Academic papers are hidden from the public. Here’s some direct action.

September 16th, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in academic publishing, bullying | 49 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 3 September 2011

This week George Monbiot won the internet with a long Guardian piece on academic publishers. For those who didn’t know: academics, funded mostly by the public purse, pay for the production and dissemination of academic papers; but for historical reasons, these are published by private organisations who charge around $30 per academic paper, keeping out any reader who doesn’t have access through their institution.

This is a barrier to the public understanding of science, but also to ongoing scholarship by people who’ve wandered away from institutional academia. There are open access alternatives, where academics pay up-front and the paper is free to all readers, but these are patchy, and require your funder to pay a thousand pounds per paper. If the journal your work is best suited for doesn’t do open access, then you might reasonably accept a closed access journal.

The arguments are big. What I find interesting is the recent rise of direct action on this issue.

Aaron Swartz is a fellow at Harvard’s Centre for Ethics, and a digital activist. He has been accused of intellectual property theft on a grand scale, and the federal indictment document, available in full online, describes an inspiringly nerdy game of cat and mouse.

Swartz denies all charges. Allegedly, he bought a laptop to harvest academic papers from the website JSTOR. Using a guest login at MIT – they last 14 days – he set a program running to download papers in bulk. JSTOR and MIT smelt a rat: they blocked access to whole ranges of computers in MIT, creating havoc. Swartz set two computers on the job, running so fast that several JSTOR servers stopped working.

So then, allegedly, he tried a slower approach. You’ll have seen racks of flashing network equipment in office buildings. He opened one up, in a quiet basement, plugged in a laptop, with some external hard drives, hid them under a box, and left this package quietly downloading papers by the million. Months later he was seen returning, peering cautiously through cracks in doors, carrying his bicycle helmet over his face and looking through the ventilation holes. He was arrested and bailed for $100,000: he had downloaded 4.8 million academic papers.

It’s hard not to be impressed, and this is not the first time Swartz has taken public data access into his own hands. In the US, court records are available online, but at a cost, in a scheme generating a $150 million budget surplus. When free access was given at 17 libraries, Swartz set up a script to harvest the lot. He got 19,856,160 pages before the system was shut down.

Now, the US government allege that Swartz intended to release his vast academic paper stash for free on file-sharing websites. This may be true, but he did not do so. Shortly after his arrest, however, a posting appeared on the Pirate Bay website, declaring the release of an immense file, free for download. It contains 33 gigabytes worth of academic papers from the UK journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. This file, explained the poster, was an act of protest about Swartz’s arrest. The papers in it range from the seventeenth century up to 1923, and are mostly out of copyright.

These are, in some respects, remarkable tales of Robin Hood behaviour. JSTOR expended huge effort on scanning these Royal Society papers in the 1990s, when scanning was tougher, and they should be thanked. But it’s hard to believe we can’t find any better way to do so: JSTOR sells each paper for between $8 and $19, while the Royal Society estimate that the pay-per-view income from the public accessing them is half a percent of their journal income.

One major problem with the current publishing model is that it’s hard to give access for free to the motivated public, while still gathering income from institutions. My hunch is, at some stage, this problem may be partially sidestepped, when someone manages an illegal workaround that individuals can play with, but which no university could endorse. I may be wrong: but either way, these are very interesting times for information.


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49 Responses



  1. raybellis said,

    September 16, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    It’s not just papers. Google reveals that there’s a reference to my great-grandfather in a 1916 edition of the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society. I can’t access that without paying $30 either.

  2. Wordshore said,

    September 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    This racket has been going on for a long time. UK academia has been directly battling with it in a variety of technical and procedural ways for 15 years. Though, recently, open access journals and repositories are (finally) making a dent in the cost and access barrier, most publications still cost either the institutions, researchers or the public a fair whack.

    Written a bit on it here:

    www.wordshore.com/2011/09/06/knowledge-generated-by-government-funding-should-be-freely-available-e-petition/

    … but more importantly, please consider signing the e-petition “Knowledge generated by government funding should be freely available” here:

    epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/16041

    Thank you.

  3. nixxer said,

    September 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    There isn’t a major library in the U.S. (and I suspect most other places in the world) that doesn’t have JSTOR access, and generally available over the Web.

    Get a library card. Go to you library’s web site. Go to their online databases. Go to JSTOR. Read and download whatever you want.

