The NSF reports that if you offer something of value to people for free while someone else charges a hefty sum of money for the same type of product, one would logically assume that most people would choose the free option. According to new research in 19 February edition of the journal Science, if the product in question is access to scholarly papers and research, that logic might just be wrong. These findings provide new insight into the nature of scholarly discourse and the future of the open source publication movement.
Most research is published in scientific journals and reviews, and subscriptions to these outlets have traditionally cost money - in some cases a great deal of money. Publishers must cover the costs of producing peer-reviewed publications and in most cases also try to turn a profit. To access these publications, other scholars and researchers must either be able to afford subscriptions or work at institutions that can provide access.
In recent years, as the internet has helped lower the cost of publishing, more and more scientists have begun publishing their research in open source outlets online. Since these publications are free to anyone with an internet connection, the belief has been that more interested readers will find them and potentially cite them. Earlier studies had postulated that being in an open source format could more than double the number of times a journal article is used by other researchers.
To test this theory, James A. Evans, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, and Jacob Reimer, a student of neurobiology also at the University of Chicago, analyzed millions of articles available online, including those from open source publications and those that required payment to access.