[RIO DE JANEIRO] Making articles freely available online can widen the participation of developing world scientists in global science, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Chicago in the United States measured the extent to which making papers available on an open access basis affected how many times those papers were cited, and by whom.
Using Thompson Scientific's Citation Indexes and Fulltext Sources Online, they surveyed 26 million articles from more than 8,000 journals, their associated citations from 1945–2005 and online availability from 1998–2005.
They compared the number of citations scientific papers received when available only in print with the number received by the same articles once they became freely available online. The researchers found that online availability increased citations of recently published articles by around eight per cent.
But they also found variation in the rates of citations from different countries, based on a country's per capita gross national income — with the impact of open access more than twice as strong in developing countries than in developed countries.
In England and Germany, for example, open access increased citations of articles by around five per cent, while in India the increase was almost 25 per cent and in Brazil it was close to 30 per cent.
"Our study shows that people who have access to journals in poor countries use them," says James A. Evans, the leading author of the research, published in Science last week (20 February). "If they weren't freely available they wouldn't use them with the same frequency, and they may not be able, as a result, to themselves publish in top journals."
The researchers also found that the influence of open access dipped back to 12–16 per cent in very poor countries, such as Afghanistan, Uganda and Nepal.
Evans believes limited electronic access in these countries explains part of the figures, but it represents just one of the issues limiting their participation in science. "The low average income also means that it is hard to get an education and to become a scientist," he says.
Science 323, 1025 (2009)