Free articles get read but don't generate more citations

Jul 31, 2008

When academic articles are "open access" or free online, they get read more often, but they don't -- going against conventional wisdom -- get cited more often in academic literature, finds a new Cornell study.

The reason, suggest Cornell graduate student Philip Davis and colleagues, including three Cornell professors, is that most researchers probably already have all the access they need to relevant articles.

"It appears that higher quality articles -- in other words, more citable articles -- are simply made freely available," said Davis. "Previous studies using different methods simply got cause and effect reversed." The study is published online in the British Medical Journal and will be published in the print edition Aug. 9.

The findings are particularly relevant to academic researchers, because the frequency with which a researcher's work is cited can be a factor in tenure and promotion decisions.

The researchers conducted the first controlled study of open-access publishing, randomly making some journal articles freely available while keeping others available by subscription only, to determine whether increased access to journal articles results in more article downloads and citations.

They found that in the year after the articles were published, open-access articles were downloaded more but were no more likely to be cited than subscription-based articles.

"The established dogma is that freely available scientific articles are cited more because they are read more," said Davis, a former science librarian who designed the study. "We found that open-access publishing may reach more readers than subscription-access publishing, but there is no evidence that freely accessible articles are cited any more than subscription-access articles."

The researchers randomly assigned 247 articles in 11 scientific journals, to free access. They measured how many times these articles were downloaded, the number of unique visitors to each article and how many times each article was cited.

"There were definitely more article downloads for freely accessible articles," said Davis. "Yet nearly half of these downloads were by Internet indexing robots like Google, crawling the Web for free content."

"There are many reasons to provide free access to the literature," said Davis. "A citation advantage, however, is not one of them."

Source: Cornell University

Explore further: Physicist creates ice cream that changes colors as it's licked

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Physicists discuss quantum pigeonhole principle

11 hours ago

The pigeonhole principle: "If you put three pigeons in two pigeonholes at least two of the pigeons end up in the same hole." So where's the argument? Physicists say there is an important argument. While the ...

Giant crater in Russia's far north sparks mystery

14 hours ago

A vast crater discovered in a remote region of Siberia known to locals as "the end of the world" is causing a sensation in Russia, with a group of scientists being sent to investigate.

NASA Mars spacecraft prepare for close comet flyby

14 hours ago

NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19.

Recommended for you

Soccer's key role in helping migrants to adjust

2 hours ago

New research from the University of Adelaide has for the first time detailed the important role the sport of soccer has played in helping migrants to adjust to their new lives in Australia.

How dinosaurs shrank, survived and evolved into birds

3 hours ago

That starling at your birdfeeder? It is a dinosaur. The chicken on your dinner plate? Also a dinosaur. That mangy seagull scavenging for chips on the beach? Apart from being disgusting, yet again it is a ...

Children's book explores Really Big Numbers

4 hours ago

A new children's book written and illustrated by a Brown mathematics professor Richard Schwartz takes readers on a visual journal through the infinite number system. Schwartz hopes Really Big Numbers will ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

irjsi
not rated yet Jul 31, 2008
. . . crawling the Web for free content."
. . . may/will disperse article for exposure to more eyes.
Possibly a response 'click', much like the
1 to 5 rating used by PhysOrg, could be catalogued and returned for credit
to Author(s) .
Roy Stewart,
phoenix AZ