Wednesday, September 05, 2007

DOAJ: strong growth, and understanding the numbers

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a list of peer-reviewed, fully open access journals. DOAJ's clearly defined vetting process makes it attractive as a means of measuring open access publishing. DOAJ numbers, over the past couple of years, have consistently indicated strong growth in fully open access journals (for details, see The Dramatic Growth of Open Access Series). An examination of DOAJ titles by start year as of today indicates strong, continuing addition of recent new titles (e.g. 289 with a start date of 2005, 311 with a start date of 2004). This blogpost explores this recent data, links to an open data edition, talks about factors to consider in interpreting data derived from DOAJ, and disproves a conclusion reached by Sally Morris, former Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Learned and Society Scholarly Publishing (ALPSP).

Recent data, DOAJ titles by start year
2006 and 2007 are not presented here. Please see explanation below.
2005: 289
2004: 311
2003: 278
2002: 281
2001: 295
2000: 269
1999: 155
1998: 151
1997: 154
1996: 112
1995: 77
1994: 28
1993: 27
1992: 11
1991: 14
1990: 19

For full data, see the Open Data Edition.

How to Interpret Data from DOAJ

Start Year
The start year in DOAJ is the first year articles are available as OA, not the first year the journal started. An older journal which converts, but does not have older copies online, will have a different start date in DOAJ than the first year of publication.

Recent start years are always likely to be understated
New titles must be identified by DOAJ, or present themselves to DOAJ. Also, DOAJ is a vetted list. New titles are only added after they have gone through this process, to ensure that the title is indeed open access and meets peer-review or equivalent quality control status, and after enough articles are published to warrant inclusion. What this means for DOAJ numbers: recent title figures will always be understated. Many journals begun in 2006 have not yet gone through a full year of publishing, and these titles will not have completed the DOAJ vetting process. The current year will always be understated, for this reason and also because, until the year is complete, new journals are likely to start. In interpreting numbers, it is also important to remember that the list vetting process involves people - at DOAJ, and at the journals, too. People have been known to go on holidays! If short-term growth dips a little at DOAJ, it most likely means that someone is on vacation.

For the record and for the sake of completeness, new title starts in 2006 and 2007 as of September 5, 2007:
2007: 74
2006: 190

DOAJ start years are subject to change
This may be counterintuitive: due to changes in open access status, or digitization of back issues, DOAJ start years are likely to change. For example, if ten journals begun in 1956 were to convert to OA with their full run of journals, the start year count for 1956 would jump to 11 from its current 1. Journals that no longer meet the DOAJ criteria and are weeded from the list will cause a drop in their start year count.

This explains how Sally Morris, based on research conducted in the early part of 2005, came to the erroneous conclusion that OA journal start-ups had peaked in 2001, with slightly fewer than 180 journals counted. Sally and her group of volunteers counted only 80 journals in DOAJ with a start-up year of 2004, and concluded that OA journal start-ups had dropped. At the time of counting, journals that had started in 2004, and some in 2003, are likely to have still been unknown to DOAJ, or not yet completed the vetting process.

Here are some other ways to illustrate how erroneous this conclusion (OA journal publishing peaked in 2001, and has since declined) was:

At the time of counting early in 2005, Sally reports that there were 1,443 journals then listed in the DOAJ. As of today, there are 2,842, nearly twice as many. This illustrates an increasing trend towards OA publishing, not a decline.

The year 2004,the low point on Sally's chart, is today's apparent peak. Sally and her group counted about 80 journals in DOAJ with a start year of 2004; today, DOAJ records 311 journal start-ups in 2004, nearly 5 times more than at the time of Sally's count. This illustrates two things: my point that titles in recent years will always be understated in DOAJ, and also that OA start-ups at the time of Sally's study were not declining, but rather increasing.

2004, incidentally, is not only higher in journal titles in DOAJ now than it was in Sally's chart; it is higher than a higher figure for 2001; there are now 295 journals in DOAJ with a start year of 2001, more than a hundred more than there were in Sally's count.

Sally Morris' conclusions and data can be found in the Personal View (not peer reviewed) article, When is a journal not a journal? in the subscription-based Learned Publishing Vol. 19:1, January 2006.

This post is part of the Dramatic Growth of Open Access Series