If you've read this site for any length of time, you know we are fans of open access.    The notion that research funded by taxpayers should be in the hands of billion-dollar media companies who charge scientists to publish and then hold the copyrights is ridiculous.

President Bush signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007 (H.R. 2764) and it immediately came under attack by media lobbyists and the politicians they support.   

It must be Republicans, you may think, but this time Republicans are friends of science and one John Conyers of Michigan, uber-powerful Democrat, chair of the Judiciary Committee, second most senior member of the House and FOO (Friend of Obama), is in the pocket of corporate media.   See:  

Why Do Democrats Want To Get Rid Of The NIH Public Access Policy?
The Publisher's Pushback Against NIH's Public Access And Scholarly Publishing Sustainability

It has time and again failed thanks in part to rallying by the open access crowd but it still crops up every few months with idealistic Obama supporters in science hoping the final line of defense will be that he would take a stand against a powerful Democrat and very early supporter in support of un-organized scientists, but that's the political aspect.    From a science perspective, there are two basic tenets to open access.   One, of course, is that the taxpayers, including fellow scientists, should have access to projects their taxes fund, just like they do a highway or a police force.    This is the position taken by Republicans against Conyers, though it would seem to be in conflict with the 'government should not be in the publishing business' stance taken by the American Chemical Society.  The second tenet is an appeal to the science masses that, contrary to what publishers claim, their work will get more citations and notice if it is open access so it deserves support.

Is that true?

James A. Evans, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, and Jacob Reimer, a student of neurobiology also at the University of Chicago, say the effect is negligible.   They analyzed millions of articles available online, in both open source and subscription publications, and found that, on average, when a given publication was made available online after being in print for a year, being published in an open source format increased the use of that article by about 8 percent.

When articles were made available online in a commercial format a year after publication, usage increased by about 12 percent.

"Across the scientific community," Evans said in an interview, "it turns out that open access does have a positive impact on the attention that's given to the journal articles, but it's a small impact."

So maybe there are bigger fish to fry in the science community, but their research points to an overlooked positive impact of open source publication; researchers in the developing world who may not have libraries with subscriptions to the thousands of journals rich country universities do, benefited much more from being able to read and cite open source articles.

Open access "widens the global circle of those who can participate in science and benefit from it," they say.

Scientists can't fight every battle but someone needs to create a legitimate metric for the value scientists who are not at Johns Hopkins, or name another school that gets a billion dollars per year in NIH funding, receive from open access because they otherwise could not afford the journals.    Then at least politicians can be confronted with apples-to-apples data.

Their research article citation is: James A. Evans and Jacob Reimer, 'Open Access and Global Participation in Science', Science 20 February 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5917, p. 1025 DOI: 10.1126/science.1154562 though you won't be able to read it unless you pay $150 a year, because it isn't open access.