  4. pwaring said,

    September 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    nixxer: I’m not sure about the situation in other countries, but libraries in the UK do not generally have access to any academic publishers such as JSTOR, Springer, Elsevier etc. Even as an alumni of a university which does subscribe to those publishers, I’m not allowed to access them electronically.

  5. RichJones said,

    September 16, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Academic lectures are hidden from the public. Here’s some direct action:

    lectureleaks.com

  6. Reinis said,

    September 16, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    @nixxer: Even if a library has some access to JSTOR, it probably won’t have every collection, since they are expensive. It’s certainly the case in my country, and I’ve had to ask friends from abroad for access to papers in some collections.

  7. drjackal said,

    September 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Different fields have different standards on this. For example, Economics has very closed doors, but Computer Science remains quite open. In general, a professor and his aspiring PhD candidates lose nothing by greater access and have quite a bit to gain. Thus, much momentum already exists in the direction of open access. I have not heard of any cases where a journal has directly sued an academic for publication on their personal site. I think doing so would cause a publication to lose significant credibility. Furthermore, many journals have loopholes where a “pre-publication” version may be distributed freely, which can simply mean applying another LATEX template and keeping all the same text.

    The NSF, NIH, or other major funder of academic research could simply specify that all work resulting from their grants must have open access. I guarantee this would change the environment overnight.

  8. Jellytussle said,

    September 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    @RichJones
    I think that academic lectures are different from published research, whatever one’s opinion on distribution of either.
    For example, my lectures contain clinical photographs, which I edit out of the handouts posted on the server of the medical school where I lecture (honorary contract.) If I thought that that the primary lecture material was being distributed then I would have to censor future presentations, for medico-legal reasons. This would mean a reduction in the range and quality of the material.

    I think that many lecturers also regard their lectures as a personal synthesis of knowledge. This is different from material published in a journal where at least references and citations give kudos to the authors. Fine if the lecturer grants permission for distribution, but otherwise the unauthorised distribution of lectures is a bit offensive.

  9. slashposter said,

    September 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    90% of the 8 billion dollar world-wide market for academic research is paid for by library subscriptions. There is a serious problem here, indeed. Some excellent facts and recommendations were posted in this report. It was written by the Association of American Universities (61 leading research universities) in January, 2010 and it was initiated by the U.S. House’s Science and Technology Committee in conjunction with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP):
    www.aau.edu/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10044

  10. gwern said,

    September 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    > These are, in some respects, remarkable tales of Robin Hood behaviour. JSTOR expended huge effort on scanning these Royal Society papers in the 1990s, when scanning was tougher, and they should be thanked. But it’s hard to believe we can’t find any better way to do so: JSTOR sells each paper for between $8 and $19, while the Royal Society estimate that the pay-per-view income from the public accessing them is half a percent of their journal income.

    You can actually do a lot better than this. JSTOR is a US nonprofit and must disclose a lot of information, and you can look at their numbers:

    www.generalist.org.uk/blog/2011/jstor-where-does-your-money-go/
    lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2011-July/109234.html

    > The figure of $145k for individual articles is definitely interesting – only 0.35% of JSTOR’s revenue came from pay-per-view cases? This is vastly lower than I expected; quite possibly the prices are so high (and JSTOR access so common, academically) that very few people are willing to pay and unable to circumvent it via a friend. The estimate quoted is $19/article as an average – so perhaps only seven and a half thousand articles over the year?

    > Am I reading this Form 990 right? Are they *really* spending 3 times more on their employees than is going to the publishers, or they spend on *all* their technical initiatives, scanning and servers and all?

    (Respectively.) I have zero sympathy for JSTOR. They are very well paid for what they do, and they are the highest compensated parties involved.

  11. Mr. Gunn said,

    September 17, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Hi Ben et al. and thanks for giving this important issue more attention. At Mendeley (mendeley.com), this is the major problem we’re trying to solve.

    p.s. I’ve read some of your earlier posts. Sorry the ipad app isn’t as good as it could be right now.

  12. NorthernTNT said,

    September 17, 2011 at 6:16 am

    This is I hope a great turning point. Up here in Northern Canada, nor the public library, nor our college library, have JSTOR. So we miss out on a huge number of papers. Education and knowledge are indissociable from democracy, and until there is universal access to public research, our democracy has very little meaning.

