Tag Archive for: medical journal

Patient Advocacy: 7 Ways To Access Medical Journal Articles For Free

Has this ever happened to you? You come across a tweet with a link to a new study in your disease area and you eagerly click on it only to find it leads you to a journal article behind a paywall.   

I’ve lost count of the number of times this has happened to me and the frustration I feel at not being able to access a relevant study without paying an amount I cannot afford. To purchase a single article can cost upwards of $100.  

Over the years I’ve discovered there are some ways to get around this paywall.  Below I’ve outlined 7 tips on gaining access to journal articles. These methods may not always give you access to the full article, but they are certainly worth trying in your search for peer-reviewed literature to better understand your health condition. 

1. Search Google Scholar

Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for journal articles, alongside books from academic publishers.  The site harvests the content of institutional repositories and links them in one record. 

2. Explore online databases

Similar to Google Scholar, there are several online repositories of academic papers free to search online. As I said above, you may not always be able to access the full article, but you will be able to read the study abstract (an abstract is a short summary of the research contained within the study.)  

Core is a search engine and index for aggregated research publications from repositories and journals globally.  

Dimensions is a next-generation linked research information system that makes it easier to find and access the most relevant information. Developed in collaboration with over 100 leading research organizations around the world, it brings together over 128 million publications. Users of the free version can use the Open Access filter to find articles. 

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a list of nearly 10,000 open access journals and a search service finding peer-reviewed and scholarly journals and articles.  

PubMed, maintained by the US National Library of Medicine, is a free search engine covering the biomedical and life sciences going back as far back as 1951. 

JSTOR gives you access to more than 12 million journal articles in upwards of 75 disciplines, providing full-text searches of more than 2,000 journals, and access to more than 5,000 Open Access books. 

Web of Science covers more than 20,000 carefully selected journals, along with books, conference proceedings, and other sources.  

Science.gov covers the vast territory of United States federal science, including more than 60 databases and 2,200-plus websites.

3. Search for pre-printed publications

OSF Preprints is a platform with openly accessible preprints, or submitted manuscripts that are publically distributed before acceptance and peer-review in a traditional scientific journal. An advantage of publishing preprints is the speeding up of scientific communication and of sharing research results earlier, as it can take a long time between submission of an article till publication. OSF Preprints is developed by the Centre for Open Science (COS), a non-profit organization with the goal of greater openness and reproducible research.

4. Download an app

I have installed an app called Unpaywall as a browser extension on my laptop.  

Unpaywall is an open database of 29,624,840 free scholarly articles. The app harvests content from legal sources including repositories run by universities, governments, and scholarly societies, as well as open (free access) content hosted by publishers themselves. 

Open Access Button is another plugin for Chrome or Firefox that works similarly to Unpaywall. Click on the button while you are viewing a pay-walled journal article and it will search for open access versions.  

5. Ask a university librarian or academic

Did you know that people with access to university databases usually have “free” access to all journal articles, because their university pays for it?  If you know someone who works in a university library or is affiliated with an academic institution, it’s worth asking them if they can help you get access to a paywalled journal. 

6. Ask the author for it

While the publisher owns the article, the author will have a legal version he or she can share. Many authors are happy to share a pdf version of their published article. The author’s academic affiliation will be published alongside the article and sometimes this will include their email address. If not a simple Google search should help you find the author’s email contact.   

Metastatic breast cancer patient, Martha Carlson (@Martha__Carlson) says reaching out in this way can be productive. “I’ve had article PDFs sent to me by reaching out to the author and also through other advocates,” she explained.  

ResearchGate and Academia.edu are both platforms that facilitate making contact with researchers and requesting copies of their articles.  

Note: Do NOT share an article an author has given you anywhere online as this will breach the publisher’s copyright rules. 

7. Rent the article

Finally, some journals allow you to “rent” an article for considerably less than buying it. Ok so this tip isn’t free, but if all else fails, it may be your best option.  

I hope you find these tips helpful. As patients and patient advocates, it is important that we can access the latest evidence-based research to help us advocate for ourselves and others.  

Below you will find a list of websites linked to the sites and tools mentioned in this article. 

