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Yet Another “OA” Study Comparing Apples and Fruit?

Peterson, G. M. (2013). Characteristics of retracted open access biomedical literature: A bibliographic analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 64(12), 2428-2436.

Abstract: The author analyzes retracted biomedical literature to determine if open access and fee-for-access works differ in terms of the practice and effectiveness of retraction. Citation and content analysis were applied to articles grouped by accessibility (libre, gratis, and fee for access) for various bibliometric attributes. Open access literature does not differ from fee-for-access literature in terms of impact factor, detection of error, or change in postretraction citation rates. Literature found in the PubMed Central Open Access subset provides detailed information about the nature of the anomaly more often than less accessible works. Open access literature appears to be of similar reliability and integrity as the population of biomedical literature in general, with the added value of being more forthcoming about the nature of errors when they are identified.

Can’t read the article because it wasn’t OA — but what was being compared here? I doubt it was OA vs non-OA articles. More likely it was articles in Gold OA journals vs articles in toll journals. But the articles in toll journals might have been Green OA. And comparing Gold OA journal articles with toll journal articles is not comparing OA with non-OA. (And if you compare OA articles with non-OA articles, you can’t draw conclusions about journal impact factor, error detection rates or retraction rates.)

Addendum: Someone kindly sent me a copy of the full text, so I now see that Green OA was taken into account in this study after all, although the author persists in describing the non-differences found as pertaining to OA publishing vs. non-OA publishing, whereas they do not: They pertain to whether or not article is OA — and it can be OA whether it is published in a Gold OA journal or in a non-OA journal. The author writes:

“the increasingly prominent body of open access literature is as reliable (and maybe more so) and of the same quality as the literature published under the model that was the gold standard for scholarly communications in the previous century”

This continues to be a comparison of apples versus fruit, since at least as much of the literature that is open access today is “published under the gold standard for scholarly communications in the previous century” — namely, the subscription-access (i.e., non-OA) publishing model (here confusingly called the “gold standard” publishing model, which is of course the opposite of the Gold OA publishing model) — as is published under the Gold OA publishing model.

Open access is a property of the article, not necessarily of the journal. Hence OA articles are not necessarily being published under a different publishing model.

The study compared biomedical articles that were Gratis OA (free online), Libre OA (free online plus re-use rights) and non-OA, based on the PubMed Central (Libre OA), PubMed (Gratis OA and non-OA), Google Scholar (Gratis OA and non-OA) and Web of Science (journal impact factor and article citation rates) databases, for the proportion of retracted articles (under 1%) and for their post-retraction citation rate drops.

The outcome was mostly the finding of no differences. The only exception was a higher average impact factor for the journals in which Gratis OA articles were published compared to the (mostly Gold) journals in which Libre OA articles were published (not surprising, since most high impact journals are still non-OA journals today). No difference at all between the journals in which the Gratis Green OA articles were published and non-OA journals (not surprising, since this was a comparison of apples with fruit).

Stevan Harnad


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