A Twitter friend, orgmonkey, recently sent me a link to a post on the openness of ethics journals. Jim Till, of Be openly accessible or be obscure, examines the open access policies and the frequency of “free full text” (FFT) publication in leading bioethics journals. In “Assessing medical ethics journals”, Till uses three, free, online tools to build his lists of highly ranked ethics journals: eigenFACTOR.org, Journal-Ranking.com, and SCImago Journal & Country Rank. Thereby avoiding the standard (but not “open”) tool for this sort of research—-Thomson Reuters’ Citation Indexes and Journal Citation Reports. Till’s method identified seven, top-ranked titles, publishing a total of 1,472 articles in two years, and providing FFT (as indicated by PubMed) to 181 articles. (Note, however, that 178 of these FFT articles were published in one journal, BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics.) Which means that Till’s “leading” bioethics journals are about 12% open (181/1472) - or, to borrow a term from the title of Till’s blog, 88% (1291/1472) “obscure”. In contrast, a similar analysis by Till of immunology journals found that the three top-ranked titles of the field were about 41% open (274/672)—see: “Assessing immunology journals” 16 April 2008.

If Till’s analysis is correct and bioethics journals are comparatively “obscure”, his post opens the door to three questions:

  1. Why are bioethics journals “obscure”?
  2. Should ethicists, editors, readers and publishers do anything about this obscurity?
  3. If so, what should or could be done to encourage an increase in open access publication of ethics literature?

I have a few ideas on the first question, an opinion on the second, and (thus far) not much to offer on the third. However, if I find the time to share, rest assured that my thoughts here are always “open” and hopefully “accessible”.

Jere Odell, 28 June 2008. CC-BY.