Useful Sites

Google Scholar:https://scholar.google.com 

Core: https://core.ac.uk 

Dimensions: https://app.dimensions.ai/discover/publication 

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ): https://doaj.org 

PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov 

Web of Science: https://clarivate.com/webofsciencegroup/solutions/web-of-science 

Science.gov: https://www.science.gov 

OSF Preprints: https://osf.io/preprints 

Centre for Open Science: https://www.cos.io 

Unpaywall: http://unpaywall.org 

Open Access Button:https://openaccessbutton.org 

ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net 

Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu 

All I Want for Christmas … Is a Better Scientific Publishing Model

Scientific publishing is broken.

That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not – there’s a rising tide of voices, in academic and policy circles, as well as from the general public, calling for change in how science is reported professionally.

The traditional scientific publishing model – the one that’s rooted in “publish or perish” – requires that research scientists cycle through developing a scientific question, running experiments to prove or disprove that question, rigorously gathering data to support the conclusions reached in those experiments, then assembling all of it into a paper for peer review, and publication if the paper makes it through that peer review process.

None of what I just outlined is problematic. In fact, it’s how science works. Ask a question, work on getting the answer, tell the story of that answer to the scientific community and the general public. Every scientific experiment that gets all the way to publication – which is a lot of experiments, with around 2.5 million papers published annually – adds to scientific knowledge, and gives other science geeks ideas to build on in their own work.

But the scientific publishing model is broken.

In the 21st century, the idea of paying over $1,500 for an annual subscription to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine (note that if you hit that link, you’ll have to download an eye-straining Excel spreadsheet to see subscription pricing – consider yourself warned) is a little sticker-shocky for a thirty-something emergency medicine MD who grew up with the “content wants to be free” internet. But that MD’s professional society membership(s) may include journal access, with the cost of that subscription baked into the not-insignificant annual membership fees.

Content cannot be actually free – I’m a writer, so I’m a “content creator” myself. Getting paid to do the work I’m professionally trained and experienced in is a requirement for my personal sustainability. I’m not suggesting that scientific publishing companies stop charging for the services they provide. I’m asking for a more reasonable approach than the current model.

The two main contributors to the content of scientific journals – the paper authors, and the peer reviewers – provide their work virtually free of charge. That free labor, in combination with the close to 40% profit margins in scientific publishing, have created dissention in the science ranks, particularly since career advancement in scientific fields, including medicine, relies on publication credits on your CV. Add to that the fact that government money, in the form of support for universities where most of the scientific experiments that wind up as published papers is done, and it seems like publishers are minting coin off of work provided by others.

As the author of that linked Guardian story says, “It is as if the New Yorker or the Economist demanded that journalists write and edit each other’s work for free, and asked the government to foot the bill.”

Enter open access journals, which started to appear as the web emerged in the 1990s. Open access journals charge paper authors to publish their work, then make the access to the paper “open,” so anyone can read it – no paywall, sometimes a site registration is required, but no charge per article, “paywall,” to read or download. All journals – traditional and open access – have production costs, which include everything from managing the peer review process to graphic design to printing physical copies of the journal. There is no “free” in scientific publishing, someone will always be paying for it.

Open access journals opened up publication options and ability to see the science being reported. However, that pay-to-publish thing also opened up the publishing marketplace to what are called “predatory journals,” which in turn opened a seemingly bottomless can of worms, where publishers of journals identified as problematic threaten to sue those who maintain lists of suspect journals

Like I said, scientific publishing is broken. Fixing it will require some heavy lifting, and I don’t mean lifting heavy journal issues – I mean the hard work of busting open the walls, the paywalls, that prevent wide dissemination of new scientific knowledge.

Cracks in the paywalls are widening, with large universities like the University of California system telling Elsevier they weren’t paying $10 million a year to subscribe to their journals anymore. Six years ago, in 2013, Richard Van Noorden, the features editor of the journal Nature, wrote “Open access: The true cost of science publishing,” which is a comprehensive assessment of the issue that’s still relevant in 2019, and likely to remain relevant well into the next decade.

As science denialism rises across the globe, it’s critical that scientific discovery be accessible to those interested in furthering that discovery. Which means being able to read scientific papers. Science is fun. It’s also essential to our survival, and that of our small blue planet.

So, let’s fix the broken scientific publishing model. We have to figure out how to fairly compensate publishers, while also keeping the scientific method firmly embedded in the publishing process. Somehow, I don’t think 40% margins (which beat Apple’s, by the way) are necessary here. What do you think?