The open access road to content

While nowadays there is a lot of content being published open access, 45% more than in 2015 (Alperin 2017), there is still a lot of scientific literature subscription based, behind the paywall. This year, the gap between content discovery and its access shrunk substantially. Due to initiatives from organizations or publishers, different solutions were launched for finding and accessing full-text articles wherever they can be backtracked via their DOI. New tools to browse preprint articles appeared, publishers are changing their publishing model to gold OA, money is invested in infrastructures of preprints and, in the absence of an OA versions online, active requests are sent to authors to ask them to put their article version in repositories. (Piwowar and Priem 2017)

Launched in the beginning of the year, Unpaywall tool reached a large audience fast. It’s a browser extension (free for Chrome and Firefox) from Impact Story, the founders of oaDOI – see previous article about it. The extension looks for a free version of articles behind the paywalls by searching into a vast number – 5300 – repositories world-wide (DOAJ, BASE, PubMed Central, CrossRef, DataCite, Google Scholar) and goes beyond oaDOI by looking directly in the page of articles themselves, parsing them to find a link to a pdf (Chawla 2017). It is the legal approach that differentiate it from SciHub.

It is a simple elegant solution, effective in more than 50% of search cases (Piwowar and Priem 2017): on the webpage of an article, a lock appears in the right of the page (fig. 1). The colour code is gold and green for Gold OA and Green OA, blue for lack of information because of browsing behind the paywall and grey color when no information is found.

Fig. 1 Example of Unpaywall browser extension results on a webpage of an article with Gold OA – from

Unpaywall is doing almost the same as the Open Access Button (OA Button). This is as well a free tool, developed in 2013, which extends its search functionality to requesting an article or data directly from the author when no free version is found online (fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Example of OA Button on a Gold OA article

Moreover, in July 2017, JISC announced a project “assessing the feasibility of a service in the discovery/interlibrary loan (ILL) workflow utilising Open Access Button functionality to aid the discovery, creation and promotion of open access content” (Fahmy 2017). On their blog, OA Button reports that Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis successfully implemented the service and reported six-numbered savings (OpenAccessButton 2017).

On the practical side, trying out Unpaywall and OA Button for the same article gets us different results – as expected – because of their use of different full-text databases (Open Access Button/about 2013).

Continue reading

Open Access: the Dutch Consortium – publishers deal

From Science Guide I found out that, as more contracts of the Dutch Consortium with their publishers were made public by Leo Waaijers in 2016, the resistance put up by Elsevier and Springer to the exposure of their individual contracts raised a question mark about their real intentions, especially related to the Open Access policy.

Two weeks ago, due to the leak of Elsevier’s contract, the publisher came under scrutiny because of the terms of its three years Open Access pilot (2016-2018) that seems set up to fail.

Image from Science Guide’s article “Leaked Elsevier contract reveals pushback”

Science Guide says that the deal shows restrictions imposed to the researchers, the raise of collective fees and the short range of publications from their portfolio where the researchers could publish Open Access – a rather “disheartening picture of the so called ‘Golden deal’ reached by the Dutch universities with their major publisher: Elsevier” [1].

Still, one has to look at a broader picture: the business case for these deals and the win-win situation for both universities and publishers.

The contracts’ descriptions are available – for anyone interested – on the openaccess website where, for every publisher, one can find listed the Terms & Conditions of their deal, links to the publishers’ websites with More information and, in four cases, details over their Workflow [2].

Continue reading

Piracy in science

So… do I dare google for Sci-Hub, to see for myself what it is all about? I know it is a site that illegally offers more than 60 million scientific papers, grabbed from behind the publisher’s paywalls and libraries’ authentication screens and offered to be downloaded for free. I also know that its founder Alexandra Elbakyan has been featured on as one of 10 people that mattered in 2016 [1]. If everyone’s using it or is at least checking it out, shouldn’t I be allowed a little peak? started in 2011 when Elbakyan decided to help others with her skills to circumvent legal access when she could not get or afford to pay for the articles she needed for her own research project. In 2015 she got sued by Elsevier which led to her losing the domain [2]. However, Elbakyan would not give up, motivated by weekly thank-you notes, some with financial support [1] and supportive tweets [3], she moves to other domains when necessary.

An online survey by Science Magazine last May, showed that only 12% of the more than 10,000 respondents thought it is wrong to download pirated papers and 59% of the respondents admitted to having done so a few times (33%) or even daily / weekly (26%) [4].  And it’s not just people who don’t have access. Even scholars who’s institutional or academic libraries pay heavy license fees to offer the content through their websites or Discovery systems, still seem to prefer the easy, hassle-free Sci-Hub, or simply want to support the pressure piracy sites put on publishers to move towards open-access business models.

I dare. The user interface is in Russian, but it’s so easy to use there is no need to translate. I copy-paste a DOI from an article (2016) related to a project I am working on and in less than a second, there it is. One click, no messy splash page. Just the content. OK, I get the appeal. The only English button asks me to donate with Bitcoin.

Screenshot 2017-01-25 10.54.15

One more example of how scientific readers are taking control is #ICanHazPDF a popular hashtag on Twitter. When you want an article you can’t access, you tweet the DOI or URL with this hashtag and wait for one of your followers to mail it to you. Then you are supposed to delete the tweet… [5]. This practise is not always piracy, as the article you get might be a preprint or the author’s version, legitimately published in green OA in an institutional repository. Or you might get it directly from the author, a common practise that is allowed by most publishers, see for example Elsevier’s Sharing Policy [6]

Open Access as a default, we are working hard to get there. Libraries will try to maintain a relevant collection for its patrons, but cannot afford to provide access to all scientific content that is wanted or needed. In the meantime: be open, publish open access yourself and if you cannot access what you need: try document delivery / Inter Library Loan. We do not promote piracy, but we need to be aware of what is happening globally and how that is affecting the scientific community. We’ll keep you informed.

[1] – 20-1-2017
[2] – – accessed 20-1-2017
[3] –– accessed 20-1-2017
[4] – – accessed 20-1-2017
[5] – – accessed 25-1-2017
[6] – 25-1-2017


Open Access articles rush: oaDOI and Google Scholar

Finding open access article versions of the ones behind the paywall seems pretty easy with Google Scholar. Yet, with a new identifier, the oaDOI (, Impact Story promises going beyond Google Scholar for articles with a DOI.

oaDOI.orgShort history: last summer Impact Story, one of the main players in altmetrics, challenged everyone to make a profile on their website and check out their “openness” by introducing a new OA badge.
In their effort to complete the profiles with open access output, Impact Story made a workaround Google Scholar in order to find any free full-text for a paper with a DOI. They search in specific sources like DOAJ, DataCite, CrossRef’s database and the BASE OA Search Engine and institutional  repositories, plus in their own list of DOI indexes and even in the articles page itself for a link to a free version [1].
In practice, after testing the oaDOI with multiple articles from behind the paywall, I found out it comes down to luck to find  an open access version which Google Scholar does not find.

We don’t know how long it will take Google Scholar to take over, but the great news about the oaDOI is that, unlike Google, it’s open: it has a versioned open API to build upon it.

oadoi widget Wayne State University Library
By now, Zotero is searching by oaDOI, Max Plank Digital Library is experimenting with its SFX lookup service for DOI using an oaDOI and Wayne State University Library has introduced a widget to search oaDOI [2].

Try it yourself at

See also and see the number of OA publications that someone has, with a percentage of “openness” added to his Impact Story profile.


[1] Introducing oaDOI: resolve a DOI straight to OA, accessed on 31st October 2016
[2] oaDOI API, accessed on 31st October 2016