Show me the data!

Roughly ten days after I first blogged about this (see: Springer caught red-handed selling access to an Open Access article), Springer have now made a curious public statement acknowledging this debacle:

Statement on Annals of Forest Science article

Berlin, 6 May 2015

A number of tweets posted by Prof. Luis Apiolaza on 27 April, and by others active on social media, suggest that Springer is charging for access to open access articles published in Annals of Forest Science. After looking into this issue, there is indeed an issue with the status of the article, but this has to do with the background of the journal itself.

Annals of Forest Science is a journal owned by INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique). In 2009, when the article in question first appeared, the journal was being published by another company that allowed readers to read the articles without paying a fee (“free access”). When Springer started working with INRA in 2011 we agreed to add the 2007-2010 archives to SpringerLink, Springer’s online platform, in order to ensure a smooth transition and to give a wider distribution to the most recent articles. Since the copyright was not assigned to the author, and since there is no mention of the licensing used, we incorrectly assumed that the article was not open access.

It is clear that this article was intended to be open access, and it will be made so on SpringerLink as quickly as possible. Anyone that has purchased the article will, of course, be reimbursed.

Please note that we support Green Open Access and we feed all articles from INRA journals to the HAL repository after the 12-month embargo, making the articles freely downloadable there (this is clearly written on the journal’s webpage, with a link to the HAL platform). The article in question can also be found there for free (since 2011).

This has been an oversight, and we apologize for not being more thorough and vigilant.


Ruth Francis | Springer | Corporate Communications
tel +44 203192 2732 |


I am pleased that Springer are committing to reimbursing all (reader) purchasers of wrongly-paywalled articles, and I shall check my bank balance regularly in the coming weeks to see if they honour this promise.

I am also pleased that Springer see fit to formally apologize for their carelessness of publishing. I note that AFAIK neither Wiley nor Elsevier have apologised for similar incidents this year.

But I’m rather bemused by this wording they have chosen: “It is clear that this article was intended to be open access, and it will be made so on SpringerLink as quickly as possible”

Indeed it seems they chose this wording carefully, because as far as I can tell with my browser, Luis’s open access article is still on sale (see screenshot below).

Update: As of 2015-07-05 13:20 (BST) the article is now no longer paywalled. At the time of writing, as can be seen below it was clearly paywalled.



Springer SBM as an entity makes nearly a billion euros per year in turnover. Despite the considerable size, wealth and ‘experience’ in publishing, Springer can’t seem to unpaywall Luis’s article. Astonishing.

Today, the author of a paid-for, ‘hybrid’ open access article published in 2009, found that it was wrongly on sale at a Springer website:

FWIW it’s still freely available at the original publisher website here.

To test if Springer really were just brazenly selling a copy of the exact same open access article, I paid Springer to access a copy myself (screenshot below) and found it was exactly the same:

my receipt

I don’t actually care whether this is technically ‘legal’ any more. That doesn’t matter. This is scammy publishing. I want a refund and I will be contacting Springer shortly to ask for this. The author also hopes I get a refund – he wanted his article be open access, not available for a ransom:


Frankly, I’m getting tired of writing these blog posts, but it needs to be done to record what happened, because it keeps on happening.

I really think we need to setup a c.f. to monitor and report on these types of incidents. It’s clear the publishers don’t care about this issue themselves – they get extra money from readers by making these ‘mistakes’ and no financial penalty if anyone does spot these mistakes. Calculated indifference.

Are these known incidences just the tip of the iceberg? How do we know this isn’t happening at a greater scale, unobserved? There are more than 50 million research articles on sale at the moment. Perhaps in small part this explains the obscene profits of the legacy publishers?

It’s yet another nail in the coffin for hybrid OA – we simply can’t trust these publishers to keep this content open and paywall-free.

A recap of recent incidents of selling open access articles, without the publisher acknowledging to the reader/buyer that it is an open access article:

Springer (April, 2015) this post

Wiley (March, 2015) link

Elsevier (March, 2015) link

Elsevier (2014) link

[Update 5.30PM 2015-03-26: Wiley have now ‘freed’ the wrongly-paywalled articles in response to this. It doesn’t change the fact that these articles were wrongly on sale for 2 months and 26 days. They have also wrongly sold access to these articles.]

Wiley are currently (3PM 2015-03-26) charging for access to thousands of articles that should be free to access.

They have recently (legitimately) taken control of a journal called Limnology and Oceanography from the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO). The association makes clear in its guidelines for the journal that all articles are placed into Free Access after three years (source).

