PubMed Central is costing biomedical journal sites readership and that effect is increasing over time.
The bulk of modern biomedical studies are controlled by the government, which means taxpayer-funding, so it makes sense that the results would be available to the public, but Phillip M. Davis writing in The FASEB Journal says that PubMed draws readership away from the scientific journal even when journals themselves are providing free access to the articles.
Over time, the paper says this may weaken the ability of journals to build communities of interest around research papers, impede the communication of news and events to scientific society members and journal readers, and ultimately reduce the perceived value of the journal to subscribers.
"I hope that studies like these will help inform the public debate on the effects of open government literature repositories on various stakeholders and aid in the formation of evidence-based public policy," said Davis, which is a statement sure to delight the billion-dollar media conglomerates in science publishing and the Democratic legislators they constantly get to try and undermine open access.
To reach his conclusions, Davis conducted a longitudinal, retrospective cohort analysis of 13,223 articles published in 14 society-run biomedical research journals in nutrition, experimental biology, physiology, and radiology between February 2008 and January 2011. He found that there was a 21.4 percent reduction in full text HTML article downloads and a 13.8 percent reduction in PDF article downloads from the journals' websites when NIH-sponsored articles become freely available from the PubMed Central repository. In addition, the effect of PubMed Central on reducing PDF article downloads is increasing over time, growing at a rate of 1.6 percent per year. There was no longitudinal effect for full text HTML downloads.
"Traditionally, scientific societies published the scholarly research of their members in their own journals. This collegial nexus has been extended – some say disrupted – by the centralization of research reports in PubMed Central," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "This report documents that PubMed Central, which duplicates the archives of most journals, draws readers away from the unique editorial flavor – and critical editorial comment - of the journals' websites. Essentially, PubMed Central has become a secondary site for the federal government to republish research text without context."