Researchers all over the world are facing greater complexity or pressure to publish their findings. The number of journals available to them keeps growing, and there are many platforms and repositories where they can display their research to more people than ever before via increased Open Access (OA) availability. Open science – quite rightly – is being promoted as the optimal route for researchers to follow, however despite the sheer number of options that lie down this path, there can often appear to be less choice depending on what you are researching and where you are located.
If you are a researcher in the humanities or social sciences, if you are based in the Global South, or if you are developing a wholly new approach that has not been tried and tested before, you may find that your choices are still limited when it comes to publishing your research. Understanding the best pathways open to you, as well as having a wider understanding of the scholarly communications universe, should therefore pay dividends as you try and find your way.
For librarians too, this proliferation of choice can cause its own challenges. The fact that most articles are now Open Access – according to Dimensions data, of the 5.02 million articles published in 2021, 2.89 million (57.6%) were OA – on the one hand offers the researchers that librarians support more articles to access. Yet it also lessens their ability to monitor and advise on what content offers the best resource, as it doesn’t form part of their library’s collection. Added to that are the plethora of multi-coloured OA options authors have to choose from when it comes to publishing their research, which can often fall to librarians to advise on as part of their expertise in this area.
In May a study was published in OA journal PLOS ONE which could help support authors and librarians alike on these issues, as it investigated the availability of Open Access publications across two major databases: Dimensions from Digital Science and Web of Science from Clarivate. The authors of the study were keen to understand the coverage offered in light of the growing number of OA mandates authors have from their governments, institutions or funders. As they comment in their article, the accurate measurement of OA publishing is an important policy issue.
The authors looked at coverage of OA publications in the period 2015-2019, and found that there were 2.7 million more publications indexed in Dimensions than in Web of Science. This is significant for researchers, as it points to further accessibility options via Dimensions than one of its major competitors. But what the study did not show was an up-to-date overview of just how many articles are being published overall. In the period the study focused on, the total number of articles published and identified via Dimensions grew from 3.39 million in 2015 to 4.39 million in 2019. This trend continued into 2020 when 4.80 million articles were published, but interestingly these numbers then plateaued slightly with only 5.02 million articles published in 2021.
Aside from sheer numbers, the study’s authors also identified that there was a wider diversity of research available from different regions of the world via the Dimensions database, with “strong differences” seen between it and Web of Science when looking at regional output. Specifically, the study found that Dimensions “has the potential to be a more suitable platform for a more inclusive measurement of OA uptake, especially of publications by authors from outside North America, Europe, and Central Asia”.
For researchers, this kind of information can form a key part of their publishing strategy. Understanding which journals are cited the most has formed one major piece of such a strategy traditionally, but the increased complexity and options available highlighted by the study may require authors to adopt a more nuanced approach. Maximising databases such as Dimensions can undoubtedly form part of this, and be achieved by looking deeper into the wealth of data that is on offer while understanding the size and coverage of any resource.
An example of this is investigating not just which journals and articles are OA, but whether their open nature has led to more citations by other researchers, and other insights. In a recent blog post on Open Access for Dimensions, Liz Smee interviewed scholars at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) about how they used Dimensions to inform their understanding of OA trends. When asked about understanding the nature of research quality beyond citations, Professor Michael Khor – Director, Talent Recruitment & Career Support (TRACS) Office and Bibliometrics Analysis – replied that while important, citations were not the ultimate measure of quality.
“We all understand the importance of good medical research to go from ‘bench to bedside’. The same applies to most other disciplines. Research needs to be practically applied to have a positive social impact. As an example of this, technological research eventually must be translated to useful devices and solutions that will benefit quality of life for communities”, said Prof Khor.
“At NTU, we don’t stop at citations. While they are a key indicator of quality research, they’re not the only one. We’re consciously moving beyond citations by looking into the translational aspect of our research: whether it has been taken up and by whom, linking with industry and business through local and international research networks”.
For librarians, utilising the information in linked databases like Dimensions can help frame the big picture for their researchers, particularly when it comes to developing trends such as flattening article output, growth of OA options and relative availability of research via certain regions or academic disciplines. Additional information such as Altmetric attention scores, patents or policy documents such as the millions such data points available through Dimensions could prove essential to the ever-deeper needs researchers have as complexity increases.
For non-librarians, the clear move towards OA and availability of research is tempered by the complexity and shifting nature of where and how that research has been published. It behoves all of us to make use of research about research, as it could be some of the most valuable research of all. This is why Digital Science has supported the Research on Research Institute (RoRI) since its inception in 2019, and was proud to continue its support at the recent announcement of the next phase in its development. For librarians and researchers alike, greater understanding and availability of the nature of research itself can only be a good thing.
Head of Content, Brand & Press
A version of this blog was originally published in on the NISO website (https://www.niso.org/niso-io/2022/05/more-options-less-choice-oa-complex)