No new evidence for a citation benefit for Author-Pay Open Access Publications in the social sciences and humanities


I challenge a finding reported recently in a paper by Sotudeh et al. (Scientometrics, 2015. doi:10.1007/s11192-015-1607-5). The authors argue that there is a citation advantage for those who publish Author-Pay Open Access (Gold Open Access) in journals published by Springer and Elsevier. I argue that the alleged advantage that the authors report for journals in the social sciences and humanities is an artifact of their method. The findings reported about the life sciences, the health sciences, and the natural sciences, on the other hand, are robust. But my finding underscores the fact that epistemic cultures in the social sciences and humanities are different from those in the other fields.

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  1. 1.

    It is unfortunate that the authors do not provide either the standard deviations or the means to calculate them. Further, the authors do not provide calculations of the quartiles so that a Box Plot could be constructed. Consequently, when I describe the maximums as extreme outliers I am not using this term in its most technical narrow sense, where extreme outliers are “any measurements beyond the outer fences” in a Box Plot (see, for example, Mendenhall et al. 1999, 78). But studies of citation patterns suggest that the most highly cited papers are outliers. Price (1965), for example, found that “in any given year, about 35 % of all existing papers are not cited at all, and another 49 % are cited only once” (511). In fact, only 1 % of papers are cited six or more times (511).

  2. 2.

    Two of the studies report the same data, collected by M. Norris for a Ph.D. thesis, and subsequently reported (again) in an article authored with C. Oppenheim and F. Rowland. Though it is one of the 15 studies examining the social sciences and humanities, I only counted it as one study in support of the advantage. One study, by Xu, Liu, and Fang, reports an advantage for most disciplines, but not for the humanities. I did not count it as either finding an advantage or not finding one. The quality of studies varies as well. One of the studies that found there was an advantage, by Zhang, drew data from only two journals in Communication Studies.


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The author thanks the referees for their astute comments. One referee in particular played a crucial role in making recommendations for the whole paper, but especially the Discussion section. I completed the final revisions to the paper while I was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I thank M.I.T. for their hospitality, and I thank the State University of New York, Oswego, for supporting my sabbatical leave for the 2015–2016 academic year.

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Correspondence to K. Brad Wray.

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I serve on the editorial board for PLOS ONE, the largest on-line only journal, which exclusively uses the Author-Pay Open Access model. I am an Academic Editor for the journal. I also serve as one of the editors for the Springer journal Metascience, which offer contributors the option of Gold Open Access.

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Wray, K.B. No new evidence for a citation benefit for Author-Pay Open Access Publications in the social sciences and humanities. Scientometrics 106, 1031–1035 (2016).

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  • Citations
  • Open Access Publishing
  • Author-pay model
  • Social sciences
  • Humanities
  • Citation advantage
  • Gold Open Access