Trauma research must be Open Access

Open_Access_logo_PLoS_transparentWe recently examined how global and how open the literature on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is.

Not very global, and not very open.

Only 13% of the publications of 2012 regarded samples in low- or middle-income countries and 58% were behind a paywall.

Today I want to talk about the latter, the paywall part.

It worries me that practicing psychologists can’t access the latest research on therapy effectiveness. Or on how to deal with drop-out from clinical interventions. Or on how children experience trauma recovery.

As you may know, the migration crisis and refugees are on my mind a lot these days. I can’t justify, in any way, why a large part of the relevant knowledge is unavailable to support those who are affected.

Not only practitioners have little access to the latest evidence. The same applies to many scholars in low-resource settings, policy makers, and citizens in general.

Much research is behind a paywall, even though it was funded with public money. This system is lucrative for the publishers of certain ‘traditional journals’, which charge extra-ordinary amounts of subscription money to university libraries.

Getting radical

I have hesitated for a long time to become radical about it, but now I’ve decided to do so. For at least the next 12 months, I plan to submit my first-authored research papers to Open Access outlets instead of traditional journals, and to move to reviewing for Open Access outlets only. When I’m not the first author on a paper, I’ll suggest going for Open Access but I’ll leave the decision with the lead author – for now. I’ll be reflecting on my citation practices and exploring my Open Data possibilities as well.

With Open Access outlets, I don’t mean traditional journals that offer authors the option to make a single article available to everyone. That means paying the same publisher twice and does not change the system.

I’m not sure yet what I exactly do mean. There are some good quality Open Access journals that accept articles on trauma, such as PLOS ONE, PLOS Medicine, and the European Journal of Psychotraumatology. Some of them still charge authors high amounts of money though, which makes publishing in them difficult to afford in the long term. Other disciplines have platforms such as ArXiv, and there is a development of ‘overlay journals’ which may be an option in the long run.

“I can’t do this because I have to publish in top journals”

Many see my move as ‘career suicide’, as I won’t be able to submit my papers to top journals in the field. Even some people with a strong commitment to Open Access felt they couldn’t take the risk of joining me.

It may be risky on an individual level indeed but I feel it’s necessary to help change the system.

And of course I hope and aim to prove the fears wrong :-).

Three options that I think won’t change the system, or not quickly enough:

  • Submitting your best work to top traditional journals and ‘the rest’ to Open Access. This will only reinforce the reputation of traditional publishing.
  • Submitting work to predatory publishers (see e.g. Beall’s list and ThinkCheckSubmit). They may be quick but we need to ensure quality of the evidence base we develop.
  • Publishing in top traditional journals and making the author copies available on your website or university repository. While this is in principle good practice, its scattered nature makes it hard for practitioners and the public to find relevant articles.

Nevertheless, making a move towards open access is much better than no move at all. I hope that, if my plan is a bridge too far for you, you’ll consider publishing more in open access journals.

The fact that people are afraid to take the leap says enough about how entrenched the current system is, and how much we focus on reputation of certain journals in contrast to the quality and accessibility of scientific knowledge itself.




Fodor, K., & et al. (2014). Is traumatic stress research global? A bibliometric analysis European Journal of Psychotraumatology DOI: 10.3402/ejpt.v5.23269

The Global Young Academy and Young Academies of Europe wrote an informative statement on Open Access.

The European Commission recently published their vision on Open Science.

12 thoughts on “Trauma research must be Open Access

  1. Hooray Eva, I am one such practitioner who struggles to access good quality research, the chance to access evidence whilst working in the public sector is beyond my pay packet! Yet I am providing advice and resources for colleagues. Michelle

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Great post, Eva.

    Now besides clever, professional, sensitive, top-researcher, general-all-round-nice person, I have to add ‘courageous’ and ‘values-driven’ to my list of your qualities.

    Well done and good luck.


  3. You are brilliant!

    Journals become ‘top’ journals when top people publish in them. You are moving the field, one open access article at a time.

    Beyond that, the ‘top-ness’ of journals is largely illusory. It is a shared, consensual illusion, to be sure, but still an illusion. We don’t cite journals, we cite papers. We don’t connect with journals, we connect with authors. Journals, at best, are just clubhouses where arguments and ideas hang out. At worst, they are clubs that protect privilege.

    The struggle for any academic is not to get into the right journal – it is to get their ideas noticed at all. In the attention-deficit economy, Google Scholar, open access and social media are your friends. Closed access is the white privilege of the world of ideas.

  4. I really like your standpoint Eva! It is already complex to do good work in those middle and low income countries and it is shaming that those important information remains difficult to acces. I fully support your stance. Thanks for daring to take this risk.

  5. Awesome Eva, love the radical in you! I’m not much of a writer and do have a literature review I want to publish. I am so glad I have read your blog before I tried to publish. I’m in the beginning stages of finding a University and supervisor for a Phd – wanting to research long term trauma affects for survivors of retinoblastoma (childhood cancer), their siblings and their parents. I will also look to publish any work I do for this in open access outlets. This information should be available to anyone who needs it. I’m standing with you Eva!

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