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Sneaking behind the paywall: how to access scientific publications for free

A massive barrier to equal access in ecology (and more generally, all sciences) is the placement of paywalls on the scientific literature to charge readers an access fee. For anyone who hasn’t heard the term before, a paywall is basically a financial barrier to accessing a digital product like a research paper which can force individuals or institutions to pay hefty fees to read scientific knowledge.  

Although there are lots of different ways to do this, this is just one, pretty reliable, method that works repeatedly for me!

Sneaking behind the paywall: how to access scientific publications for free | #itsawildlife

And just so you know, these fees don’t usually go to the authors, the reviewers or even the wildlife research projects shared within the publications. Rather, it goes straight into the publisher’s pocket to cover the expenses of running the journal – usually, with plenty to spare!

Frustratingly, for authors to publish in open access journals, those whose publications are free for download, often cost the author a hefty sum! Not only is funding tight for getting research projects off the ground, but charging the authors to make the findings accessible, seems like a slap in the face.

At the end of the day, paywalls as they stand currently provide a large (and totally avoidable) financial barrier to people accessing current information and exciting results in wildlife conservation and research. So, what can we do about this?

It would be nice to think that changes were afoot to level the playing field and promote equality in the access and dispersal of scientific knowledge… But, until that happens, today we’re talking about ways to sneak behind the paywall, and access scientific publications for free when you’re not affiliated with an institution.

STEP ONE. GOOGLE SCHOLAR

When you’re looking for scientific publications on a particular research topic, the best place to start is Google Scholar: www.scholar.google.com where you can type in keywords and find relevant research papers on the topics.

When you find publications that might be relevant to your search, click onto them and read the abstract to be sure it’s something you’re interested in reading.

Note that at this point, if the publication is open access, you should be able to download a copy for free. And if this is the case, success! That’s a win for you – so no need to read further today…

STEP TWO. RESEARCH GATE

If you find the publication you’re interested in reading is inaccessible without selecting a payment option, then note the author and head to Research Gate: www.researchgate.net

Copy the name of the paper, the year and the primary author (or any combination of these) into the search bar at the top and see what comes up.

Usually, the publication in question will be one of the top hits. If not, you can search directly for the author and look through their work. Once you find the paper, there is often a link to read full text which will allow you to download a copy for free. Otherwise, you may need to request the full text. You can also send a direct message to the authors using this platform.

STEP THREE. CONTACT THE CORRESPONDING AUTHOR

If the author or the paper is nowhere to be found on Research Gate, head back to Google Scholar or wherever the link to the publication redirected you to. Here you will find the contact details for the corresponding author of the paper which you can use to contact them and request a copy.

The authors are allowed to share their work and they will likely be excited by your interest in their work! This could even spark a conversation that builds your relationship with this researcher and expands your network at the very least (or could even lead to opportunities down the track!)

Although it’s not always the simplest route, side-stepping the paywall is an important pathway for any wildlife science and conservation enthusiasts or researchers on a budget (AKA most of us!)

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2 thoughts on “Sneaking behind the paywall: how to access scientific publications for free”

  1. To partially sidestep the paywall, you could join your local university’s library as either an alumni of the uni or as a public member, it doesn’t cost a great deal, but you’ll have access to many more papers!

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