Show me the data!

Nature’s Beggar Access

December 2nd, 2014 | Posted by rmounce in Open Access

Nature has announced a press release about a new scheme they’ve come up with to legalise begging to view research.

Picture from / All Rights Reserved, copyright not mine.

Pic lovemeow All Rights Reserved, copyright not mine.


The situation before this scheme was that the scholarly poor would beg for access via private social media (email) and public social media (e.g. twitter #icanhazpdf). Kind, privileged subscribers with access to Nature magazine would then privately pass along a printable PDF copy via untrackable/untraceable ‘dark social‘ means.


After this announcement, the situation won’t change much. The printable-PDF that most people use and want is still under a 6 month embargo. It can’t be posted to an institutional repository.

The scholarly poor, without a Nature subscription, will still need to beg subscribers for access to specific articles they want. Only now this begging is more clearly legalised. Nature will graciously, formally allow privileged subscribers to share an extremely rights-restricted locked-down view of Nature articles with their scholarly poor friends. These view-only articles CANNOT be printed, presumably because that would enable untrackable ‘offline’ sharing of research.

Which makes me think? What are the real reasons behind this new policy?

Macmillan Publishers Ltd who publish Nature, also run Digital Science who are an investor of AND an investor in ReadCube.

It’s clear that this new policy is major PR for ReadCube – the links will presumably direct to Nature articles view-only within ReadCube. The more subtle boost is also for & the altmetrics of all shared Nature articles.

If this PR stunt converts some dark social sharing of PDFs into public, trackable, traceable sharing of research via non-dark social means (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ …) this will increase the altmetrics of Nature relative to other journals and that may in-turn be something that benefits


I’m sorry to be so cynical about this PR stunt, but it really doesn’t appear to change much. It will convert a small amount of semi-legal ‘dark social’ sharing, into formally legal public social sharing of research.

It has legalised begging.

It also panders to those that think true open access publishing is “a solution for a problem that does not exist”. A shrewd measure retarding the progress towards the inevitability of open access.


Congratulations Nature, hmmm…?


For less cynical posts see Wilbanks review: Nature’s Shareware Moment, and Michael Eisen’s ‘Is Nature’s “free to view” a magnanimous gesture or a cynical ploy?‘.


Update: It’s come to my attention that the ‘annotation’ function that the press release mentions is also likely to be a ReadCube-only feature. This is classic lock-in strategy. Please DO NOT annotate any Nature papers you read using Beggar Access. Macmillan / Digital Science / ReadCube are clearly looking to monetize annotations on their proprietary platform.

Also, it looks like blind & visually-impaired people don’t benefit from this. I don’t think standard screen-reading software works with ReadCube. Thanks to a suggestion from @derivadow I tried the ChromeVox screen-reader plugin and that seemed to work, it could read-out all the words. I do not know if it works with popular screen-reader software like Orca or JAWS.

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