  13. joemcveigh said,

    September 17, 2011 at 6:59 am

    As a student working on a Master’s thesis, this is very interesting and important to me. I wonder how the law works in regards to academic papers. Is it similar to entertainment law? For example, to Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and some US courts, copying cassette tapes obtained from the library was fine, but downloading torrent files is not. So, right now, downloading files over a library’s JSTOR account is fine, but what if the author decided to publish the paper on their personal website? Would the academic journal in which the article first appeared claim copyright? What if the author told people that they would freely print and mail the article to them upon request? Also, does the length matter at all? Aren’t textbooks just very long scholarly articles (sometimes by multiple authors)?
    Either way, thank you for bringing this up. In an ideal world, all access to scholarly information would be free, right? So I believe this matter will only become more relevant with the increasing presence of tablets, e-readers, and the interwebs.

  14. Nathanael47 said,

    September 18, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Someone should mention PLoS here – so I will. These guys are doing it right and providing proof of concept.
    www.plos.org/

  15. valter said,

    September 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    “On September 6, 2011, we [JSTOR] announced that we are making journal content in JSTOR published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.”

    (about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-journal-content)

  16. Decca said,

    September 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Ben, I really appreciate the attention given to this topic. More open access is critical to improving the public understanding of science, and publicly funded work needs to be publicly available.

    Aside from these ethical questions, there are practical concerns as well. I am a graduate student studying clinical epidemiology and have now published multiple times in journals that even my own university does not have access to due to cost cutting efforts. It pains me to think about the hours I’ve wasted relying on the interlibrary loan process, or driving myself to a different library at a different university to make copies of journal articles, or asking friends at other schools to get an article for me.

    Also, I recently noticed that if you google an article title and open a cached version of the page from the journal website, depending on the publisher, you can retrieve the full text pdf for free. Certainly a backdoor approach, but it saves significant time.

    @joemcveigh, in response to your question about violating copyright putting a paper you author on your personal website or otherwise distributing it… yes, the journal can claim copyright. Usually when you submit a paper or a paper is accepted for publication, you have to sign a document authorizing transfer of copyright to the journal. Generally, that means you can no longer distribute the content.

  17. SirTainleyBarking said,

    September 19, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Amen Ben!
    This has been the Elephant in the room for many years. I’m in industry, outside academia, and often need access to published papers to find out various bits and pieces.
    Contrary to popular belief, even in a company the size of mine, we cannot justify subscription access to publishers. We don’t want or need to be downloading libraries full of stuff, however, if I need to check references in stuff I’m sent the typical charge of $30 per view will soon mount up to a level where I’m required to justify to the business what I’m spending. This is not a problem when the papers are solid research and worth it, but there are a lot of papers out there which are dubious to say the least. The abstracts give a misleading impression, and the actual data is dross.
    I would propose a two tier system where for the first year the papers are PPV, after that free access. As for papers sponsored by Government funds? Should be free access as of right.
    As for the effects on research? I think it would be positive. It would allow more open critique of whats published which would be a good thing, and hopefully reduce the amount of dross published to meet publication targets.
    Just my 10p worth

  18. rohanps said,

    September 19, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Monbiot’s article is tripe = there are plenty of competitive industries in which firms make margins far higher than the 40% he suggests are made by academic journals.

    Furthermore, there is plenty of competition in the publishing of academic journals – the products are differentiated (in terms of quality) and the amrket is clearly two-sided in nature (where journals compete for articles and subscribers).

    Just because you feel the price for an article is “too high” does not mean that the industry is not competitive.

  19. amcle said,

    September 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    The Royal Society can’t complain too much – they did give free access to Phil Trans during (part of) their recent 350th anniversary year.

  20. ibbica said,

    September 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Actually, the NIH at least does require public access be allowed to research they fund:

    publicaccess.nih.gov/

    There may be a bit of a delay, as authors have up to 12 months to comply.

  21. Crantock said,

    September 19, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Its not just academic journals. There is a range of historical reference books that are increasingly hard to find. Suppose I want, as I do, a copy of the Transactions of the Neath Antiquarian Society of 1977.

    First port of call is the efiicient second hand books market and, after 20 years, I have a personal reference library that has most of the key books on most subjects. However, that is a private resource and the market for these is drying up. As old folks die, a forlorn book is likely to be binned.

    The issue here is that whereas academic publishing generally benefits from more recent research superceding older research, in other spheres that is not the case. As Books die, or become inaccessible, knowledge is lost.

