I’ve written twice before about paywalls and how to get around them (On paywalls, Paywalls revisited). Paywalls pop up when you try to read a peer-reviewed article that you don’t have access to. If you work at a university, museum, or other research institution, you probably see these only every once in a while, because most such institutions have subscriptions to most of the big journals. Otherwise, you’re pretty much out of luck. [Warning: PG-13 below the fold]
Fuck paywalls. You shouldn’t have to pay to read original research. Chances are, you’ve already paid for it. The vast majority of non-applied research, and a lot of the applied, is paid for by government agencies such as (in the U.S.) the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, NASA, and so forth, and their budgets ultimately come from taxpayers.
And you should read original research. Admittedly, much of it is totally incomprehensible to anyone who’s not a specialist in the particular field. But that’s not always true, and if you’re not reading original research, you’re always taking someone else’s word for what it says. Science reporters are generally good at drawing connections between new research and topics of broad interest, bad at evaluating the limitations and caveats of the research. Some of this is the fault of scientists who are eager to see the importance of their research emphasized, but much of it (IMO) is the fault of reporters who will grab the most tenuous strand of a connection with health, human sexuality, or economic impacts.
If you’re reading this, I figure the odds are pretty good that you’re interested in science. But I hope I have one or two readers outside of academia (Hi, Mom!), and I’d like them to be able to access the articles I write about. So from here on out, I’m going to link directly to pdf files whenever I can. I have outlined some ways to get around paywalls, but that puts the burden on the reader. When I can find a freely accessible version of a paper, I will link to it, giving preference to versions that don’t require a membership but including such sources as ResearchGate and Academia when necessary. If the article is any flavor of open access, I’ll continue to link to the journal website*. For the time being, I’m not going to go so far as to link to articles on Sci-Hub (thanks to Kengi for bringing that to my attention).
Up to this point, I have mostly used DOI (Digital Object Identifier) links. DOIs are stable, but the articles they link to are often behind paywalls. I don’t want to lose this advantage. Researchers retire, change institutions, respond to takedown notices from publishers, etc., so I can’t count on a pdf that’s available today on a professor’s website to stay available. So I’ll add DOI or similar links (e.g. JSTOR stable URLs) at the ends of blog posts.
*I don’t want to dig into the debate over open access, at least not today. I would have to make the entire post about that. The above pretty much sums up my opinion on the topic. I have read some arguments to the contrary, and I find them entirely unconvincing.