A Scientist Just Shared The Secret To Getting Access To Valuable Research For Free

One scientist's tip about getting around paywalls is going viral.

If you want to understand an industry, you should ask the people inside it. 

That's what Twitter user and icon designer Louie Mantia did when he asked the internet, "What's something that seems obvious within your profession, but the general public seems to misunderstand?" Over the course of a week, he got a flood of responses, but few were more popular than Dr. Holly Witteman's.

"That $35 that scientific journals charge you to read a paper goes 100% to the publisher, 0% to the authors," the PhD in human factors engineering said. "If you just email us to ask for our papers, we are allowed to send them to you for free, and we will be genuinely delighted to do so."

When Dr. Witteman's tweet took off, she elaborated even further, posting a link to a blog that explained other ways to get around paywalls on scientific papers. Witteman explained that when scientists publish in paywalled journals, they sign a copyright over to the publisher and a copyright transfer agreement. Typically, those agreements allow scientists to share their work individually. 

While many authors are paid to write papers or are salaried at their universities and research institutes, Witteman said many authors don't have salaried jobs and peer reviewers are often times not paid by publishers. Publishers and journals, while offering a "valuable service" that is deserving of pay, Witteman said, can see high-profit margins already through subscription fees. There is a lack of balance, and she believes the public has often paid for the work already through grants and public research funding — which is why she's giving out tips on how to get it for free.

"The reason most academic authors are delighted to share our papers is because it's our job to create and share knowledge!" Witteman said. "Not everyone will respond this way, but it is common to share happily."

She insisted that students use libraries and if you are a patient, ask "if your health care setting has a librarian." She also explained that often times, a library's funding is tied to how frequently it's used, so by using the library you are also helping fund it.

Witteman wasn't the only professional to respond, either. Director of Toy Story 3 Lee Unkirch responded "that we record the voices before we create the animation," health care expert Andy Slavitt said "Poverty is a leading cause of illness; illness is a leading cause of poverty," and a speech pathologist said "I can evaluate the speech and language skills of a young child, before he/she utters the first real word."

Here are some other interesting responses: 

Cover image via Shutterstock / lenetstan.

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