As China Seeks to Reduce its Reliance on Traditional Impact Metrics, Open Access Models May Grow in Attractiveness

In the times of the global Covid-19 crisis, Open Access is widely credited with accelerating the speed of scientific discoveries and the rate of their international dissemination.
As China Seeks to Reduce its Reliance on Traditional Impact Metrics, Open Access Models May Grow in Attractiveness

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This can, however, also add to the momentum for the adoption of Open Access models by funders, such as in China, and major publishers internationally, e.g., Elsevier.

In coronavirus-hit China, a burgeoning scientific research powerhouse, in recent months a complex shift away from the quantity of the academic papers that researchers publish to their quality has been taking place, as China’s Ministries of Education and Science and Technology seek to deemphasize the importance of the Science Citation Index (SCI) for funding, promotion and hiring decisions. Due to the possible bias of the SCI in favor of Western standards, institutions and journals, China aims to develop its own indices for the assessment of scientific quality and research impact.

Whereas this change is not likely to affect significantly the international standing of leading academic journals, such as Nature and Science, journals with low to middle SCI rankings with have to compete with those favored by other impact indices, as their publication fees will no longer be automatically funded by Chinese scientific institutions. While this policy change is chiefly aimed at promoting scientific and technological innovation and improving the attractiveness of domestic journals in China, it can also incidentally create a more level playing field for Open Access journals that tend to be recently launched, using alternative impact metrics and relying on diverse funding models.

On the one hand, this further speeds up the adoption of Open Access in China and internationally, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, in the course of which Chinese scientists have been actively sharing their findings, reports and results with colleagues around the world in Open Access, such as via pre-prints and streamlined review procedures. On the other hand, Open Access has been demonstrated as critical for the support of cutting-edge research efforts, application development and science-driven innovations across a wide variety of fields.

This is why, a host of leading scientific publishers, among them Elsevier, have been making their coronavirus-related publications and journals available in Open Access, such as via PubMed Central and World Health Organization databases, for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis. Yet the benefits of Open Access relate not only to research-based innovation or the public good, such as for accelerating pandemic related scientific research or vaccine development, but also to the profit performance of multiple publishers.

Thus, while Elsevier has been experiencing the effects of business activity slowdown in recent months, due to the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, its Open Access revenue has continued to be relatively strong in the fiscal year 2019. Even though only about 25% of the revenues of Elsevier in the scientific, technical and medical publishing sector is based on Open Access models, such as those involving author-facing fees, their benefits, such as for pandemic response efforts, are likely to drive their further growth.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: State Public Health Laboratory in Exton Tests for COVID-19, PA, USA, March 6, 2020 | © Courtesy of Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr.


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