Hacking Research Full Text Access

ACH85ACH85 ✭✭
edited March 2014 in General Discussion

Ok, so this might be a little controversial, so let's try to keep our methods reasonably kosher. 


A lot of us want to base our decisions on research which is locked behind paywalls. We've got lots of posts on this forum where members link to PubMed article abstracts. The problem is that those abstracts are essentially advertisements for the full text. They often don't reveal important information such as the number of participants and P values (layman's terms: the probability that their results are correct.) 


Further, a lot of that research we want was funded by U.S. tax dollars. In fact, here's the results of a petition to unlock government funded research that the Obama administration was forced to respond to. However, it's going to be quite some time before changes based on that petition take effect. If you followed the Aaron Schwartz case, you know he was arrested while trying to provide direct access to MIT's JSTOR account. 


So let's NOT do anything illegal. 


That said, full text versions of articles are often lurking around the web in hard to find but legal areas. Below are some strategies you can use to find them, generally in order of least to most effort. 


1. Are You Sure You Can't Access it From the Abstract?

Sometimes you just have to look around the abstract page. Here's a PubMed abstract, but if you click the "LinkOut - more resources" drop down menu below the abstract, HighWire has the full text for free. Two other sources are listed that are paid. Here's an article that's only a month old in the Journal of Physiology, but in the sidebar on the right there's a tiny link to the full text as a PDF. 


2. Google the Article Title, and/or Chunks of Text from the Abstract


It might be the 15th result in Google, but often you can find a PDF or web version of the full text. Sometimes you can find an abstract as well as the first few paragraphs of the article. Highlight a few sentences from one of those paragraphs, copy, and paste it into Google. You'll find every instance of those sentences, which will often reveal a bunch of similar abstract+paragraphs, and one or two copies of the full text. 


3. Google the Article Title with the Author Names self-explanatory


4. Google the Authors' Names as they Appear on the Article


Generally there are multiple authors on an article. These are the main authors but also many others who contributed to the research. In some cases prominent researchers who's work was cited are listed in the author credentials simply to get noticed and/or keep them happy. (Academics are weird that way.) This means if you Google all 5 names in the order they appear on the abstract, it's likely you'll find every instance of that particular article online, and no other instances. One of them might be full text and free. 


5. Google the Primary Authors, One by One, and Check their Websites


So you want to read an article in Nature, but don't have an account? The author knows that's going to happen. Furthermore, getting published in Nature was the highlight of their career. You can bet that they'll republish the article on their website as soon as they have the rights to. They'll probably shout about it on LinkedIn too. 


6. Alumni Access


Some colleges and universities provide alumni access to full text of articles. Find out if you qualify.


7. Visitor Access (Physically, at a Library)


Some colleges and universities allow visitors in their libraries, and it's possible to access full text from their computers. I don't know how many this applies to, and I don't know if any public libraries do this, but I know at least Rice does it


8. Student or Professor Friend


If you're friends with a student or professor who has access to the journal you'd like to read, you could probably ask them specific questions about details of the article. (But certainly not to PDF it and send it to you)


9. Virtual Private Network (VPN)?


While searching on this topic, I read an interesting quote from EconPapers.com: "Access to the full text is generally limited to series subscribers, but if the top level domain of the client browser is in a developing country or transition economy free access is provided." (condescending economists much?) So if you were to use a VPN based in a developing country... hmm. Haven't tried this one. 


Warning: Make Sure you get the Real Full Text


Using these methods, I once saw an article with two different full texts! The study was partially funded by some political think tank, and the author published their full text, which was not quite what the think tank was looking for. The think tank then published an edited version with some data left out, and labeled it as "full text." Sometimes research is political, folks. 



Please update this thread if you have other legal strategies.


Sign In or Register to comment.