“Does free access to journal articles result in greater diffusion of scientific knowledge? Using a randomized controlled trial of open access publishing, involving 36 participating journals in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, we report on the effects of free access on article downloads and citations. Articles placed in the open access condition (n=712) received significantly more downloads and reached a broader audience within the first year, yet were cited no more frequently, nor earlier, than subscription-access control articles (n=2533) within 3 yr. These results may be explained by social stratification, a process that concentrates scientific authors at a small number of elite research universities with excellent access to the scientific literature. The real beneficiaries of open access publishing may not be the research community but communities of practice that consume, but rarely contribute to, the corpus of literature.” FASEB J. 25, 000000 (2011).
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