OA in Action: Open Access and Ethics by Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Our third Open Access Week blog delves into the ethics of open access and the benefits to wider communities, as well as to the author. It is written by Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor (@almagor35 on twitter).

The idea behind open access is a noble one. We at the University of Hull are fortunate to be part of the prosperous Western world. We live and work in a scholarly country. We are privileged to have access to many resources that our wonderful library has. However, not all scholars are as fortunate as we are. They do not have state-of-the-art libraries. Sometimes they do not have any library at all. Open access utilizes this age of globalization and Internet to connect between the privileged and the less privileged. Wealth of information that otherwise is denied to some parts of the world becomes available. Scholars and other interested people in Africa, South America, Asia as well as in developing countries in other continents are able to read online valuable information without paying prohibitive subscription fees and without violating copyrights laws. Open access helps to increase knowledge and to decrease inequality; it enriches people and cultures and broadens the community of knowledgeable scholars. Open access is a tool of empowerment and communication: it creates bridges and brings scholars together.

Open access is also good for those who publish because the products of their research is now been read by many more people, not only those who have access to the journals. The impact factor of open access publications is far more significant. Furthermore, often open access publications are published relatively quickly. Some open access platforms (not journals) allow instant publication while others publish articles within a few days.

Here are some figures from my personal experience: My publications reached 14,000 reads on the ResearchGate platform that enables self-publication. My articles were downloaded 7,689 times via another platform called SSRN that hosts some 320,000 authors who self-publish their scholarship for the benefit of all. One of my articles, “The Right to Die with Dignity: An Argument in Ethics and Law” received 11,761 views on the Academia platform.

However, with the growth of the open access movement the number of journals has been growing exponentially. In addition to the established publishers, new publishers have entered the market and they have flooded it with thousands of new journals of varied quality. I am getting at least one request a week to publish my articles in one of those journals. One has reason to suspect that many of these journals do not engage in scholarly activities but in fraud. Many of those bogus new journals have no intention to observe academic standards of peer review. Open access has facilitated scholarly prostitution. It is harming our profession.

Indeed, the vast majority of those publishers charge money for publishing with their low-esteemed journals but often they do not mention this small detail in their invitations. At present the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged a publisher of hundreds of academic journals with deceiving readers about reviewing practices, publication fees, and the nature of its editorial boards.[1]

The FTC’s complaint alleges that OMICS Group Inc., along with two affiliated companies claim that their journals follow rigorous peer-review practices and have editorial boards made up of prominent academics. In reality, many articles are published with little to no peer review and numerous individuals represented to be editors have not agreed to be affiliated with the journals.

According to the FTC’s complaint, OMICS does not tell researchers that they must pay significant publishing fees until after it has accepted an article for publication, and often will not allow researchers to withdraw their articles from submission, thereby making the research ineligible for publication in another journal. This legal precedent is an important milestone, one that hopefully signals the downfall of this unfortunate negative development of bogus journals that has evolved together with the positive and important open access movement.

[1] https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/160826omicscmpt.pdf




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