Thoughts on open access journals

When I first heard about open access scholarly journals, I was intrigued by the idea. Smaller companies and non-profits, who may not have the funding for journal subscriptions, can read about advancements in their field. An average person who reads a news piece about an interesting study can see the original article as well. A high school teacher can read the latest study about technology in the classroom. There are clear advantages to open access.

My fear, which I think was shared by many others, is that the world of scholarly articles would become like that of self-published novels: there is some very good work out there, but you have to sift through a lot of bad writing to find it. Luckily, that seems to have been largely avoided. I am sure that there are journals out there that will publish anything you send them as long as you also send them money, but most of the open access journals I’ve come across treat prestige and impact as seriously as do traditional journals.

One example in my field is the American Journal of Operations Research (AJOR), which is published by Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP), a company that puts out more than 200 different open access journals. The company’s main office is in China, but it is an American company incorporated (like many others with this business model) in Delaware. On its website, AJOR gives a very specific list of topics in its scope, all of which fall in three main categories: Operations Research and Optimization Theory and Research Technical Approaches, Manufacturing and Service Operations Research, and Interfaces with Other Disciplines. They have a peer review process that seems just as rigorous as that of a traditional journal, though it’s hard to tell just by looking at the website.

The AJOR website is part of the larger SCIRP site, which has an entire page devoted to the definition and history of the open access movement, and another discussing SCIRP’s policies with regards to open access. All SCIRP journals are “gold” open access, meaning that the author pays a fee to have their work published, but there is no charge for anyone to view the article (they charge a subscription fee only if someone wants to receive paper copies of a journal). In most cases, I’m sure that the publication fee comes out of the research funding budget, and therefore is not going to prevent someone from publishing their work. However, it could problematic in situations, like mine and that of many other graduate students, where the research is not funded. As journals like this become more common, perhaps universities should set up “publication funds” for those who want to publish in an open access journal but can’t afford the fee.

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