Web of Science, Scopus, and Open Access: What they are doing right and what they are doing wrong


Almost a year ago now Web of Science (WoS) launched their open access search filter and indicator. This is a pretty important addition and, as you can see below, it allows the searcher to access the full-text of an open access article directly. It also allows the searcher to limit their searchers to just open access material. 1

Now this probably isn’t a big deal for most academic researchers, who already have access to the full-text through library-linkouts (The “Get it @ Western” button in the image), but for those from small research organizations without this luxury, it is a very big deal.

Lets say you are a researcher at one of these small institutions. You are using WoS (pre-Open Access Indicator) to do a literature search. You do a search and return about 40 different articles that seem relevant and interesting that you would like to read, what are your options for accessing these articles?

  1.  You could click on every WoS publisher article link to see if the articles are open access. But there is a very high chance they won’t be and that you will hit paywalls demanding large sums of money in return for access.  No one does it this way.
  2. Use your library! Oh but wait, your library is pretty small and they only have a few specialized databases. Do you really have the time to check each database for each article? That’s a lot of copy and paste.
  3. Oh your library has a Discovery Tool! Very cool. Great tools. You can just copy and paste the article titles into there and search all your library’s resources at once. Hopefully your Discovery Tool indexes DOAJ so that you can find open access publications.
  4. Oh look at you. Very Smart. You are searching Google Scholar as well. There is no better resource for finding green and gold open access publications than Google Scholar. Between your library resources and Google Scholar, you’ll probably find the full-text somewhere (Or just ILL it from your library or try other, more nefarious means). Let me know when you have finished all that copy and pasting….

So. Anyways. Trying to access full-text articles without the weight of a large academic library behind you is frustrating. Most researchers probably don’t bother checking for all 40 of those articles – because of the amount of painstaking time it takes – and reduce that list to around 10 – 15 articles that are worth chasing after. Missing out on potentially relevant and important sources.

WoS’ Open Access indicator is pretty darn helpful here. Researchers can now directly access and read full-text articles right from WoS. They don’t need to jump through hoops for every article. Researchers rejoice!

Also the OA indicator will do wonders for the OA movement. Researchers will start reading and using a lot more OA publications simply because it’s easier to discovery and access them on WoS. Since researchers don’t have to go far to chase them down, it’ll nudge them into reading more OA articles. Publishers and Authors will have more incentives to make their works OA. OA advocates rejoice!

Alright. If you are a Thomas Reuters representative, please send me my check and stop reading here.

The downside of WoS, and it is a huge one, is they seriously are lacking on their OA indexing. By my count – using the list they have provided here – they only have 726 open access journals…. The DOAJ is currently indexing 10,747 OA Journals. That means WoS is indexing only about 7% of the OA content available. Uh what? Come on Thomas Reuters. Give the people what they want.

EDIT (29/11/2015): As David Haden points out in his comment below, I have given old and inaccurate numbers to the amount of OA content that WoS indexes. They currently have around 1,300 OA Journals. Which puts them at around 12% of OA content instead of 7%.

*** Note here that when I am talking about OA journals. I am just talking about Fully Open Access Journals not Hybrid OA Journals. Neither WoS or Scopus provides OA labels for Hybrid Journals***

So much for WoS being a good place to get easy access to OA content.

Now how does Scopus do in regards to indexing OA journals? Well…They do a lot better. Scopus indexes 4153 OA journals. Whoot! I mean, that’s still less than 50% of the OA content out there… but compared to WoS it makes WoS look like it is the one that is owned by Elsevier.

Now it’s probably important to point out here that Scopus indexes more journals than WoS does. Perhaps this could account for the difference in OA content? Nope. Scopus currently indexes around 18,000 journals and WoS does 12,000. This means that about 23% of the journals in Scopus are Open Access and only 6% of WoS’ are.

Now unfortunately Scopus doesn’t have any sort of OA  indicator or search filter like WoS does. Well, I mean, they do but it is so hidden and unhelpful that it doesn’t really count. Scopus’ OA indicator only allows searches to browse OA journals. You can’t limit your search to OA publications or click a OA button to get full access to the text, but you can search through Scopus’ list of journals and Scopus will tell you which journals are open access. Because, you know, you can’t determine if a journal is OA by searching it online….

The good news is that Scopus is working on an article based OA indicator like WoS has and hopes to have it launched by next year. Lets hope Scopus and WoS aren’t owned by the same company at that point:

Now imagine the possibilities if OA content was adequately represented with full-text article links and an OA search filter on Scopus and WoS.

For instance, say I wanted to see what percentage of articles from Western University were published in OA in the last year. A quick WoS tells me Western published 2,642 articles last year and, using the OA search filter, I can see that 273 of those articles are OA. That means at least 10% of articles published by Western were Open Access (University of Toronto is at 13%). Of course, we know the number of OA publications from Western is most definitely a lot higher than this because WoS is missing so many OA journals.

But, you know, finding the actual OA percentage using Scopus or DOAJ is  a very monotonous and boring task. Librarians and OA advocates rarely do this because it takes so freaking long. Imagine if WoS had all of DOAJ indexed. Finding OA percentages would be easy.

WoS numbers tells me that 66 of the 89 articles on the subject Multidisciplinary Sciences published from Western last year are OA. A 75% OA rate! However, of the 89 Surgery publications published last year, only 3 were open access. That’s only a 4% OA rate. Perhaps some of the Scholarly Communication Librarians at Western should talk to the School of Medicine Faculty and send some chocolates to the Faculty who publish on Multidisciplinary Sciences.

