The Clustering of Researcher Attitudes toward Scholarly Journals in Open Access Across Stakeholder Groups in North America

A recent study reveals that academics with favorable attitudes toward Open Access distinctively differ from those with non-favorable ones in terms of championed arguments and most prevalent stakeholder groups.
The Clustering of Researcher Attitudes toward Scholarly Journals in Open Access Across Stakeholder Groups in North America

In their research paper, Elizabeth D. Dalton, Carol Tenopir, and Bo-Christer Björk (2020, p. 80) have conducted a survey among 2,121 PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and assistant, associate and full professors in the United States and Canada. After excluding missing data, only 822 responses were used for this study’s cluster analyses with PhD students (34%) and professors (30%) comprising almost equal shares of this sample, while other groups have accounted for between 11% and 12%. In terms of their disciplinary affiliation, research participants have been primarily drawn from life and medical sciences (38%), social sciences (24%), engineering and computing sciences (15%), physical sciences (11%) and arts and humanities (10%).

The cluster of respondents with pro-Open Access attitudes (72%) has been found to contrast with those with anti-Open Access attitudes in relation their positions that article processing charges represent a reasonable alternative to journal subscription fees, that Open Access promises greater exposure for research output and that it improves the access to the latter among the general, lay public. At the same time, those not supportive of Open Access (28%) have been found to consider articles published in Open Access journals to be of generally lower quality than those in subscription-based, closed access ones, to stress the availability of alternatives to Open Access and to express concerns that it can limit the choice of publishing venues.

Yet both of these groups have been found to largely agree that the adoption of Open Access is likely to limit the ability to publish articles of scholars from institutions with insufficient funding and that Open Access is increasingly important not only for industry and business stakeholders but also for policymakers in the governmental and non-governmental sectors, which is likely based on their strong familiarity with Open Access (Dalton, Tenopir, and Björk, 2020, p. 83).

Furthermore, the pro-Open Access cluster primarily comprises PhD students (39%) with a much smaller representation of other groups, e.g., full professors (26%), postdoctoral researchers (14%) and assistant professors (11%). By contrast, the anti-Open Access cluster is chiefly composed of professors (42%), to a smaller extent of PhD students (22%) and to an almost equal extent of assistant (16%) and associate (15%) professors (Dalton, Tenopir, and Björk, 2020, p. 86).

On the one hand, the cluster of respondents favorable to Open Access is mainly representing scholars in the fields of life and medical sciences (42%), social sciences (20%), engineering and computing sciences (17%) and physical sciences (12%). On the other hand, the cluster of research participants disfavorable to Open Access has been found to draw on social sciences (33%), life science and medical (28%), arts and humanities (17%) and engineering and computer science (12%) scholars (Dalton, Tenopir, and Björk, 2020, p. 87).

Indirectly, these findings suggest that attitudes toward Open Access not only apparently correspond to the socio-demographic composition of the stakeholder groups, such as PhD students vs. full professors, but also derive from likely different functions of closed-access journals as gatekeeping institutions for their respective fields and Open Access journals as vehicles for strengthening the relations between the industry and academia, a wider dissemination of cutting-edge scientific results and formats for reaching out to non-specialist constituencies.

By Pablo Markin


Dalton, Elizabeth D., Carol Tenopir, and Bo-Christer Björk. "Attitudes of North American academics toward open access scholarly journals." portal: Libraries and the Academy 20, no. 1 (2020): 73-100.


Featured Image Credits: Fisher Rare Books Library (University of Toronto Robarts Library), Toronto, ON, Canada, May 25, 2019 | © Courtesy of wyliepoon/Flickr.

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