    Holiday tomorrow. Drive 100 miles to Swansea Central Library? Why not……

  22. joemcveigh said,

    September 19, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    @Decca Thanks for the clarification. I figured there would be something like that and I suppose you can’t fault the journal for wanting to protect an article they are spending money on by printing it.

  23. Ephiny said,

    September 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I had this problem when applying for PhD studentships recently. As I’d been working (in a non-research field) for some years, it was important to show I’d kept up with the literature, and have something to talk about in interviews, and of course it was useful to look at recent publications of the supervisors I was interested in working for. I just paid the $30 per paper or whatever it was, but I was lucky that I could afford to. Someone who couldn’t would probably not have got the studentship, which doesn’t seem fair.

    Public libraries having subscriptions would seem like a good idea, good to hear that this is the case in the US.

  24. Ephiny said,

    September 20, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    To be fair actually, several of the papers I was interested in were available as open-access, which was very useful – but many were not.

  25. cdubb said,

    September 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Not all publishers are the same, I must declare a bias here, I work for a society publisher and we are often tarnished with the same ‘big bad publishers’ brush. However, we are not a commercial company, all of our profits go back into the society and therefore back into scientific work and outreach programs. We employ mainly researchers who have left science after their PhD to help maintain and run academic journals and all of which are paid well below what they could be paid had they gone into industry or stayed in academia. Commercial publishers have increased their prices well above inflation and will soon, along with the society publishers, suffer the consequences. The death of the scientific publishing industry may also be the death of many scientific societies which make a large proportion of their income via publishing.

  26. mikewhit said,

    September 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    I used to be able to go to my local library and get print copies of journal articles at 10p (?) a page.
    Do libraries still do that ?

  27. MedsVsTherapy said,

    September 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Finally, this idea: the knowledge generated about our world is not in any sort of way private; it our world, and anyone exploring and discovering some phenomena regarding our world does not have the right to withhold that information from us.

    To be involved with the International Personality Item Pool, you need to have some knowledge of science, personality, and psychometrics, but the entire deal is on the net for all to see. Why? Because personality is what it is, and belongs to no one person or group. To scientifically explore what personality might be, and how to measure it, evreything ought to be open.

    If you discovered the laws of planetary motion, does that mean you get a cut whenever someone plots and asteroid path?

    Whatever “personality” might be, it is an aspect of our world, like gravity or inertia, so it does not make sense that anyone could hide it behind a dollar sign. What’s next? Patenting a gene?

    ipip.ori.org/

  28. huxley_leopard said,

    September 21, 2011 at 6:24 am

    In the UK, public libraries don’t have access to subscription journals. University libraries do, but usually don’t have complete coverage, and are generally not open to the public. If you are in industry or just an interested citizen, it’s not so easy. There is the British Library, of course, but I believe there is a charge there too.

    Professional institutions such as the Institution of Civil Engineers or the Geological Society generally do have access to most journals in their field, and if civil engineering or geology is your field, and, crucially, if you are a member of said institution (quite expensive), you can go to the library or phone up and they can get papers for you. I’m sue it’s similar for the sciences.

    I am on an editorial panel for a journal, which is run by a private company on behalf of the ICE. The problem is the economics, as always. Management, copy editing, proofing, printing, archiving, managing online access etc, cost money. Online-only journals don’t have the printing cost, but this is only a fraction of the total burden. The editorial panel is entirely made up of volunteers – it takes a panel of 12 people to act as ‘assessors’, plus a much larger number of ‘reviewers’ to undertake peer-review. These people give up a lot of their time for free and cannot be asked to also do all the admin etc that is required as well.

    Regarding academics undertaking government-funded research being required to make their work available for free – this is difficult due to the competing (government-run) research council demands for academics to publish in high-quality journals, which tend to be subscription journals. This is changing as more and more high-quality open access online journals are appearing, but again the problem is that there are a lot of costs that need to be covered and quality is paramount.

  29. quasilobachevski said,

    September 21, 2011 at 10:29 am

    ‘University libraries do, but usually don’t have complete coverage, and are generally not open to the public.’

    They’re not open to the general public, but if you can make a case that you need access then many will give you a visitor’s card.

    ‘There is the British Library, of course, but I believe there is a charge there too.’

    I don’t think there’s a charge to look at a paper copy in the British Library. Again, to get an access card you have to explain your programme of research.

