Open Access Publishing: The Future of Rehabilitation Research



Rehabilitation professions have evolved over the past century from being an adjunct to the medical services to an essential part of the multi disciplinary team. In the recent years, the Open Access movement has gained momentum through various publishers like Pubmed Central and Biomed Central, who provide immediate free open access to the users. This article looks into the Open Access Publication in Physiotherapy, the benefits and challenges it faces for its growth into the preferential publishing model.

Rehabilitation professions have evolved over the past century from being an adjunct to the medical services to an essential part of the multi-disciplinary team (Cushnaghan, Hay and Warburton 2009). This has been made possible due to the concentrated efforts of the researchers throughout the world from the clinical perspective leading through to the academic development. The researchers and reviewers have traditionally provided free services including authoring & peer reviewing, while the publishers controlled the access of scholarly works, charging enormous subscription or per article viewing fees (Smith 2004).

Over the years, the rehabilitation professionals and students from remote and economically deprived areas have never had access to the same evidence based information as the professionals in the western advanced countries. Similarly, due to the over inflation rises in subscription prices and cost cutting measures of the libraries, the institutions are able to afford only a small proportion of the 2.5 million yearly peer reviewed, published articles even in the developed countries (Albert 2006). This has led to a journal affordability problem, where in the libraries have been forced to cancel even useful subscriptions (Harnad 2004). International scientific community thus loses out on the potential impact of a well conducted research (Chan 2004). Research impact, for any researcher underlines the ability to get funding for future research, tenure, promotions, prestige and prizes (Brody 2006). This forms the research article access/impact problem in the modern competitive world, where each author wants the research to be found useful, used and cited by others (Tonta et al 2007). In addition, the traditional publishing model also needs authors to surrender their rights, thus restricting the exposure of work. Unusually, in the world of intellectual property, scholarly articles are written only for professional advancement with no financial rewards or royalties. Therefore, the sole beneficiaries are the publishers who make millions in profits, while the researchers, libraries, institutions, and the public all suffer the consequences of high costs and access barriers (Shieber 2009).

In response to this capitalist model, Steve Harnad in 1994, invited the authors to maximise the exposure of their literary works by self archiving in public databases on internet (Poynder 2004). This led to the ongoing debate of open versus closed access, which resulted in the Budapest, Bethesda and Berlin public statements, declaring the Open Access Initiative (OAI), which defined open access as the free availability of the peer reviewed literature, which permits users to read, copy, distribute and print the full text articles without any financial, legal, or technical barriers (Suber 2004). The only constraint is that the original author and source must be acknowledged and cited in any future references.

In the recent years, the OA movement has gained momentum through various publishers like Pubmed Central and Biomed Central, who provide immediate free open access to the users, though they charge publishing fees from the authors (approximately 600$ to 1800$ per title) (Pinfield 2006). Further to that various organizations have now taken up the responsibility of ‘no fee – immediate free’ model, where authors also do not pay any processing charges. The costs of the publication are managed through alternate revenue streams like sponsorships, grants and advertisements (Kljakovic et al 2007). International Journal of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation (IJPTR) conforms to this policy, wherein the users and the researchers both are benefitted.

The immediate benefits of open access are quite apparent, where the end users including researchers, patients, students, clinicians and policy makers can have immediate access to latest research findings throughout the world whether it be in an economically deprived country in Africa, developing country like India or in developed countries like United Kingdom. A study published by PloS Biology has provided robust evidence of OA articles to be cited much more than the non OA articles (Eysenbach 2006). This is considered as the citation count advantage, which is a metric for knowledge uptake within the scientific community and signifies the impact of journals. By definition an open-access article has greater visibility, and it’s becoming evident that researchers do take the opportunity to read and use what they would otherwise not have seen (Antelman 2004).

In the traditional model of publishing, the research knowledge dissemination is limited to scientific community which has paid access to the scholarly journals, therefore end users (policy makers, service users, journalists) do not have access to first hand research studies. But it has been theorized that if these users search for evidence on internet (informal search through ‘Google or Yahoo’), they are more likely to read through the OA journal articles than to pay for an article in a subscription based scholarly journal. Thus OA helps the research reach through to tertiary level readers, who in the traditional model, would have had to suffice themselves by hearing the comments of the experts on the subject. Thus it opens up a whole new field of learning and experience (Harnad 2004).

Another facet of OA journals is the promotion of ‘cross discipline fertilization’, wherein open literature facilitates the finding and coming together of disparate scientific efforts that in a closed-access world are circumscribed by conventional definitions of topic, field or discipline and isolated from one another in discrete families of journals (Eysenbach 2006). For e.g. various forms of complementary therapies, acupuncture, massage, osteopathy, chiropractic, physiotherapy use the same principles to manage same conditions, albeit in a different manner. In an OA world, each discipline can share its findings and learn from the research of other disciplines, thereby leading to mutual growth and better understanding of the fundamental concepts underpinning these professions.

In conclusion, OA will allow rehabilitation research to transcend national and professional barriers and provide an opportunity for the research community to improve their citation impact, enhance their readability and reach while also helping cross discipline fertilization.


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