Editor's Choice

Open access, and proud of it

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7494.0-g (Published 31 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:0-g
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor (fgodlee{at}bmj.com)

    We've been told we don't make enough noise about the good things the BMJ does (some of you will dispute this). So, prompted by two articles in this week's journal, let me shout about the fact that the BMJ is open access. In fact, for those of you who didn't know, the BMJ is the world's only major general medical journal to provide immediate free access to the full text of all research articles, something it's been doing since 1998. We think this provides an important service to the clinical and research communities, and we hope that it increases our attractiveness to authors wanting rapid dissemination and high visibility for their work. All of whichconfirms that the BMJ's editors are what Jeff Aronson (p 759) calls “zealots” for open access.

    But Aronson is right to say that the world should not adopt this system uncritically, and that we must consider harms as well as benefits. The benefits of open access are uncontroversial, if unmeasured. As listed by Schroter and colleagues in their report of interviews with 28 BMJ authors (p 756), these include easier literature searching; cost savings on photocopying, interlibrary loans, and subscriptions; faster dissemination and greater visibility for results; more equitable access to information; and the potential to improve medicine globally. More debatable are the potential harms of open access, or rather of the “author pays” model, which seems the only option for supporting open access for most journals in the long term. (The BMJ does not currently ask authors to pay because it has diverse sources of revenue to support open access.) Chief among these potential harms, as listed by Aronson on bmj.com, are threats to the quality of published research and disadvantages to authors in developing countries or those doing unfunded research. Fans of the author pays model of open access would say these problems can be minimised by strong peer review and by subsidising authors who can't pay. But what do you think?

    In the end it will be authors and funders who, by their response to author charges, decide the fate of open access, since journals still live and die by the quality of the papers they attract. The authors interviewed by Schroter et al said they would still submit their work to a good journal that introduced author charges, given the right the price and financial support from their institution. This is something the BMJ Publishing Group is testing at the Journal of Medical Genetics, where authors are now offered the choice of paying to make their articles open access (JMG 2005;42: 97).

    Ironically, readers may play less of a role than authors in the wider adoption (or not) of open access—unless they decided to read and cite only open access material, which would be interesting. For those who are tempted, PubMed provides a filter that selectively pulls up articles for which the full text is freely available.

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