Show me the data!

Documenting the many failures across OUP journals

January 24th, 2017 | Posted by rmounce in Paywall Watch

Updated 2017-02-01: Mathematical equation rendering failures spotted at the journal ‘Molecular Biology & Evolution’ (MBE). Added to the lengthy list.

In this post I shall try and summarise the different types of error that are occurring across Oxford University Press (OUP) journals at the moment.

It appears OUP have changed their underlying platform software this year, and that they haven’t done enough testing before putting it into production. The variety of different errors encountered is truly astonishing.

1.) Missing Articles

As documented yesterday with an example, OUP have failed to do the most basic task of a publisher: preserve access to paid-for subscription content. 24 hours later after I reported it missing, the Bayes Factor article is now available, but the DOI URL ( still doesn’t resolve to it. Speaking of which…

2.) Paywalling Open Access Articles (update 1) 

Oddly OUP have managed to paywall an article at the normally fully open access journal ‘Nucleic Acids Research’: the article ‘A novel method for crosstalk analysis of biological networks: improving accuracy of pathway annotation‘ appears to be inaccessible at OUP’s site. Additionally, through Rightslink, they are selling the re-use rights to this article. To determine if this was real or not I made a test purchase, specifying that I wanted to re-use this article in a non-commercial setting, in a presentation. I was charged and paid 42.14 GBP for the right to re-use 1 page of this article in an educational, non-commercial presentation. You can see a screenshot of my receipt for this rights purchase here.

3.) Broken DOI’s that don’t resolve to article landing pages

DOI’s are an integral part of modern 21st century publishing infrastructure. They are supposed to be reliable, persistent links to content. I tested 1735 recently minted DOI’s across 21 different journals published my OUP that are indexed in PubMed. The log files to provide full evidence of my testing are available on github. When a DOI fails to resolve to an article landing page it gives a 404 error. I found that 106 (over 6%) of the recently minted DOI’s I examined gave 404 errors. Remarkably 82 of these failures all come from article DOIs at one journal: the Journal of Medical Entomology.

4.) Editors appearing (erroneously) listed as additional authors of papers

I haven’t observed this myself, but apparently keen eyes at Systematic Biology have spotted this occurring to some article pages.

5.) Journal Articles Appearing as Published by a Totally Different Journal

Yesterday I found that 15 Systematic Biology articles appear to be published in the “Logic Journal of the IGPL” (as of today, I think some have been fixed and inevitably they will all get fixed eventually, so I have a screenshot below to prove it)


6.) Unexpected lack of indexing in PubMed

I happen to really like the journal Gigascience – they unfortunately decided to move from BioMedCentral to publishing with OUP starting this year, and they seem to have been hardest hit by the problems at OUP. For unknown reasons it is readily apparent that PubMed hasn’t indexed any Gigascience articles since November 2016! See for yourself:

This is a really serious problem. If I was an author of a recent Gigascience article I would be furious about this. Recent articles there are completely invisible to literature searches performed at PubMed. This has affected 49 articles in the December Issue (Vol 5 Issue 1), as well as 15 advance access articles that haven’t been assigned an issue yet. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of authors are affected by this. If I were OUP I would make this bug the highest priority to fix. 

7.) Mathematical equations failing to render in the HTML (on any browser) [update 2]

As spotted by Brian O’Meara and independently confirmed by Joseph Brown. See below for an example:


8.) Article landing pages with no article title or authorship details visible

This bug is affecting articles at Evolution, Medicine & Public Health, Gigascience, Nucleic Acids Research and probably more. I’m certain it is not a ‘deliberate’ style choice.

9.) Some DOIs redirecting to placeholder PDFs (instead of actual content)

10.) Article Views data appears to have been reset to zero


I note that OUP have put out a statement to “apologize sincerely” for these issues. But I am not convinced a mere apology is enough compensation when many of the errors remain unfixed.

