Open Access (18) Myth 1: Open access journals have a less rigorous approach to quality control and peer review than subscription journals (2)

30 July, 2019

Here is the section on Credibility of OA journals, from the HIFA background paper (with thanks to Catriona Grant):

I have added some questions below.


The issue of OA journal credibility and quality has been raised in HIFA discussions, with some believing that ‘The review and editorial process gives an impression of being less stringent’. However, open access merely refers to a form of distribution, not editorial model. The publishing model (open-access versus restricted-access) is not an indicator of quality, but some people perceive that open-access publishing is in some way inferior. Such perceptions are driven partly by the existence of predatory journals, which abuse the author pays model common in OA publishing (19). As Peter Suber states “Scam OA journals and publishers do exist, and they give OA a bad name. The discussion of them is necessary and justified, but it’s out of proportion to their actual numbers, which also tends to give OA a bad name. It’s as if the widespread discussion of doping in sports tended to inflate most estimates of how many athletes are guilty.” (20). Increasing awareness of parity of quality of peer-reviewed OA journals through DOAJ is therefore a priority. It should be noted that in order to be included in the DOAJ, journals must employ peer review or quality control processes.

The issue of credibility in OA remains a global challenge but is mostly fuelled by misinformation. It was reported by the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) survey (a survey analysing mix of low, middle and high income countries) and other studies specifically in LMICs, that one of the main reasons for not publishing in OA journals was due to the perceived journal quality (21, 22, 23). OA journals also tend to be newer and not listed as “acceptable place to publish”. Hence more relevant ways of assessing and encouraging indeed the development of OA journals is needed, that better reflect local needs.

During a HIFA discussion it was also noted that 'In the 'publish or perish' world of academic institutions in LMICs, we hear reports of discrimination against research published in open access journals’ (12). This discrimination may be fuelled by misconceptions discussed above, such as perceived low OA journal quality/ lack of peer-review in OA journals. There are many high quality OA journals available, which are made searchable through the DOAJ. As discussed above, the peer-review process is rigorous for most OA journals.


What can be done to eradicate this myth? What research has been done to demonstrate the quality of open-access journals? The DOAJ is a pragmatic way for authors to check whether a journal is 'reputable'. The website strives to maintain the veracity of its content. For example, they say 'Contact us if you have first hand evidence that a journal in DOAJ might be carrying out questionable practices, is of low quality, or may even be fake. All information shared with DOAJ is done so in the strictest confidence, is anonymous and is never published.'

It is a great concern that some academic boards and research bodies continue to discriminate against OA journals. OA journals that are deemed by DOAJ to be reputable should be recognised as much as, if not more than, subscription journals. Has anyone tried to review the extent of this discrimination and its geographic distribution? How can such discrimination be better addressed?

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Access to Health Research

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: