Field of Science

Announcing ScienceLeaks

This venture was triggered by the many people complaining that they couldn't evaluate the 'arseniclife' paper because the journal Science only allowed access to its abstract, not to the full paper or its supplementary online materials.  In response, Science temporarily opened access to people wiling to register at their site, but when the month ends the barrier will go right back up.

This access problem applies to the great majority of scientific papers.  The public pays for the research, but the results are locked behind journal-subscription paywalls, accessible only to people with personal subscriptions or affiliated with major research libraries, or to those willing to pay $20-$40 for access to individual articles.

Most researchers agree that this legacy of the pre-internet days is morally wrong and unfair to everyone.  Those of us who can afford it pay thousands of dollars to the journals to make our own articles open access.  And many of us post PDFs of our own papers on our personal web sites.  But these aren't easy to find, especially for people not working in the field.

So I've set up a web site called Science Leaks (actually a Blogger blog) to serve as a clearing house, providing links to the papers people want to read.  Anyone who's looking for access to a paper can simply post the paper's information as a comment, and anyone who knows where a pdf is available can then post the link.  (Once a link is posted I'll remove the request comment, to keep things tidy.)

This is just a stopgap solution.  In the short term, if there's sufficient interest someone will (I hope) help me to set up a better site.  But the real solution is to change from having subscribers pay publication costs to having granting agencies pay them, either directly or as a line item in grant budgets.


  1. I've been hoping that someone would do this for years!! I totally agree, it's utterly ridiculous that some journals force people to pay $30 for online access to a single article. Even $5 per article is too much I think.

    I wouldn't be too upset about paying $1 or $2 via something convenient like paypal for access, but more than that is completely unjustifiable - there are no print costs for the journal to cover and it certanly doesn't cost $30 to host an article on a server.

    Certainly if they expect people to pay more for a single paper than buying the entire issue of the journal from a newsstand would cost (if it's available there) then something is terribly wrong.

    Nature is pretty obscene in this regard - $32 to download a single article? That's about twice the price of a whole issue (which would cost $16.58) on a personal yearly subscription of $199!

  2. Wonderful idea! As a PhD student I'm entirely dependent on my university subscription to academic journals. University libraries across the country have been under intense pressure lately to cut costs, but the officials in charge of managing university budgets rarely take into consideration the absurd subscription fees libraries are paying to make literally thousands of esoteric academic journals available to a small number of researchers. I think we may soon be entering an age where this system becomes entirely economically unfeasible, and if this happens a dramatic overhaul in academic publishing and access will have to take place.

    The lack of access of people outside the realm of academia to primary research contributes significantly to the misconstruing of published scientific results and the general public distrust of scientific research.

  3. Have you heard of something called "copyright"? Are you ready to be sued or otherwise prosecuted for being a "facilitator of illegal downloading"? I know you mean well, but this won't matter to the copyright trolls and law enforcement. This would have to be an ANONYMOUS system, at both ends (submission and publishing), with servers outside of the U.S. and most other European countries (although Iceland might work). Something like the original Pirate Bay and similar file-sharing sites. Good luck.

  4. Don't most journals publish their own material, free, online, after a period of time?

    Who would bother to publish this material if they don't make any money? I certainly don't imagine they are supporting a GE/GM/Exxon/Mobil class of fat cats, although they probably do drive late model cars.

    Still, Science was pretty dumb. Inverse demand pricing would have worked for them, here. If 50K people want an article, charging $2 nets them $100K, far more than their print publishing costs.

  5. Over at the website, a couple thousand of us already established a network to share journal articles like this. Almost all requests are filled within a few days there. Here's the link:

  6. @Anonymous (6:07 am): Cool! Is there a FAQ?

  7. Anon is right: you would be acting illegally,so be careful. You could get the lawyers coming after you.
    I can usually get journals through my institution, but when I can't, my first course of action is to email the author and ask for the paper. It works on 90% of occasions. Though tracking down the email can sometimes be timeconsuming.
    I agree with other commentators about journals behaving foolishly re pricing. I wonder if anyone pays these inflated prices. I'd pay $1-2 dollars to get a paper quickly without faffing around. I won't pay $30-40.

  8. Once you start looking at how the scholarly communication system works with any degree of outside perspective, it looks utterly insane

    Times Higher Education 16 Dec 2010, Paul Jump

    The key point:

    "Dr Neylon admitted his brave new world would require a "big cultural shift" currently being resisted by "entrenched financial interests" in the academy and in publishing."

    And also this:

    "Public research funding is not a sheltered housing scheme for people with PhDs," he said. "It is something that is expected to deliver and communications is part of that."

    NASA, of course, would rather just have you read their press releases, go "oooh... aaah..." and leave it at that.

    Critical analysis is not encouraged within the U.S federal science system these days - because it might conflict with more important political, economic, and administrative goals.

  9. Since links can change or die, I think it'd be worth hosting the papers yourself whenever possible.

    I'm not the intended audience, but I think this is a great step forward. Thank you for giving back to humanity.

  10. A site already exists which leaks scientific publications:

    I would suggest that you don't use a blog for this.

  11. True, most researchers depend on the public for research money, but the journals -- which act as a clearinghouse that determines what is fit to be published so we are not flooded with substandard reports -- depend on subscriptions. Please don't leak new papers.

    This enters into a bigger debate about intellectual property, and it has actually come under examination as to effects on research and education in the third world, where access is severely limited. As a result, the NIH is looking into a method to ensure that all research be released to the public domain in a very short time frame. These measures will do far more to open research to the public -- not a leaks website.

  12. You do not have a right to publish work that does not belong to you, whether or not you think the work should be open-source. These journals are businesses, and you are stealing if you put work up for free that is available for pay.

  13. As has been pointed out, you cannot leak copy-righted material. However, one could establish a pre-print archive similar to what the scientific community in mathematics and physics uses.

  14. While I understand folks' copyright objections, sometimes an individual has to engage in a bit of civil disobedience to make a larger point.

    As a truly indepdent living donor advocate/activist, I spend a lot of time combating the warm-fuzzy press releases constantly issued by the large transplant centers. The high fees extorted by these academic journals keep valuable information from the public, prevent meaningful dialogue and stonewall real change.

    Contrary to a prior comment, not every journal eventually makes their material available free of charge (Transplantation, for example). While I have associates with higher ed or medical facility access, I shouldn't have to inconvenience them for materials created with public money.

  15. How can anyone copyright that which is produced with tax money? Right now according to copyrighted copyright law, not only can publicly funded research be copyrighted, but that even the laws that our legislatures pass are copyrighted. This is nonsense.

    If public monies are used for research, then the results of that research must be public.

  16. I guess all those article reviewers should work for free and/or we should post everything to the net without peer review and let the net
    "decide" which study is valid.

    This is a foolish path we are going down.

  17. Point of clarification: I meant "article editors" not "article reviewers"

  18. All these anonymous people! Not sure which one I am responding to, but anyhow, the reviewers *do* work for free.
    The late Robert Maxwell couldn't believe it when he found that academics would give him their articles for free, would evaluate other people's work for free and then let him sell it all back to them at great expense.

  19. Dear old anonymous!
    the editors typically work for free as well - or for peanuts.

  20. @deevybee I guess that you didn't read my point of clarification about "reviewers" vs. "editors"

    Also, a site like ScienceLeaks undermines the livelihood of the editors who work on these journals. They all have gone through the rigorous and lengthy process of obtaining a PhD and gaining expertise in their field. They sift through a shitload of crappy science to find the gems and then work with the scientists to turn their unintelligible gobbledygook into something intelligible.

    Now, how much is that worth? Nothing, as a site like ScienceLeaks purports?

    In my mind, it's just like the devaluation of journalists who go through much of the same process.

    Information might be free but making sense of it isn't.

  21. Isn't PLoS a "serious" attempt to redress this issue? And if it is, why not register your protest by participating there, or even duplicating their effort?

    Also, while I'm a big believer in the internet helping those who help themselves, your project strikes me as poorly researched, and the traction it's getting due more to your use of the buzz work "leaks" than to any particular novelty.

    As pointed out in these comments, better tools have already been implemented to similar ends. Specifically reddit. tumblr would also work better than blogger. Also, anonymity online is a myth unless you're a highly skilled hacker.

  22. There is a friendfeed room called References Wanted. Description:"This is a room to document the harm caused by closed/toll-access publication by collecting hard data to answer the frequent anti-OA attack "everyone has all the access they need already". Post here citations to journal articles you'd like to read/need for your work, but can't get without paying a fee. And don't forget there's a neat tool available for emailing authors to ask for a reprint or the address of a self-archived copy

  23. .. forgot to add that the response time for getting manuscript via above room is usually an hour or two, rarely over 24.

  24. Everyone should just add the essence of the articles they read and share via Wikipedia.

    Then link to some original publication in the footnote.

  25. Most would now agree that closed access publishing is an inconvenience at best, and scientifically damaging at worst; just ask the NLP community for evidence. Direct action like ScienceLeaks is great, although I would also advocate boycott; see for example;

  26. If costs for publication shift to granting agencies as part of line-item funding through grants, then editors shouldn't lose their jobs over the shift in culture. Science is done by the people, paid for by the people in large part, and should be made available for the people, not tucked away behind ludicrously expensive paywalls. I celebrated the advent of PLoS because of their open access policy. Liberte, egalite, fraternite for all, not only those who have access through a university library. The freest exchange of scientific thought will come with freely available scientific findings and discourse.

  27. Nature also has an open-access option:

  28. I was looking for some one to reference PLOS but here it is: a public repository of scientific papers.

  29. I don't mind paying. I get subscriptions to the journals. It supports jobs and the scientific economy. If this results in putting people out of work, because the income that supported them is lost due to stealing, then I would recommend that people pay for the article.

  30. According to the Google Books settlement, it is OK for a big corporation to steal copyrighted material, even print and sell copies of it, without the permission of the author.

    I am not happy about this settlement.

    But since it stands as an example of the brave new world of legislation-by-novel-civil-case-law and few have objected, it's absurd to say that corporations should be able to take copyrighted material by individuals without permission, but individuals should not be able to take copyrighted material of corporations without permission. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, let the principle apply to everyone or to no one.

  31. even though I was and still am a big supporter of your arsenic battle, I do agree with previous commenters that you need to step back on this initiative. You must consider the legal issues and find a better platform. Ultimately, it would have been great to have a post pointing out the resources already exhisting on Internet to get free papers instead ( some have been mentioned in the comments).

    Would be great of you to step back on this. Particularly since, as it is now, it seems more a move to stay in the spotlight than a very well planned action. good luck in any case.


  32. I'm posting this comment for Ginger because Blogger rejected her attempts to post it herself (it contained links, which I suspect are a Blogger no-no):

    Dear Dr. Redfield:

    Thanks for your interest in communicating science broadly. I'm writing on behalf of the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of the journal Science.

    First, we're glad that you reminded us to keep the Science article by Felisa Wolfe-Simon and colleagues freely accessible to the public via the Science Web site. The article and a related news piece remain free to the public, now without registration.

    Secondly, I'd like to provide general information on how AAAS broadly disseminates peer-reviewed research.

    A subscription to Science costs less than $3 per issue ($149 annually, or much less for students, teachers, and emeritus faculty), and it helps to support programmatic "good works" related to science diplomacy, science in service of human rights, science policy, and public engagement with science and technology. Non-members can purchase individual articles for $15.

    Also, our award-winning ScienceNOW news content is always freely available. Research articles are available to the public on the Science Web site after 12 months. Authors are free to post their articles on their own or publicly supported Web sites, and of course, everyone in an institution with a site license has immediate access to everything we publish.

    In addition, we participate in a number of efforts to disseminate research content for free to developing regions. These efforts include:

    1) HINARI, the Health InterNetwork: Access to Research Initiative,;
    2) OARE, the Online Access to Research in the Environment initiative,;
    3) AGORA, the Access to Global Online Resources in Agriculture initiative; and
    4) SciDev.Net, an Internet-based network,

    I hope this information proves useful, and thank you again for helping to stimulate scholarly discourse.

    Ginger Pinholster
    Director, Office of Public Programs
    American Association for the Advancement of Science

  33. Your analysis of the arsenic paper was thoughtful and appropriate. Establishing ScienceLeaks is the opposite.

    For one thing you clearly haven't thought through the legal ramifications. Assuming your site is a success and 1,000 papers end up being downloaded everyday. If these cost between $15 to $30 that obviously equates to the 'theft' of between $15k and $30k of copyright material. If we assume the site is not closed down, this would be approaching a million Dollars worth over the course of a year.

