On Methodology and Advocacy: Davis’s Randomization Study of the OA Advantage

Open access, readership, citations: a randomized controlled trial of scientific journal publishing doi:10.1096/fj.11-183988fj.11-183988
Philip M. Davis: “Published today in The FASEB Journal we report the findings of our randomized controlled trial of open access publishing on article downloads and citations. This study extends a prior study of 11 journals in physiology (Davis et al, BMJ, 2008) reported at 12 months to 36 journals covering the sciences, social sciences and humanities at 3yrs. Our initial results are generalizable across all subject disciplines: open access increases article downloads but has no effect on article citations… You may expect a routine cut-and-paste reply by S.H. shortly… I see the world as a more complicated and nuanced place than through the lens of advocacy.

Sorry to disappoint! Nothing new to cut-and-paste or reply to:

Still no self-selected self-archiving control, hence no basis for the conclusions drawn (to the effect that the widely reported OA citation advantage is merely an artifact of a self-selection bias toward self-archiving the better, hence more citeable articles — a bias that the randomization eliminates). The methodological flaw, still uncorrected, has been pointed out before.

If and when the requisite self-selected self-archiving control is ever tested, the outcome will either be (1) the usual significant OA citation advantage in the self-archiving control condition that most other published studies have reported — in which case the absence of the citation advantage in Davis’s randomized condition would indeed be evidence that the citation advantage had been a self-selection artifact that was then successfully eliminated by the randomization — or (more likely, I should think) (2) there will be no significant citation advantage in the self-archiving control condition either, in which case the Davis study will prove to have been just a non-replication of the usual significant OA citation advantage (perhaps because of Davis’s small sample size, the fields, or the fact that most of the non-OA articles become OA on the journal’s website after a year).

Until the requisite self-selected self-archiving control is done, this is just the sound of one hand clapping.

Readers can be trusted to draw their own conclusions as to whether this study, tirelessly touted as the only methodologically sound one to date, is that — or an exercise in advocacy.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum