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Review of Open Access in Economics

This blog is cross-posted from the OKFN’s Open Economics blog

Ever since BioMed Central (BMC) published its first free online article on July 19th 2000, the Open Access movement has made significant progress, so much so that many different stakeholders now see 100% Open Access to research as inevitable in the near future. Some are already extrapolating from recent growth trends that Open Access will take 90% of the overall article share by just 2020 (Lewis, 2012). Another recent analysis shows that during 2011 the number of Open Access articles published was ~340,000 spread over ~6,700 different journals which is about 17% of the overall literature space (1.66 million articles) for that year (Laakso & Bjork, 2012).

Perhaps because of the more obvious lifesaving benefits, biomedical research in particular has seen the largest growth in Open Access – patients & doctors alike can gain truly lifesaving benefit from easy, cost-free, Open Access to research. Those very same doctors and patients may have difficulty accessing the latest toll access-only research; any delay or impediment to accessing up-to-date medical knowledge can have negative, even fatal consequences:

[The following is from 'The impact of open access upon public health. PLoS Medicine (2006) 3:e252+' illustrating how barriers to knowledge access have grave consequences]

Arthur Amman, President of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention, tells this story: “I recently met a physician from southern Africa, engaged in perinatal HIV prevention, whose primary access to information was abstracts posted on the Internet. Based on a single abstract, they had altered their perinatal HIV prevention program from an effective therapy to one with lesser efficacy. Had they read the full text article they would have undoubtedly realized that the study results were based on short-term follow-up, a small pivotal group, incomplete data, and unlikely to be applicable to their country situation. Their decision to alter treatment based solely on the abstract’s conclusions may have resulted in increased perinatal HIV transmission”

But there are also significant benefits to be gained from Open Access to other, non-biomedical research. Open Access to social science & humanities research is also increasing, and has recently been mandated by Research Councils UK (RCUK), the UK agency that dictates policy for all publicly-funded academic research in the UK, on the basis of the Finch report [PDF]. Particularly with respect to economics, I find it extremely worrying that our MPs and policymakers often do NOT have access to the latest academic economic research. David Willetts MP, recently admitted he couldn’t access some research on a BBC Radio 3 interview recently. Likewise at the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki recently, a policymaker expressed frustration at his inability to access possible policy-influencing evidence as published in academic journals.

So, for this blogpost, I set about seeing what the Open Access publishing options are for economists. I am well-versed in the OA options for scientists and have produced a visualization of various different paid Gold Open Access options here which has garnered much interest and attention. Even for scientists there are a wealth of completely free-to-publish-in options that are also Open Access (free-to-read, no subscription or payment required).

As far I can see, the Gold Open Access ‘scene’ in Economics is less well-developed relative to the sciences. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 192 separate immediate Open Access journals of varying quality (compared to over 500 medical journals listed in DOAJ). These OA economics journals also seem to be newer on average than the similar spread of OA biomedical journals. Nevertheless I found what appear to be some excellent OA economics journals including:

  • Economic Analysis and Policy  - a journal of the Economic Society of Australia, seems to take great pride and interest in Open Access: there’s a whole issue devoted to the subject of Open Access in Economics with papers by names even I recognise e.g. Christian Zimmermann & John Willinsky.
  • Theoretical Economics – published by the Econometrics Society three times a year. Authors retain the copyright to their works, and these are published under a standard Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC). The PDFs seem very high-quality to me and contain an abundance of clickable hyperlinks & URLs – an added-value service I don’t even see from many good subscription publishers! Publishing here only requires one of the authors to be a member of the society which only costs £50 a year, with fee reductions for students. Given many OA science publications cost >£1000 per publication I find this price extremely reasonable.
  • Monthly Labor Review – published by the US Department of Labor, and in existence since 1915(!) this seems to me to be another high-quality, highly-read Open Access journal.
  • Economics – published in Germany under a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC). It has an excellent, modern and clear website, great (high-standard) data availability policy and even occasionally awards prizes for the best papers published in the journal.
  • Journal of Economic and Social Policy – another Australian journal, established in the year 2000, providing a simple but completely free outlet for publishing on social and economic issues, reviewing conceptual problems, or debating policy initiatives.
  • …and many more. Just like with science OA journals there are numerous journals of local interest e.g. Latin American journals: Revista Brasileira de Economia, the Latin American Journal of Economics, Revista de Economia Contemporânea, Revista de Análisis Económico. European journals like the South-Eastern Europe Journal of Economics (SEEJE) and Ekonomska Istrazivanja (Croatian) and Asian journals e.g. Kasarinlan (Philippine Journal of Third World Studies). These should not be dismissed or discounted, not everything is appropriate for ‘international-scope’ journals. Local journals are important for publishing smaller scale research which can be built-upon by comparative studies and/or meta-analyses.
 It’s International Open Access Week this week: 22 – 28 October 2012

 

Perhaps more interesting with respect to Open Access in Economics is the thriving Green Open Access scene. In the sciences Green Open Access is pretty limited in my opinion. arXiv has popularised Green OA in certain areas of physics & maths but in my particular domain (Biology) Green OA is a deeply unpopular and unused method of providing OA. From what I have seen OA initiatives in Economics such as RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) and EconStor seem to be extremely popular and successful. As I understand it RePEc provides Open Bibliographic Data for an impressive volume of Economics articles, in this respect the field is far ahead of the sciences – there is little free or open bibliographic data from most science publishers. EconStor is an OA repository of the German National Library of Economics – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics. It contains more than 48,000 OA works which is a fiercely impressive volume. The search functions are perhaps a tad basic, but with that much OA literature collected and available for use I’ve no doubt someone will create a better, more powerful search interface for the collection.

In summary, from my casual glance at OA publishing in Economics as a non-economist, mea culpa, things look very positive here. Unless informed otherwise I think the OA scene here too is likely to grow and dominate the academic publishing space as it is in other areas of academia.

References

Laakso, M. and Bjork, B. C. 2012. Anatomy of open access publishing: a study of longitudinal development and internal structure. BMC Medicine 10:124+

Lewis, D. W. 2012. The inevitability of open access. College & Research Libraries 73:493-506.


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