year’s on Open Access challenges for even more information)