The Role of Trust in the Open Access Ecosystem

The now famous Finch Report, “Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to Expand Access to Research Publications,” talked about issues of trust in several sections.  For example, in a section on research and communication:

Our report [PDF] comes at a time when there is increasing interest in issues of openness, transparency and trust across a wide range of sectors. (Page 17.)

and in a section on social, political and behavioural issues:

Such competition underlines the need for all those concerned in the research communications landscape to pay close heed to issues such as ease of search and navigation, branding, and to systems that provide effective signals of trust and authority. (Page 30.)

In other words, researchers need to be able to trust that the information they are reading and citing is accurate. Today, most researchers state that they trust information because the research articles had gone through rigorous peer-review.  Most researchers prefer to read and cite the final version of a paper. They may not trust that the information found in a pre-print (or even a peer-reviewed green Open Access (OA) manuscript) is credible. (See page 48 of this report.) If research is published as gold OA, then researchers may be more likely to trust the information.

For researchers who may not have access to many subscription journals, then they may read more from green OA versions of articles, and that may be good enough.  The reader might be able to discern other qualities associated with an article such as:

  • Is the article accepted for publication in a good journal?
  • Does the reader think the authors are authorities in their field?
  • Does the reader know the prestige of the author’s institution? Etc.

The role of trust may have a bit to do with the success of the e-print arXiv.  This service was started by high-energy physicists, but it now includes many other sciences.  The field of high-energy physics is small, and the researchers tend to know each other.  They may trust that manuscripts submitted to the arXiv from others they know may be accurate, even if the article is not in a final published state.

Since Open Access publications can have many more readers than articles published in toll-access journals, readers may begin to prefer OA articles because they know that the author is willing to let everyone have access to the article.  Many authors who support OA publications also deposit their underlying data into OA repositories, so that others can examine it.  These authors are not trying to hide their article in a toll-access publication.  In the future, readers might not trust information from the authors who hide their articles (and data) from the view of many interested parties.  In the not-so-distant future, the researchers who support the Open Access ecosystem may be held in higher regards, and their work might be trusted a little more than those who do not support Open Access.

About Joseph Kraus

Joseph Kraus is an academic librarian at the University of Denver (DU) Penrose Library. DU is a medium sized private university in Denver, Colorado. He is active in the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics and the Sci-Tech Divisions of the Special Libraries Association (SLA). He is also a member of ALA/ACRL. He has written numerous articles and has presented on topics ranging from Library2.0 resources, unconferences and collection development.

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