  30. maninalift said,

    September 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Mathematics and theoretical physics has the issue covered with the preprint archive:

    arxiv.org/

    This wonderful wonderful thing should be adopted by all academic disciplines.

  31. lajollabeck said,

    September 21, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    At least there’s some efficiency afforded by the work that those of us who systematically review research do – trawling endless sets of libraries/search engines regularly in an attempt to find and appraise all the research findings that address a specific research question, afeared of running up vast bills and of waiting just that bit too long for an inter-library loan that just could be important for that keen to act policy maker’s decision-making. To increase access to research findings, systematic review funders in particular need to appreciate the need to cost in funds to publish in open-access journals. Some of ours do.

  32. MarcusGP said,

    September 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    It’s difficult to putinto words, I feel, how serious this problem actually is. Also the solutions that have been given and attempted have shown weakness. Through HINARI an attempt at giving collective access to major medical journals for free(or a very low price) seemed successful until publishers refused the individual journals to pretty much give their money away. This program, of course, was meant for certain countries where the economy of public healthcare was in no way good enough to buy public access(as they have in Norway).

    The Norwegian project Helsebiblioteket(the health library) gives free access to anyone within Norway(that is, anyone with a Norwegian proxy) to every major healthcare journal, from the Lancet and the American Journal of Nursing to Organizacijø Vadyba: Sisteminiai Tyrimai(I have no idea what it is, but still).
    I’d like to know, however, how much this costs the state annualy. Is it a pay-per-click plan, or a really bif subscription fee?

  33. cellocgw said,

    September 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Hmmm? Is this Ben or is it Cory posting? Just sayin’ :-) that it sure could have fooled this boingboing fan

  34. PaulMS said,

    September 22, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I think the funding bodies help a great deal. When I was working under Wellcome Trust funding, it was required that all publications coming from research funded by the Wellcome Trust must be Open Access.

  35. yyztower said,

    September 24, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Not sure it’s correct to say that public libraries in the UK don’t offer access to subscription databases and articles you might otherwise have to pay for. Libraries in the East Midlands offer a number of subscription databases for free to cardholders.

    Databases include the complete OED, the complete DNB, the Complete Times Digital Archive, Naxos (more than 300K music tracks) along with Music Online. Some excellent business databases too.

    www.liem.org.uk/Online_resources/Public_Libraries,_electronic_resources

    Also, for your information:

    Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in World
    about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-journal-content

    More than 500K journals from 200 publications.

  36. Michael Barr said,

    September 24, 2011 at 2:50 am

    I do not understand what huxley_leonard was on about. Most of those things, refereeing, reviewing, etc. are unpaid. Yes, the editor-in-chief usually gets a small stipend to pay for secretarial help, but, in mathematics at least, no one else does and authors are invariably typesetting their own papers and are also responsible for proofing. I am the LaTeX editor for an online journal that is published absolutely free. The only thing missing is the secretarial help. The small university where the editor-in-chief is located donates the computer storage (the costs these days are negligible) and several sites are happy to mirror it. And of course, there is no cost in maintaining subscriptions. There is a mailing list — anyone can join — and as each paper is published, all the people are notified. The operations are nearly automated and it is not clear how we could use secretarial help anyway.

    Meantime, at least one publisher is still collecting royalties on a couple of my own papers for which I retained copyright. Regardless, all my papers for the last 25 years (and some earlier ones) are also available on my ftp site, even if I am not the copyright holder.

  37. yyztower said,

    September 24, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Not sure it’s correct to say that public libraries in the UK don’t offer access to subscription databases and articles you might otherwise have to pay for. Libraries in the East Midlands offer a number of subscription databases for free to cardholders.

    Databases include the complete OED, the complete DNB, the Complete Times Digital Archive, Naxos (more than 300K music tracks) along with Music Online. Some excellent business databases too.

    www.liem.org.uk/Online_resources/Public_Libraries,_electronic_resources

    Also, for your information:

    Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in World
    about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-journal-content

    More than 500K journals from 200 publications.

  38. Wordshore said,

    September 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Not just academic papers. Undergrads especially get hit hard by the costs of academic textbooks. Some notes and links:

    www.wordshore.com/2011/09/25/textbook/

    Ever have the feeling that being a major academic publisher is a licence to print money? (Almost) literally?

  39. SBDW1 said,

    September 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    The Chief Executive of the EPSRC sent a letter to all UK university vice-chancellors in July of this year. An extract is included below which may be of interest to those reading this!

