Scientific Excellence at Scale: Open Access journals have a clear citation advantage over subscription journals

Science & research news | Frontiers

Frontiers is the 4th most cited publisher amongst the 20 largest publishers, ranked by average citations over a three-year period (2015-2017). The same analysis also reveals a citation advantage of Open Access journals over subscription journals in the last three years.

In 2017, 16% of peer-reviewed papers worldwide were published in fully Open Access journals according to SCImago (2018). After over two decades of the Open Access revolution, this is a far cry from the aspired 100%. One of the many reasons why the transition to Open Access turned out to be so difficult is the debate whether Open Access can produce scientific excellence.

In this blog post we performed a journal analysis contrasting open access journals and subscription journals based on data from SCImago (2018, SCImago data is based on Elsevier’s Scopus database). The full dataset is available on Figshare here. This data was presented at the EuroScience Open Forum 2018, the powerpoint is available here and the video lecture here.

In 2017, four of the 20 largest publishers are full Open Access publishers (Figure 1), 16 are traditional subscription publishers with a range of subscription, hybrid and fully open access journals.

Looking at average citations over a three-year period (2015-2017) amongst the largest 20 publishers, the performance of fully Open Access publishers is remarkable (Figure 2).

Frontiers ranks 4th most cited for average citations per paper published between 2015 and 2017 amongst the 20 largest publishers. Frontiers’ average citation rate is 3.65 per paper and well above the average of 2.7 for subscription journals and 2.9 for Open Access journals. Amongst the ranked publishers, only Learned Societies specializing in a single, highly-cited field, such as chemistry or physics, rank higher. Among multidisciplinary publishers, Frontiers has the highest average citation rate.

Other fully Open Access publishers also rank above average on citation rates: PLOS ranks 6th with an average citation rate of 3.25 and MDPI 8th with an average citation rate of 3.10 (Figure 2).

In general and across the last three years, Open Access journals receive on average 7% more citations than subscription journals (Figure 3). Interestingly, Open Access journals published by traditional subscription publishers are generally achieving more impact within the same publisher.

If we break out open access and subscription journals by those 20 publishers, Open Access journals see a citation advantage, with an average of 2.9 citations per paper for Open Access journals versus 2.7 citations per paper for subscription journals (including hybrids, Figure 3).

While 10 out of the 16 traditional publishers show a clear citation advantage for their Open Access journals, there are some variations, likely reflecting different strategies with the titles, as well as a publisher’s standing in terms of the content they attract.

These findings are in line with a recent White Paper published by Springer Nature and Digital Science, which demonstrated a clear citation advantage of Open Access articles over paywalled articles in hybrid subscription journals. Articles published in the Open Access format were 1.6 times more cited than paywalled articles within the same journals.

The findings are also in line with the citation advantage of Frontiers Open Access journals in the 2017 Journal Citation Reports and 2017 CiteScore.

Many have appreciated the benefits of Open Science for society; accelerated discovery, innovation and economic growth and public access to scientific knowledge. This data now clearly shows that Open Access journals outperform traditional subscription journals on citation metrics and deliver better impact for authors.

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