The Struggle Between Prestige and Better Science: Open vs. Closed Access

As a scientist, finding the right journals for publication is essential for a successful career. As such, there are a select few journals that have become synonymous with prestige in which many researchers strive for publication. These sorts of journals typically have quite high impact factors which is important for future citations (and, of course, bragging rights). However, most of these journals, such as Cell, Nature, and Science Magazine, are often closed access which means that only people that have paid for particular licenses have the ability to read the publications.

The thought of closed access scientific journals has always astounded me because it seems counterproductive to scientific progress. I always thought that most scientists wanted to share their findings with as many people as possible, especially their most groundbreaking or exciting results. Instead, in their fight for prestige (coupled with the pressure to publish and publish well for some) many scientists opt for these closed access journals. There seems to be a very clear prejudice against open access journals in the scientific community. Unfortunately, there is no real basis for such prejudice. In fact, there are many open access journals with high impact factors and even more opportunity for future citations.

This is not to say that I think closed access journals are to be avoided at all costs. Instead, I simply believe that open access journals should be given the same sort of attention and perceived prestige as closed access journals. After all, open access journals allow other scientists and researchers from less affluent institutions the opportunity to read and cite important and groundbreaking findings instead of only sharing knowledge with other wealthy institutions.

What do you think of closed access journals? Do you think they stifle the dissemination of knowledge or are there other important purposes of closed access journals that I’m missing? Tell me what you think in the comments!


Math Pun:  An opinion without 3.14159 is just an onion.
(Today’s math pun brought to you by the number Pi π)


14 thoughts on “The Struggle Between Prestige and Better Science: Open vs. Closed Access

  1. bbaugher says:

    I agree with you here–the negative image that some open access journals have is counter-intuitive to the point of research. I was particularly surprised to find that a lot of the journals that engineers doing research in the humanitarian field publish in are not open access. This seemed incredibly counterintuitive to me. However, those are the journals that have prestige–as you mentioned in your post. I hope that this trend is something that we can shift in the near future.

  2. Thank you for your post! I agree that there seems to be a prejudice in the scientific community. I recently asked a friend, who primarily does cancer research, her thoughts, and she mentioned that her advisers and senior colleagues prefer closed journals. Maybe its a generational gap issue? Younger researchers will eventually navigate their way to open access, and open access will continue to grow throughout the research community, and eventually, the two will intersect. Only time will tell. Until then, all we can do is support the mission to disseminate knowledge in our fields.

  3. Sarah Baron says:

    I agree that closed journals seem counterintuitive to the concept of progress and sharing work. You made a good point that there is no actual basis for the prejudice open access journals face.

  4. Isil Anakok says:

    I definitely support open access journals. If we live in an era that internet connects the whole world why can not we share the knowledge free to everyone. I believe there should be revolution to give equal access to everyone who is the field at least.

  5. xsharma says:

    Agree with the post above. The internet is an incredibly strong tool that makes the open access concept so much easier. In the pre-internet days, it might have been difficult to sustain open-access journals given the costs of printing and mailing. But that is no longer the case. I understand that there are still some operational costs, and it is encouraging to see organizations out there that are willing to fund these operational costs for open access.

  6. Khanh To says:

    I think the reason why there is some preference to closed access journals is because of how competitive a certain field of research can be. Having your research publish but not seen by many is a way to keep yourself ahead of the pack while still having publication (publish or perish culture), but I personally think that mentality is wrong and the science community’s atmosphere is changing. It might be more difficult for someone in the cancer research field to switch completely to open access journals, but for paleontology, we are definitely standing behind open access journals!

  7. Jocelyn Hotter says:

    It is interesting to see what journals make the cut when universities are selecting which ones to subscribe to for the students. The prestige ones are usually selected, but it is always the few that are not that have the article you need. Part of me doesn’t mind that there are closed and open journals, but this is likely because I’ve been at two universities that provided me access to journals within my tuition. After a graduate I believe I will be more upset, especially since I enjoy reading scholarly articles on my own time.

  8. Carlisle says:

    You make such excellent points in your post, many of which were echoed in the symposium talk at the library. The prestige of closed accessed journals like Nature keep researchers striving for publications within them. However, what if certain open access journals took on a similar prestige and could gain a positive reputation for quality and scientific rigor? It would be a win win especially if Universities provided funding for the fees. Closed access journals have been the norm and it will take time for this other form of publishing to be completely accepted. Thanks for your post!

  9. Kaiwen Chen says:

    To be honest, I also have prejudice on open access journals in the past, as several journals with high reputation in our field are closed access journals. Now I realized that open access journals can be accessed by more researchers, which can improve the right equity of knowledge sharing and innovation. In my point of view, to increase the reputation of one open access journal requires us researchers’ effort and support. Gradually, people will change their opinion and treat open access journals reasonably. Also, there is a need to start thinking about the regulations of marketing permission and inspection for open access journals, as they lack the market supervise from customers. There is still a long way to go!

  10. Natali Carolina Huggins de Murzi says:

    Thanks sharing, from my perspective the open access movement it is a great advance for the research dissemination. From my perspective an important part of being a research is to share your finding not just with the researchers on your field, but with all the community including student and general public.
    The closed access journal usually have the prestige and the support from the professional association and off course there is a monetary interest in the background. I think that researchers and Universities need to promote the open access movement and shift from close access to open access to gain prestige necessary for this type of publications

  11. Jenna Davis says:

    I completely agree and have had the same thought about closed access journals being counterproductive to progress in research. It’s disheartening that scientist work for so long to do research and fight for a prestige journal just to be able to add that to their resume instead of opting for a journal that is more conclusive of the scientific community. I understand the want to be in a renounced journal, but I feel like there is more satisfaction when research is published and many people read and cite it.

  12. udayad15 says:

    Such a nice blog! I agree with you on the prejudice of the scientific community against open access journals. There is also a wrong notion in people about publishing their findings in open-access journals. People often think that it’s easy to publish in open-access journals compared to closed-access ones. This is not true as long as the journal is a peer-reviewed journal (be it open-access or closed-access). But how many realize this is the question?

  13. leegill says:

    Great blog post. I really enjoy reading your post discussing open access and closed access journals. I think the concept of open access journals is great and I wish that there’s more push from the institution level to publish work in open access. Because of current situation that large publishers control closed access journals and carries a large database, I think it will take time to move away from them. I hope that we could help change the way by publishing our research work in an open access journal more often.

  14. alisafi says:

    Like you, I believe that closed access journals stifle the dissemination of knowledge. However, I believe that the situation is somewhat complicated. First, publication always requires money, e.g., for storage over the web, editing, etc. Second, these closed-access journals have been around for a much longer time and have more financial resources compared to open-access ones which make the competition for the latter very hard. I believe it is not possible to get rid of closed-access journals in a short period of time but it needs a long-term sustainable solution with a clear roadmap.

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