    “The policy states that all EPSRC-funded research publications must be published as openly accessible documents – that is, freely available online to anyone who has access to the internet…This is consistent with other funders in the UK and internationally, and recognises the need for increased availability and accessibility of publicly funded research findings.
    To allow time for the policy to be fully implemented it will apply to all research articles submitted for publication on or after 1st September 2011.”

    So it looks to me as though from now on, publicly funded research that is published must be made freely available. At least in the UK.

    “…researchers currently have two main options for ensuring their published work is openly accessible…free to choose the most appropriate option . The options are:
    • ‘Gold’ – i.e. publishing directly in a subscription-free Open Access journal; increasingly, open access from the date of publication is also achieved by publishing in ‘Hybrid’ subscription journals which levy an up-front ‘pay-to-publish’ fee.
    • ‘Green’ – i.e. deposition of the peer-reviewed article (as accepted for publication) in an online repository; we would expect authors choosing this route to respect any embargo period required by the publishing journal.
    EPSRC will monitor compliance with the policy as part of our normal assurance processes.
    As now, EPSRC-funded researchers’ publication costs may be recovered either as ‘directly incurred costs’ (if incurred before the end date of the relevant research project) or as indirect costs (and hence factored into your fEC indirect cost rate). I would appreciate it if you could disseminate this policy widely amongst researchers at your University.”

    So their preferred option is publication in open access journals. Publication costs will be met by the research councils.

    Unfortunately I can’t find a link to the PDF letter in its original form (it was forwarded around our department as an attachment in an email), but a link to the EPSRC “Policy on access to research outputs” page is included which contains some of the same text:

    www.epsrc.ac.uk/about/infoaccess/Pages/roaccess.aspx

    Hope this is of some interest to those posting here!

  40. tialaramex said,

    September 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    In disciplines where it has long been usual for academics to prepare papers in electronic form, the arrival of the World Wide Web almost immediately meant that they put these papers online. The fact that Journal of Foo is willing to charge you $25 for a copy of a paper does NOT mean the Journal of Foo is the only place to get it.

    Virtually always the substantial content is available from the authors or their institution. A good search term these days is “eprints” (a name for the practice of uploading papers and for a popular piece of software for managing collections of such papers) e.g. “eprints Portsmouth” quickly finds you the search page for the University of Portmouth’s repository of academic papers. So if you know some research you’re interested in was done at Portsmouth, there’s an excellent chance you can find it this way.

    But even when depositing to such a repository is not required, academics frequently upload “draft” papers to their institutional web sites. These shouldn’t be cited in academic discourse (they may have problems that were subsequently fixed before publication) but if a member of the public is curious and doesn’t want to pay $25 they can certainly get a good taste of what was written from the draft. They can be found with a little Google detective work, probably less effort than walking to your local library.

    So: a LOT, probably vast majority of academic papers are not really hidden, but the unwary can find themselves paying a lot of money for information that was freely available, which is probably unethical.

  41. thoughtsofashy said,

    October 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I wonder sometimes whether this exclusion of the lay-public (part of which are from graduates to PhD holders), by the erected paywalls, is convenient to (some) members of the Academia and if for that reason they put up with this system.
    I mean, had I been an academic, the paywall and my privilege of access through my institution’s library would differentiate me from the “commoners”. They would communicate opinions, I would communicate analyses and my opinions would be based on fact etc. I would then have more chances to be a media darling, a consultant to boards and government, an ex-officio president of a prestigious organisation and so on.
    It wouldn’t necessarily be that all these would have tangible benefits, however I would have all the glamour to pose as part of society’s leaders. Free dissemination of scientific information would bring up more competition and yes it could be that a “commoner”, regardless of holding a PhD or not, could have a better answer to a question than me. This would jeopardise my social position.

  42. arouet760 said,

    October 4, 2011 at 3:49 am

    In the U.S.A, if one of the authors is a government employee, the paper enters the public domain. Since I work with such people, many of my publications are public.

  43. dcg2 said,

    October 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I whole heartedly agree with George Monbiot. The results of research funded by the Tax paper should be freely available. I am an amateur researcher (unattached to an academic institution) and have written papers for publication in the relevant journals (Cave and Karst Science).
    The field work and writing are surprisingly the easy bit. What is most difficult is accessing relevant papers, to keep up with the field and for contextual/ reference purposes.

