Saturday, September 17. 2005
Re: Maximising the Return on the UK's Public Investment in Research
Prior AmSci Topic Thread:The Open Access (OA) Impact Advantage (currently 50-250%) will shrink as we approach 100% OA. Right now we are at about 15% OA self-archiving and the advantage is in part (no one can say how large a part) a competitive advantage of the minority 15% OA self-archivers (the head-start vanguard) over the laggard 85% non-OA majority.
(Actually, 5% more is OA too, via OA journals, but as the impact advantage is harder to calculate for OA journals -- because we are not comparing within the same journal and year -- we leave it out of these calculations. The same reasoning applies, however.)That makes it partly a race; and clearly, the race is to the swift and the battle to the strong. The competitive advantage is more reason for an individual, institution or nation (like the UK) to self-archive right now (as the RCUK will, we hope, soon be doing).
The OA impact advantage arises from at least the following 6 component factors, three of them (2,3,5) temporary, three of them permanent (1,4,6):
1. EA: EARLY ADVANTAGE, beginning already at the pre-refereeing preprint stage. Research that is reported earlier can begin being used and built upon earlier. The result turns out to be not just that it gets its quota of citations sooner, but that quota actually goes up, permanently. This is probably because earlier uptake has a greater cumulative effect on the research cycle.Of these six component factors contributing to the OA impact advantage, only EA, QA, and UA remain operative in the few fields that are already close to 100% OA, such as Astrophysics and High Energy Physics. Everywhere else, however, the current 15% self-archiving rates still need to do a lot of climbing to reach 100%; so for those individuals, institutions, fields and nations the CA still matters a great deal today. (The UK hence stands to gain the biggest competitive advantage by being the first country to implement a self-archiving mandate.)
Have I overestimated the UK's potential £1.5bn advantage in the longer-term, given the likelihood that other countries will follow suit, thereby cutting down on the CA component? It was partly to minimise this that I based the estimate on the most conservative end of the 50-250% OA impact advantage, underestimating it by using 50%. (It could also be 5 times as great. )
And whereas the Competitive Advantage will indeed shrink and disapper, the Early Advantage, Quality Advantage and Usage Advantage will be going strong. Michael Kurtz has shown that although articles in a 100% OA field (Astrophysics) do not have longer reference lists, hence do not cite more articles overall, they do have three times higher usage rates (UA). So authors can at last find, access, and decide which articles to cite purely on the basis of their relative merit and quality (QA), no longer biassed by the affordability (hence the accessibility) of the journal in which they happen to be published. So whereas the competitive horse-race (for who self-archives to gain the CA first) will be over at 100% OA, the cognitive horse-race (for which researcher finds what earlier: EA) will continue to favour the swift and the strong.
It is hence fair to say that although the annual £1.5 billion pounds-worth of potential impact that the UK is currently losing because it only self-archives 15% of its research output will shrink (as other nations' self-archiving policies catch up), how much it shrinks will then depend only on the true merit of British research rather than either the UK's head-start in self-archiving or the current differential affordability/accessibility of journals.