    I'm not a lawyer but I'm assuming the penalty for this will be pretty severe - perhaps even a Felony?

    Consequently, I don't think this is a good solution to the issue. I'm assuming you didn't think this through very well, otherwise my conclusion would be you have enjoyed your proverbial 15 minutes in the limelight and are now trying to remain a bit longer.

  34. With some journals the authors can pay around $800 to $1,000 to allow immediate public release. If the author(s) have chosen not to do this then they are responsible for their paper being locked for a 12 months, not the journal. If you are taking the moral high ground on this issue can we be assured you have never published in a journal that didn't allow full and immediate public access?

  35. Under US Copyright laws, work carried out by employees of the US government (i.e. NASA) are not eligible for copyright protection. Thus, Science has no right to claim copyright on the arsenic paper, and it would (or at least should) not be illegal to post the paper.

    But the real way to combat the absurd fact that publicly funded research is not available to the people who paid for it is to demand that all government scientists, and those receiving federal support, publish their papers in open access journals.

    And all you haters out there who think that journal editors will lose their jobs if subscriptions disappear need to educate yourself about open access publishing.

  36. Basically, the issue is that journals rely on university library subscriptions to offset printing and staffing costs. Most journals (science and nature excepted) do not make any money off of advertising. If university libraries dropped their subscriptions, they'd have financial difficulties.

    One obvious option is for the national science foundations to set aside a limited amount of money for these needs for a certain number of journals, who agree to an open-access model in exchange.

    Some journals, of course, are just clubs for researchers who use them to increase their publication counts. Academic nepotism, in other words. Such journals may very well select pals of the submitting author as reviewers, ensuring quick acceptance.

    Hence, good scientists need to develop a critical eye when it comes to reading papers - for example, the first question to ask is this: "Is the materials and methods section a model of clarity? Can this experimental approach be reconstructed given the information presented?"

    If the answers are no, chuck it in the trash and move on to the next one - or get ready to dig through the references for hours, and make lots of phone calls - at the end of which you typically discover that it was garbage, after all.

  37. @Ike. You make a very good point. If everyone can freely download papers from Science Leaks why would cash strapped institutions maintain their subscriptions?

  38. The physics/maths community has The idea is that before submitting to a journal you post a preprint on arxiv, and it is thus free of journal copyright idiocy.

    Sadly, there are still many articles that don't get posted there.

  39. I have mixed feelings about open access from both a PI's and a taxpayer's perspective.

    While in an ideal world, all articles based on taxpayers' money should be freely accessible. But in reality, it is not cheap to publish these articles on an open-access basis -- typically thousands of dollars per article. Now, as a PI with limited funding, I don't want to waste $3000 to publish a technical and specialized paper that <10 people would actually read from top to bottom. As a taxpayer, I would strongly be against paying flat ~$3000 for all publications resulting from federally funded research simply because of the economical standpoint.

    Sure, few thousand bucks of tax money may be well spent to give open access to an article that describes a new breast cancer therapy, but I would argue that very small fraction of the open access articles out there
    is actually of any worth to the public (ie taxpayers) to justify the

  40. I think an important issue is not that we have to pay, but how much. If we have to pay for anything we think twice about whether we really need it. We value more what we pay for. But $15-$30 is too much to pay for someone like me who runs an independant consultancy but still wants to do valid research. Like iphone aps and itunes songe, if papers were available for $2-3 then publishers would probably make more revenue - not less, because more people would buy them.

  41. I agree. If these articles can be purchased for $2-3 or less, it makes sense to have anyone in the public who wants that information to pay for themselves, rather than indiscriminately spend thousands of dollars of tax money for each and every publication resulting from government-funded research.

    In fact, I would be a bit outraged to see rather obscure publications published in OA journals that charges $2000 per shot, thinking that our hard-earned money is spent on just to make these papers freely accessible even though there's no demand. A lot of papers are meant to be read by few specialists only (which is perfectly legitimate) and not by the general public. Advocating complete OA without concern for the cost to taxpayers is rather irresponsible.

  42. Conratulations!!! This is a REAL work of a science socialnetwork, particularly for countries where subscriptions are budget impossible to dream buying. Best regards to ALL who are helping to live in a world that learns to share info&knowledge for the future of human kind.
    Haidy Arreola
    Universidad Autonoma de Coahuila - Mexico


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