    What is really galling, is that in some of these journals, the Editors and other academic contributors decry the marked decline in submissions from amateur workers. Yet I find that the same editors/ contributors are quite happy to go along with this racket, which I believe is the reason for the decline in participation in Scientific research by non-academics. Hypocrisy or what.

    As for JSTOR’S comment about allowing free access to papers published before 1870, Is that a F’ing joke. If you need to keep up to date with current research in your field of interest. What use are papers published before 1870?.

    Although my fellow posters may be interested to hear that I have discovered that passing a copper wire over a fixed magnet induces an electrical current into it.

    Can anyone think of any possible applications?.

    I would be interested to hear from anyone in a similar position (resident in the Uk), who is interested in starting a campaign, to get a law passed to ensure that published academic papers, based on research funded by the tax payer are available free to view.

  44. Jon Wade said,

    October 26, 2011 at 5:03 am

    This is something I find very frustrating. I am doing an OU course at the moment and possibly the best thing about doing an OU course is access to journals online. I wonder if Google Scholar will ever start providing a cheaper method of sharing these (i.e. advertising revenue models).

  45. Idiomatic said,

    November 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    I vaguely remeber some talk of the major research funders only funding if the research was to be published in an open access journal.

  46. RowanIW said,

    December 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I’ve just signed
    epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/16041
    saying that ‘Knowledge generated by government funding should be freely available’.
    Thanks, @Wordshore!

    I did my degree so long ago that I wrote all my work with pen and ink. Even my master’s degree was so long ago that although computer searching had come in there was still no internet. Many of the papers I needed for my thesis weren’t in my university’s libraries, and I had to go and physically read them in three different libraries across the country, including the Science Reference Library, part of the British Library. I didn’t have to pay anything except the travel.

    Now I’m trying to do some research but I don’t have any academic access. There are many useful things available as pdfs on government websites, but I can afford almost nothing in a journal. I’ve had a few paper prints via my local public library, and if I remember rightly the charge was 15p per A4 page, plus the interlibrary loan fees. That’s why I can’t remember – because of the interlibrary loan fees, it’s been a while since I requested anything.

    So we also need to defend public libraries, and either reduce or abolish interlibrary loan fees.
    www.librarycampaign.com/
    www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?page_id=265

  47. chabiel said,

    February 3, 2012 at 8:58 am

    I have just managed to publish an aricle with open access publisher. I am waiting to see, if the article gets many citations. This is my first publish paper. It was actually quite easy, and speedy process.

  48. Floppyears said,

    February 10, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    The pay wall is really scandalous; and I often wonder whether academic publishers serve either their audiences or their authors well. I doubt it. The outrageous cost of small-print run case-bound booksand limited-access academic journals really does frustrate the wider propagation of knowledge and debate. I am convinced that many would sell in quantity if they were better publicised and cheaper to purchase as many academic authors are actually good writers; and the stories they tell are often very captivating and accessible.

    Of course, authors with generous publishers’ advances can circumvent these restrictions by paying their monthly fees to the London Library, but for those who do not have that luxury there is the prospect of spending hours trawling through their local or central library (if still open) or looking for ‘authoritative’ websites.

    Several years ago I wrote an article for a prestigious peer-reviewed academic journal. I was asked to provide several photographs with which to illustrate it. A relieved editor later told me that after discussion with the publishers the journal was able to bear the cost of the photographic prints and copyright fees. That was good as otherwise I would have had to dig into my own pocket!

    I would love an electronic copy of the article so that I could send it to correspondents (I have probably needed to do so several times over the past couple of years), but have had to make do with a scanned photocopy, as the publisher never sent me a PDF; and I am reluctant to spend $30 to buy my own work; and of course there were no royalties …

    I have access to JSTOR and other e-resources through the university with which I am affiliated as a visiting fellow. However, I do not have electronic access to the journal in which my article appeared as the university library does not subscribe; and even if I use other libraries via what is called SCONUL access, I will only be able to see a paper copy in all likelihood.

    So much for spreading knowledge!

    I wholeheartedly support what Ben Goldacre and George Monbiot have written: I had mistakenly thought that as a taxpayer I had a share in the knowledge emerging from at least publicly-funded academia; and that it would be shared to the benfit of all.

    How wrong of me.

  49. joey89924 said,

    November 22, 2012 at 1:19 am

    Up here in Northern Canada, nor the public library, nor our college library, have JSTOR. So we miss out on a huge number of papers.
    AT24C02