Of course, it is entirely possible that these above numbers are completely wrong and Western does have a high percentage of OA Surgery publications (though i doubt it). We won’t know until someone does that indepth-manual-review, or WoS indexes more OA journals.

But think of it! Librarians and faculty could now have direct knowledge of what departments are publishing OA and what departments are not. They could focus their efforts for OA advocacy and have greater understanding of the publishing habits of their patrons.


About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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12 Responses to Web of Science, Scopus, and Open Access: What they are doing right and what they are doing wrong

  1. David Haden says:

    Your claim of 726 OA titles in WoS is based on the Thomson Reuters website’s A-Z, a list which I have to presume is rather out of date. My guess would be that it has perhaps not been updated since 2010. Since the Transforming Scholarly Communication blog’s May 2011 “close to 1,000 peer-reviewed open access titles” list of WoS titles can probably be taken as an indicator of the growth of OA in WoS from around 700 circa 2009 to over 1000 in 2011 – see their list at: https://jurnsearch.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/wos-openaccess-may2011-list.xls

    For more recent (mid 2015) Thomson Reuters graphs showing the number of OA titles in WoS see… http://stateofinnovation.thomsonreuters.com/opening-up-to-open-access-research-and-publishing These graphs show around 1,300 OA titles in WoS.

    You can see from the above link that they claim 72 OA titles in WoS in the arts & humanities. That’s comparable with Scopus, which at November 2015 has 67 OA arts & humanities titles published in English.

    By comparison to WoS and Scopus, JURN enables search and fulltext download from over 3,000 arts and humanities titles in English, and that’s with predatory titles rigorously excluded. The JURN list is online here, and is current… http://www.jurn.org/directory/

    Also, you write – admittedly perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that: “There is no better resource for finding green and gold open access publications than Google Scholar.”

    For OA in the hard sciences and medical, that’s probably true, although the purely automated nature of Scholar means that one may encounter an increasing number of links to predatory journal articles.

    But to find OA in the arts and humanities, a rigorous researcher should not overlook JURN. E.g.: http://www.jurn.org/#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=intitle%3AAristotle%20%22natural%20world%22%20plants&gsc.sort= JURN is also now rather good at finding OA studies of the natural world and, as this real-world group test shows, it easily beats Google Scholar… https://jurnsearch.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/oa-academic-search-group-test/

    • Ryan Regier says:

      Thanks for the updated OA numbers on WoS! I’ll update my blog to reflect them.

      I’m not that familiar with JURN and I am skeptical that it is better at finding OA content (especially Green OA), but I will definitely look into it. As you pointed out there is a large amount of junk on Google Scholar and I’ve REALLY liked what I have seen so far about JURN.

  2. The way to find OA articles and the way to find and calculate the proportion of a university’s articles that are OA is not to (1) seek them or (2) their proportion in WoS or SCOPUS. That way. the only OA articles you’ll find are the Gold OA ones, and their proportion.

    Yes, google scholar (GS) is the way an individual researcher can find OA articles on a particular topic, and yes the search, as well as the calculation of the proportion has to be done by hand (to see which ones hits have an OA version). This is much more useful than WoS or SCOPUS, because it covers Green OA too, but it requires a lot of manual work that could be reduced as soon as GS does a little tweaking of data and metadata it already has (author name, institution, pub date), even to an approximation.

    Already (to a very crude approximation) I can get all the GS articles on “slender loris” (3200) narrow it down to 2014-2015 (198) or to (“slender loris” “university of illinois”) (42) or to (“slender loris” “university of illinois”) 2014-2015 (2).

    Combining WoS or SCOPUS data and GS I could also get an approximate estimate of OA/total output, for an individual university, per year, without reaching the GS robot limit for an institution.

    Tedious and inefficient, admittedly, but a taste of what’s to come (and what GS can and will make much easier and more efficient) — once universities and funders do their part, which is to adopt strong, effective Green OA mandates.

    Vincent-Lamarre, Philippe, Boivin, Jade, Gargouri, Yassine, Larivière, Vincent and Harnad, Stevan (2016) Estimating Open Access Mandate Effectiveness: The MELIBEA Score. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) (in press)

    • Dirk Pieper says:

      I wonder why you don´t consider the institutional repositories additionally as well as publishers APIs to get a complete picture as possible for an institution. To depend on WoS, Scopus or GS is not enough.

  3. Pingback: Web of Science, Scopus, and Open Access: What they are doing right and what they are doing wrong | Nader Ale Ebrahim

  4. Pingback: Web of Science, Scopus, and Open Access: What they are doing right and what they are doing wrong | Veille juridique

  5. DOAJ says:

    Interesting piece.

    At DOAJ we know that Scopus take our metadata and use it in their product offering. WoS should do the same.

    Google Scholar have had limited success crawling DOAJ to take our metadata.

    All DOAJ metadata is available for free so maybe WoS should jump on the bandwagon.

  6. Stuart says:

    “Scopus currently indexes around 18,000 journals and WoS does 12,000.”

    Not sure where you got your numbers from, but WoS indexes 20,146 journals and Scopus indexes 22,460.

    You can find the WoS number here http://ip-science.thomsonreuters.com/cgi-bin/jrnlst/jlresults.cgi?PC=MASTER

    And the Scopus number from downloading their Source Title List and counting them

  7. Pingback: Can we build something better than Scopus and Web of Science? | A Way of Happening

  8. Anonymous says:


  9. Pingback: Open Access and MEDLINE | A Way of Happening

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