The current momentum to increase open access (OA) publishing has been touted as a way to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion in scientific research. However, to publish an article OA, authors must often pay an article processing charge (APC), which can be thousands of pounds per article. A recent report, published in Quantitative Science Studies, suggests that certain authors are more able to pay APCs and, therefore, publish OA – potentially leading to bias.
Dr Anthony Olejniczak and Dr Molly J Wilson evaluated over 1.6 million journal articles by 182,320 unique authors published in 25,894 journals between 2014 and 2018. They performed a regression model to assess the relationship between authors’ individual characteristics (eg gender, professorial rank, institution, years since terminal degree) and the likelihood of their article(s) being published OA.
The results showed that authors were more likely to publish OA if they were:
- employed at a prestigious university (defined by membership in the exclusive Association of American Universities)
- associated with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) discipline
- receiving federal research funding (because this funding often comes with OA mandates)
- more advanced in their careers (full professor vs assistant or associate professor).
Drs Olejniczak and Wilson believe that publishing OA by paying an APC is “skewed toward scholars with greater access to resources and job security”, adding that while the OA movement seeks to democratise scientific research, APCs may prevent some authors from publishing OA. Men generally publish more OA articles than women and the disparity becomes more pronounced when APCs must be paid. As a result, authors who do publish OA may not be fully representative of their particular discipline or community.
Publishing OA by paying an APC “appears to be skewed toward scholars with greater access to resources and job security”.
The responsibility to ensure diverse authorship in OA publications rests with journals, though the issue is rooted in the OA business model, say Drs Olejniczak and Wilson. Organisations like Science Europe have called for public reporting of APCs to improve transparency. We look forward to seeing how publishers will respond and whether business model changes can truly improve equity in OA publishing.