I call upon libraries, authors of recent articles in OUP journals, and academic societies that publish with OUP to seriously consider taking further action about this matter. Many of these problems have been present at OUP journals since at least January 13th 2017. OUP have been incredibly slow to identify and fix these problems and many of them should not have been problems in the first place – completely avoidable with adequate testing.

Tomorrow I will assess the situation again and update with any new reports of errors or action taken.

  • Great investigative journalism, Ross. Oxford University Press owes you a big thanks for saving them from having to hire a data scientist to diagnose their issues 👹.

    First, I’m glad that OUP is upgrading their user interface across the board. The new design is certainly an improvement. Good research deserves good presentation. For far too long, journals have lagged behind in UIUX. Nonetheless, there is something seriously wrong with the technology at OUP for the upgrade to break so many things.

    Interestingly, at least one OUP article had disappeared on November 20, 2016:

    So perhaps this issue is not new, but has only recently been systematically characterized. I’ve been hounding OUP for years now on unrelated issues. See the following issues, which mainly have to do with incorrect DOI metadata:

    All these issues suggest the technology at OUP is lacking. I’ve observed most other journals have immense technological difficulty and reliance on awful platforms — the primary exception being PeerJ, which has excellent technology. Journals need to realize that they are inescapably tech companies. They need to be hiring real software engineers and architects. They need to overhaul broken systems.

    The technology behind a journal is nothing that advanced. Jesse Spaulding, working primarily solo, made in ~2 years. The interface and features are far ahead of most journals. Major corporations such as OUP should bite the bullet (a tiny portion of their hefty revenues) and hire a strong technology team.

    • Thanks for the comment Daniel. I basically agree with everything you’ve said. These legacy publishers like OUP (but others too), seem professionally incompetent when it comes to digital publishing.

      The remarkable thing with OUP is they are based in Oxford (UK). Crossref, their DOI registration agency also has a major office (HQ?) in Oxford (UK) too. Therefore OUP of all publishers have the least excuses for consistently getting broken DOIs and incorrect DOI metadata. They could literally walk across to Crossref’s offices and discuss how best to fix these issues going forwards. This of course assumes that OUP actually care about providing good service (?)

  • My labmate, Jaclyn Taroni, stumbled upon a novel category of #OUPfail. I’m very excited to report this breaking development. On the UPenn network, we are currently receiving a paywall for an open access article:

    The amazing thing is that the 2016 article is published in Nucleic Acids Research, where all articles are Creative Commons licensed. We’ve often seen hybrid journals incorrectly paywall open access articles. But now we have an open access journal with paywalled articles. Incredible!

  • John Seguin

    John here from Third Iron (makers of BrowZine) – we contacted OUP about one of the issues you raised in particular – the “placeholder PDF’s” in early November 2016 and did not receive a response. While annoying as it is to resolve DOI’s that turn into this it can be further annoying to receive metadata from CrossRef (not their fault of course – this is coming from OUP) to present to users as “available content” only to have them click and link to essentially nothing. BrowZine is not alone in this situation of course, all Discovery Systems (like Sumon, Primo, ALMA, WorldCat Discovery, EBSCO EDS and others) utilizing similar data from OUP and thus are full of “junk data” which is a shame.

    We will be continuing to suggest that they do NOT make DOI’s available until the content is available to be linked to it for this exact reason. To our knowledge – and we track and support 1,000+ publishers, they are only one of maybe 2-3 publishers that do this and are easily the most prolific at doing it. As they migrate more systems to their new platform, I’m hopeful that this workflow also evolves in the same way.

    It is interesting to see the myriad of other issues you have noted but fortunately I think most have to do with platform migration rather than publishing workflows so I’m optimistic that many will be resolved. Here’s hoping!

    • Thanks John, really appreciate the comment. I can see how this would be annoying for users of BrowZine too.

      Is it simply too much to expect that the release of a DOI, and the publishing of content can happen reasonably cotemporaneously?

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  • Chris Smith

    I contacted the managing editor and editor in chief for journals where I have published and journals where I serve as an editor. This is a widespread problem.