Advocates of open access scholarship have been persuasive in their call for making materials freely available online. Harvard faculty now can deposit all their publications in a web-based repository, bypassing journal restrictions. One advantage of such databases, the theory went, was that online articles are more likely to be read and cited than those behind a subscription wall.
Now, a report from two economics researchers casts doubt on that assumption. They surveyed 260,000 articles published in 100 economics and business journals from 1956 to 2005 and found no evidence of a citation boost for articles appearing in open access journals. The one significant advantage came from articles available in JSTOR, an online, subscription-based service.
Commentators told InsideHigherEd.com that the study did not distinguish between free online journals and online articles behind pay walls. So, the debate is not settled. Even without the jump in citations, though, it seems good practice to make scholarship as widely available as possible. Particularly for faculty and trainees at underresourced institutions or in developing countries, having access to research is valuable. They may not cite the articles, but they will use the knowledge.