65 out of the top 100 most-cited scientific papers are behind a paywall, with a weighted average cost of $32.33/each


Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/11/15/14-bugatti-veyrons.html


Now, if these papers are behind a paywall, and they are the most-cited papers, then how many people citing the papers never actually managed to read the papers? I reckon a substantial percentage satisfied themselves with the abstract, or saw a different paper making the citation and decided to use the same citation.


People who cited these papers probably do have access to them. If you’re affiliated to an institution, you’ll have access to the journals that they subscribe to. The problem is that it puts a barrier to anyone else understanding the work if they can’t read the associated works.


Keep in mind that citation patterns are VERY concentrated, probably even more than wealth in the US. The “100 most cited papers” are the 1%ers of the scientific world. The fact that the editors of the premium for profit scientific journals could only manage to capture 65% of these and put them behind a paywall does NOT speak well of their ability to figure out what the best papers are. I wonder how 65% compares to the percentage of ALL scientific papers published.


Since no one buys (or even prints) most journals these days, subscription models have become the preferred means of extorting money from libraries. Non-affiliated plebs are just the innocent bystanders in this fight.


It’s an absurd, closed-loop system. And people wonder why there is a dumbing down of society: you can’t even read their fucking academic papers paid for with public funding!!! Gah!


From a 2013 memorandum from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (pdf):

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hereby directs each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.

This includes all NSF funded research. It’s not law; authors can still technically publish in paywall journals, but it is being taken seriously, at least within the agency for which I work.

The memo only says ‘increased public access’, but that’s generally understood to mean free open access. Not only publications with interpreted results but the underlying data as well.





The older NIH policy is law though. All NIH funded papers are required by law to deposited in PubMed Central. They become open access after a 12 month embargo.


Essentially this already exists with arXiv.org. Research institutions around the globe support it with membership fees. Peer review platforms could be developed. Open Science Framework does this well too. What’s really missing are Promotion and Tenure committees catching up to the 21st century. They want easy ways to assess research impact - and overly depend on journal reputation. That’s the biggest barrier to change.


There is no review mechanism with the arXiv. It is primarily a mechanism for dissemination of results without examination, and establishing priority. There are experiments with combining open platforms like arXiv with open peer review platforms, but these tend to strongly favor researchers who are already established and well -known, as they are the ones whose papers people choose to look at on such a platform.

Journal reputation is a tough one: right now the two big indexers, Scopus and the Web of Science, both private, have a virtual duopoly on that, and it is quite hard for noncommercial journals to get accepted into their database.


Also, you can often get articles from other libraries via ILL if you need them.


This² Even if we ignore the problems with citations as a metric for the quality of an article, (eg.somebody who says “this is the worst paper ever” counts as a citation) because of concentration of citations in a few superstar papers, “journal quality” as measured by impact factor is mostly dependent on editors ability to capture a percentage of superstar papers and NOT on the “lowest quality” paper that they publish. So there is pressure on the editors to publish more papers in top journals with the hope that a few of them might end up being “superstars.” But because those who make tenure and other personnel decisions in Universities don’t want to wait a couple of years to see how well a particular paper is cited, they rely on the impact factor of the journal it is published in. A better measure of the ability of the editors (and therefore the papers withing the journals) would be to look at the median (rather than average) citation rate for papers in a journal, or even the citation rate of the the lowest decile of papers in a journal.


That’s the rub for me, much of that research is publicly funded and, at least to my thinking, should be publicly available. Funding agencies should mandate publication in only open source journals. Science works better when everyone has access to the information.


Part of the problem is counting Impact Factor. Sure, I could publish is Journal of Free Former Soviet Block Chemistry ON LINE or I could publish in an ACS or RSC journal. Which one do you think is going to get me more “credit” with my department?
Also, a lot of the “top cited” papers get used because they are so foundational, rather than because they are cutting edge. For example, the 1960’s vintage paper by Frens on gold nanoparticle synthesis. Yes, I actually dragged myself into the stacks to physically photocopy it, but I’ll cite it because it’s such touchstone paper. “Its like Frens, but we did x,y,z” I certainly could site a newer, free source, but then run the risk of someone not knowing what I was talking about, or questioning the quality of that “weird” source.


Never mind my department. Publication of results is useless if the people who are interested in and can be influenced by those results never see them. There is zero point to publishing in the Journal of the Croatian Chemical Society, because nobody reads it. If I can get my paper into JACS, I know its intended audience will be reached immediately.

If anybody wants a copy of any of those 65 papers, let me know.


A couple of years ago I was doing a paper on Albert Michelson, famously of the Michelson-Morley experiment but as it happens far more accomplished than that. I was shocked to find that quite a few of his 19th-century papers are still paywalled, long after being legally in the public domain.

Hint: Harvard’s library has a great online collection and isn’t paywalled.


Tangentially related: a friend of mine was a few years ago working on a machine vision project, and one of the reviewers suggested he add a citation for some of the optics stuff he was using there. Well, he was a bit baffled, since it was one of those “anyone who’s interested in this research is going to know this already” things, but he decided to find the original source.

After quite a bit of citation-hopping, using the university library system, he finally ended up quoting from something like the Proceedings of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences from the 1890s.

Which, in turn, led to people asking if he had gotten the year wrong in his cite. :slight_smile:


Having had to track down a reference from that journal, my vague recollection is that by 1890, it was the imperial (Kaiserliche)rather than the royal (konglishe) academy. It’s quite possible that it was the citation in your friend’s paper that prompted one of our patrons to look for that paper, since machine vision is a common research area where I work.


Entirely possible! As you can tell, this is a second-hand anecdote. :slight_smile: