Monday, October 24, 2011

John's Tricks for Free Access of the Literature

People in academic settings usually have enviable access to the scientific literature, but upon leaving the island, access to it can quickly diminish [*]. Large corporations will have good access, but for those of us in medium or small corporations, access is often limited. Subscriptions can be very high, and paying ~ $35 a pop for an article that may or may not be what you are looking for can also be an expensive proposition.

With that in mind, this post is an unorganized list of tricks that I have to try and find free copies of articles that you would otherwise have to pay for. This situation is dynamic and if I were to make the list again in another year, it would be different. Just keep in mind that there are no guarantees that any of these will work, but since you're not pay anything for this advice, that comes with the territory.
  • Many journal will provide open access within certain time windows. The most common approach is that access is free after 6 months. Examples of this include:
    • Science magazine, but only the research articles, not reviews, new stories, brevia, etc.
    • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
  • In the other direction, the Institute of Physics makes all their articles available for free for the first 30 days after online publication. This usually means you if you see something in anyway related to your work, grab it right away as it will cost you later.

  • Many publishers will make the January issue of the current publishing year open access. This is true for the American Chemical Society and Elsevier.

  • Sign up with the journals of interest to receive their emails, such as their Tables of Contents. Every once in a while, they will alert you to free articles as well.

  • In a similar vein, other journals have blogs supporting them. A good example of this is the Royal Society of Chemistry, which has individual blogs for each of their journals. If a research article is discussed in their blogs, they will usually make it available for about a month or so.

  • A Google Scholar search for an article (I find using a good portion of the title works best) may show alternate mirror sites that have the article available. Look for hits that have a [pdf] annotation.

  • More and more professors are providing free copies to their published research via their own websites

  • Along these same lines, you can always contact the professors directly and see if they can supply you a copy of the article. This is the least desirable route as you may not get a quick response (or any response).

So that's what I do right now. It's not a perfect situation, but I have impressed many people here at work with my ability to scrounge up a free article at times. Sometimes however, you just have to breakdown and pay for the article. While I am all in favor of "open access", I have come to recognize that publishers do provide a valuable service that needs to be compensated, so if we ever do get to universal open access, the costs of it will be born some else than directly by the readers (as it currently is). If anyone wants to add to this list, feel free to post their tricks in the comments box (or you can email me personally at john dot spevacek at aspenresearch dot com). I will likely also set this up a permanent reference page too so that this doesn't disappear deep in the archives. [*] I recently was involved in an online discussion about this subject. The prof on the other side was arguing that students don't need to learn as many facts as they used to since they can access the information online. I hope nobody takes this advice - just wait until his students get into industry and try playing that game. If you are a student right now, consider yourself forewarned - his advice is unacceptable.


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cheap double glazing said...

"$35 a pop for an article that may or may not be what you are looking for can also be an expensive proposition." - definitely. The price is just too high and you risk not getting what you pay for. Thanks for sharing your tricks John.

Armon said...

You can also use Project Gutenberg for some open source literature.

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