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Poll results: How do psychologists feel about Open Access?

Over the past month I ran a small poll on the OpenSesame website about the attitude of researchers towards open access (OA) in academic publishing.

I received 767 responses, where each question was answered only once per IP address. Questions appeared in random order, and the order of the answers was randomized as well. The usual caveat applies, though: Because I ran the poll on the OpenSesame page, most respondents are presumably early-career experimental psychologists, and not representative of the ‘average’ scientist. Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting to see how this particular segment of the research population feels about OA.

So here we go.

Let’s first take a look at the general attitude towards OA. Clearly, as you can see in the figure below, respondents overwhelmingly perceive OA as a good thing. A minority indicates that they are not too interested in the matter, and no-one expresses an outright dislike of OA.

Principles are one thing, but of course what really matters is what people will do in practice. Most respondents indicate that they are likely to submit to an OA journal. However, relatively few indicate that they have actually done so in the past, despite the fact that some well known OA journals (notably PLoS ONE) have been around for years. But then again, many respondents are probably early career academics with few publications on their name.

I think it’s also interesting to consider the reasons that people might have for (not) submitting to an OA journal. As you can see below, most respondents indicate that they would submit to an OA journal for idealistic reasons (i.e. freedom of information). I was surprised to see that relatively few respondents indicate the low chance of rejection as a reason: I know for a fact that many people consider (most) OA journals to be fall-back journals, which they will submit to only after rejection by more prestigious (and typically non-OA) journals. But I may hang around the wrong crowd.

The primary reason for not submitting to an OA journal is the publishing fee. This is not surprising, but it does highlight a major problem in OA publishing. Publishing fees can be very high (such as the €1,600 charged by Frontiers in Psychology) and labs generally pay these fees out of their own pocket. This is not to say that OA journals are more expensive from a birds-eye perspective, because non-OA journals charge exorbitant subscription fees to university libraries. But because subscriptions are paid by libraries, they are ‘free’ from the perspective of the labs.

Fortunately, this situation is changing slowly but surely. For example, in the Netherlands, labs can declare publishing fees from the national research agency (NWO), so the publishing fee (even when large) is no longer prohibitive. And an increasing number of OA journals, such as the recently launched PeerJ, charge more reasonable publication fees, or do not charge any fees at all.

I also asked two questions about a selection of specific journals, both OA (marked by the orange lock icon) and non-OA. One question was about a journal’s perceived prestigiousness. The second question was about how likely the respondent was to submit to that particular journal. Respondents could also indicate that they were not familiar with a journal. In the figure below, you can see the relationship between name awareness, prestigiousness, and submission likelihood for each of the journals1.

The first thing to note is that non-OA journals are perceived to be more prestigious than OA journals, even when you consider pairs that are comparable in terms of impact factor (an objective, but disputed measure of a journal’s importance). For example, PLoS ONE (OA) has a slightly higher impact factor (4.1) than Neuropsychologia (non-OA; 3.6), but is perceived as slightly less prestigious. That being said, the tendency to undervalue (taking impact factor as reference) OA journals is not as pronounced as I expected (certainly PLoS ONE does very well). And it’s also confounded by the fact that non-OA journals tend to be more specialized than OA journals: There are hardly any well-known specialized OA journals in the field of psychology (there’s Journal of Vision, but its OA status is dubious). Probably, this ‘specialization effect’ explains why Psychological Science is perceived as the most prestigious journal, even though its 4.4 impact factor lags far behind the 11.5 of PLoS Biology and the 9.6 of Current Biology. Apparently, psychologists overvalue (again, relative to impact factor) specialized psychology journals.

Finally, the three newest contenders in the OA marketplace still have a long way to go. Scientific Reports, PeerJ and eLife score lowest on pretty much all measures. It will be interesting to see how this develops though, because in particular PeerJ and eLife offer something that we haven’t seen before. PeerJ’s lifetime-membership approach promises to significantly reduce the cost of publishing in OA journals, which, as we have seen above, is currently prohibitive for many researchers. eLife intends to become a high impact journal, ala PLoS Biology, and, interestingly, also intends to publish the ‘conversation’ behind a paper (i.e. the review process).

  1. Name awareness was calculated as 1 - (# of 'Never heard of it' responses / # of responses), and then rescaled to the 1 (very low) to 4 (very high) scale shown in the figure. Prestigiousness was calculated as the average response after excluding the ‘Never heard of it’ responses, where ‘Very prestigious’ had a value of 4, ‘Kind of prestigious’ a 3, ‘Not very prestigious’ a 2, and ‘Not prestigious at all’ a 1. Submission likelyhood was calculated analogously, using ‘I submitted a paper there already’ (4), ‘Very likely’ (3), ‘Not very likely’ (2), and ‘I will never submit a paper there’ (1).