When you don’t get what you pay for

This is by now an old problem but one that is not yet obsolete. You work at a place that does not have access to journals containing articles of potential interest to your research – that’s problem #1. But, maybe your institution or company has some kind of budget for paying for those articles. Huzzah! Except you discover that somewhere around 80% of the articles aren’t actually as useful as their title or abstract made them seem, and so you’ve wasted time and resources – that’s problem #2.

Both problems are eliminated if the article is Open Access (though you still have to read it to determine its usefulness), but the fact is that a lot of interesting research is still published in closed access journals, locked behind a pay-wall, and so both problems are still prevalent. For someone whose work requires broadly scouring the literature for new discoveries or evidence, it is important to survey as much of that literature as possible. Each enticing abstract and each tantalizing title could be another gem – or, more often than not, a complete dud. If there was a way to tell more accurately what a paper was about without seeing the entire thing – abstracts at a minimum, longer abstracts or section summaries as an additional feature, perhaps – that could solve problem #2. This would at least make paying for articles more justifiable.

Of course, I think that all published research should ideally be free and accessible by the public. This isn’t immediately practical in many cases but it is something we should try to achieve.


2 Responses to When you don’t get what you pay for

  1. Jim H says:

    I second that emotion. Way too many barriers ( = $$$$$) to accessing data and research we have already paid for. Double dipping in the name of science. At what cost?

  2. shwu says:

    David MacIver tells a similar but more compelling personal story of the same nature. Again, we see that paying quite a lot of $ for an article of uncertain value just doesn’t make sense. Making trips to the local library or contacting authors directly can work but takes time and isn’t always feasible within a desired workflow. But I’m confident it’s only a matter of time. Information, especially that which is publicly funded, is becoming increasingly open.

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