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Let’s not cite journals that are not open access: Countering the impact factor game

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:11 GMT

Author: Pashtoon Murtaza Kasi
Position: M.B., B.S. (Graduate 2006, Aga Khan University)
Institution: none
Submitted Date: August 05, 2007
Published Date: August 6, 2007
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

The severity of the problem:

More often than not, researchers in the developed world have no idea as to what open access means to us in the developing countries. Through my discussions I realized that most of them would want to help but do not know the ground situation. They most often than not are not aware about the severity of the problem.

We as scientists have access to mainly open access journals and some locally indexed journals that are affordable to an extent. Any search conducted on PubMed shows that most of the relevant matches come at a cost. That cost varies from between (25-40 dollars to 30-40 pounds) depending on the site through which the journals are accessed. This is not even covered by the institution. For an intern or a junior researcher, that means almost half his salary! Think about this. And for a medical student who is not earning, that’s a different story altogether. And this we are just talking about the cost of just one article.

A good, original and ground breaking research would get cited ‘n’ number of times no matter in what journal it gets published. However, we as researchers might be unnecessarily increasing the impact factor of some high IF journals by citing articles in our papers merely because it was published in a big IF journal. Whereas actually a similar or even a better article may be available in an open access form if we deeply look into our literature search.

Let’s not cite articles that are not open access:

One way could be by not citing their articles. I am not telling you to stop citing relevant articles. However, in about 30-40 references that we typically cite in our articles, most may have an alternative available in open access form.

The advantages would be two-fold. The impact factor of open access journals will rise and slowly, the impact factors of giants would eventually fall, so much so that they would no longer monopolize the publishing of ‘ground breaking’ articles.

Redefining the way we do our literature searches:

It is so frustrating not having access to articles and not being able to open them when you conduct a literature search, that I have avoided using engines which do not retrieve open access.

One suggestion could be to start our literature searches in search engines like the Pubmedcentral ( and the Biomedcentral ( and see what we get. After this preliminary search should we then leap onto articles that are not open access. I know this is something more meticulous and more demanding; but it would have an impact in the long run. Since you would initially be reading and eventually citing articles that are open access, you would eventually be raising the impact factor of open access journals and increasing their demand.

Publish it in open access:

Scientists too should break the shackles and think twice before submitting their articles to ‘giants’ (who are not open access’) merely because they are ‘giants’. They should remember that if their research is good, then they do not need a journal with a high IF to have an impact. Their research would have an impact no matter what journal it is published in, considering the advancements in electronic search engines. And this impact would even be greater if published in ‘open access’ as it would be read by everyone who simply has an internet connection. Think about it.

The fact that researchers who don’t have access have to see many articles that are not open access whenever they conduct a literature search can only improve if leading scientists stop publishing in giants that are monopolizing how research is having an impact around the world.


Thus the message should be to “Read Open Access, Search in Open Access, Cite Open Access and Publish in Open Access.”


1. The PLoS Medicine Editors (2006) The Impact Factor Game. PLoS Med 3(6): e291 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030291

No competing interests declared.