Yet today, I see that Wiley is selling access to articles from Limnology and Oceanography for $45.60 USD (inc. tax). I know this because I bought access to an article myself. Screenshot at the bottom. In fact volumes 41 (1996) to 1 (1956), consisting of thousands of articles are currently on sale at Wiley.

Some Questions:

How many times has Wiley sold access to articles from this journal that are greater than three years old: i.e. articles that should be free to read?

Did the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) give them permission to sell access to articles that are more than three years old?

What do the authors think about access to their work being sold for $45.60 per article?

What do society members of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) think about this?

Will Wiley apologise for doing this? Elsevier hasn’t yet for a similar incident.

Will the society get fiscal compensation for this mishandling of their material?

Is this acceptable? IMO, I think not. IMO it is outrageous that Wiley are selling access to thousands of articles that should be freely available. There should be a full and open investigation into this. Relevant organisations like OASPA and UKSG should step in here. This cannot keep happening.

can this be sold?

For those that know me as a biologist it might perhaps surprise you to know that my most cited publication so far is on Open Access and Altmetrics (published in April 2013, 25 cites and counting…) — nothing to do with biology per se!

So I took great interest in this new publication:

Wang, X., Liu, C., Mao, W., and Fang, Z. 2015. The open access advantage considering citation, article usage and social media attention. Scientometrics, pp. 1-10. DOI: 10.1007/s11192-015-1547-0

The authors have gathered some really fascinating data measuring day-by-day altmetrics of papers at the journal Nature Communications, which at the time was hybrid: some articles behind a paywall, some articles were paid-for open access at a cost of $5200 to the authors/funders. (The cost of open access here is an absolute rip-off. I do not endorse or recommend outrageously priced paid-for open access outlets like Nature Communications. PLOS ONE costs just $1350 remember! PeerJ is just $99 per author!)

The paper is by no means perfect – I’m not saying it is – but the ideas behind it are good. Many on twitter have commented that it’s ironic that this paper on open access advantage is itself only made available behind a paywall at the publisher.

The good news is, Dr Xianwen Wang has responded to this and has made an ‘eprint’ copy (stripped of all publisher branding) freely available at arXiv as of 2015-03-19 (post-publication).  The written English throughout the manuscript is not brilliant but I feel this reflects poorly on the journal rather than the authors – it’s remarkable that Scientometrics can charge a subscription fee to subscribers if they offer no copy-editing on accepted manuscripts!  Finally, technical detail on precisely how the data was obtained is rather lacking. So that’s the critique out of the way…

My tweets about this paper have been very popular e.g.

But I wanted to dig deeper into the data. So I emailed the corresponding author; Xianwen for a copy of the data behind figure 2 and he happily and quickly sent it to me. I was fairly shocked (in a good way) that he sent the data. Most of the times I’ve sent email requests for data in the past have been ultimately unsuccessful. This is well documented in the field of phylogenetics *sad face*. The ’email the author’ system simply cannot be relied upon, and is one of many reasons why I feel all non-sensitive data supporting research should be made publicly available, alongside the article, on the day of publication.

I did my own re-analysis of the raw data Xianwen sent over, and discovered there were lots of odd jumps in data, which couldn’t really be explained by peaks in social media activity e.g. for A cobalt complex redox shuttle for dye-sensitized solar cells with high open-circuit potentials (visualized below). ~520 days after it was first published, in one single day it apparently accumulated 21,577 page views! There was also a smaller spike of 2000 page views earlier.

Article View Spikes

Xianwen had filtered these suspicious jumps out of his figures but neglected to mention that in the methods section, so upon informing him of this discrepancy he’s told me he’s going to contact the editor to sort it out. A great little example of how data sharing results in improved science? The unfiltered data looks a little bit like the plot below:

Anyway, back to the spikes/jumps in activity – they certainly aren’t an error introduced by the authors of the paper – they can also be seen via Altmetric (a service provider of altmetrics). The question is: what is causing these one-day spikes in activity?

I have alerted the team at Altmetric, and they have/will alert Nature Publishing Group to investigate further

Most of the spikes are likely to be accidental in cause but it would be good to know more. A downloading script gone awry? But there is still a possibility that within this dataset there is putative evidence for deliberate gaming of altmetrics, specifically: article views. I look forward to hearing more from Altmetric and Nature Publishing Group about this… the ball is very much in their court right now.

Moreover, now that these peculiar spikes have been detected; what, if anything, should be done about it?