When will everything be Open Access?

OA continues to grow. But when will it be…done? When will everything be published as Open Access?

Using data from our recently-published PeerJ OA study, we took a crack at answering that question. This data we’re using comes from the Unpaywall database–now the largest open database of OA articles ever created, with comprehensive data on over 90 million articles. Check out the paper for more lots more details on how we assembled the data, along with assessments of accuracy and other goodies. But without further ado, here’s our projection of OA growth:

growth-over-time

In the study, we found that OA is increasingly likely for newer articles since around 1990. That’s the solid line part of the graph, and is based on hard data.

But since the curve is so regular, it was tempting to extend it so see what would happen at the current rate of increase. That’s the dotted line in the figure above. Of course it’s a pretty facile projection, in that no effort has been made to model the underlying processes. #limitations #futurework 😀. Moreover, the 2040 number is clearly too conservative since it doesn’t account for discontinuities–like the surge in OA we’ll see in 2020 when new European mandates take effect.

But while the dates can’t be known for certain, what the data makes very clear is that we are headed for an era of universal OA. It’s not a question of if, but when. And that’s great news.

Open Access, coming to a workflow near you: welcome to the year of Ubiquitous OA

Thanks to 20 years of OA innovation and advocacy, today you can legally access around half the recent research literature for free. However, in practice, much of this free literature is not as open as we’d like it to be, because it’s hard for readers to find the OA version.

OA lives on repositories and publisher websites. But very few people visit these sources directly to find a given article. Instead, people rely on the search tools that are already part of their existing workflows. Historically, these haven’t done a great job surfacing OA resources. Google, for instance, often fails to index OA versions, in addition to indexing content of dubious provenance. OA aggregators like BASE, CORE, and OpenAIRE aim to solve this by emphasizing OA coverage, but they require researchers to add a second or third search step to their existing workflows–something researchers have been reluctant to do.

So in addition to the well-known access problem, we also have a discovery problem. On the one there’s a healthy, efficient OA infrastructure in journals and repositories. On the other we have millions of individual readers doing their own thing. We need to connect these. We need to cover this last mile between the infrastructure and the individual user, and we need to make that connection easy and seamless and ubiquitous. Until we do, OA is writing a check it can’t fully cash.

But the news is good: over the last year, several efforts are emerging to cover that last mile. Our contribution was Unpaywall: an extension that shows a green tab in your browser on articles where there’s an OA version available.  Unpaywall has enjoyed lots of success, adding over 100,000 active users in under than a year. Moreover, the backend database of Unpaywall (formerly called oaDOI) can be integrated into any number of existing tools, making it easier to spread OA content all over the place. For instance, we’re already seeing over a million uses every day from library link resolvers.

Our most recent integration takes this to a new level, and we’re so excited about it: thanks to a new partnership between Impactstory and Clarivate Analytics, data from Impactstory’s Unpaywall database is now live in the Web of Science, making it the first editorially-curated and publisher-neutral resource to implement this technology. Web of Science has been able to use Unpaywall data to discover and link to millions more OA records amongst their existing content.  This enables millions of Web of Science users around the world to link straight from their search results to a trusted, legal, peer-reviewed OA version—and they can also filter search results by the different versions of OA.

This is a big deal because article and indexing (A&I) systems like Web of Science are currently the most important way researchers access literature.  And though it’s by no means the only A&I system out there, Web of Science is the most respected and most prevalent. Every month, millions of users access literature through Web of Science—and now, each and every one of them will see more OA options for articles they might not otherwise discover, right alongside subscribed content.  Every day. What a huge change from the days we had to convince folks that OA was legitimate at all! It’s a new era.

A new era: that’s not just a hyperbolic phrase. We think this year marks the turning of a new moment in the OA narrative. We’re moving out of the author-focused, advocacy-focused initial phase, and into a more mature era of ubiquitous Open Access, characterized by deep integration of OA into researcher workflows and value-add services built on top of the immense OA corpus. This is the era of user-focused OA.

As OA becomes the default state for published research, tools that centralize, mine, index, search, organize, and extract knowledge from papers suddenly become massively more powerful.  Integrations between Unpaywall and commercial services aren’t generating this new era, but they are one of the hallmarks of it. We’re not making new OA, but rather starting to leverage the massive OA corpus now available. In the last year, many others have begun to do this as well. Many, many more will follow

For years, we in the OA advocate community have been arguing that a critical mass of OA would not just improve scholarly communication, it would transform it. This is finally beginning to happen, and we think this partnership with Web of Science is an early part of that transformation. Now, a subscription to Web of Science—something most academic libraries globally already have—is also a subscription to a database of millions of free-to-read OA articles.

We’ve never been more excited about the future of OA–or more thankful for all the work the OA community as a whole has done to get here. And we can’t wait to keep working together with the community to help make the vision of ubiquitous open access a reality.

New partnership with Clarivate to help oaDOI find even more Open Access

We’re excited to announce a new partnership with Clarivate Analytics! 

This partnership between Impactstory and Clarivate will help fund better coverage of Open Access in the oaDOI database. The  improvements will grow our index of free-to-read fulltext copies, bringing the total number to more than 18 million, along with 86 million article records altogether. All this data will continue to be freely accessible to everyone via our open API.

The partnership with Clarivate Analytics will put oaDOI data in front of users at thousands of new institutions, by integrating our index into the popular Web of Science system.  The oaDOI API is already in use by more than 700 libraries via SFX, and delivers more than 500,000 fulltext articles to users worldwide every day.  It also powers the free Unpaywall browser extension, used by over seventy thousand people in 145 countries.  

You can read more about the partnership in Clarivate’s press release.  We’ll be sharing more details about improvements in the coming months.  Exciting!

Green Open Access comes of age

This morning David Prosser, executive director of Research Libraries UK, tweeted, “So we have @unpaywall, @oaDOI_org, PubMed icons – is the green #OA infrastructure reaching maturity?” (link).

We love this observation, and not just because two of the three projects he mentioned are from us at Impactstory 😀. We love it because we agree: Green OA infrastructure is at a tipping point where two decades of investment, a slew of new tools, and a flurry of new government mandates is about to make Green OA the scholarly publishing game-changer.

A lot of folks have suggested that Sci-Hub is scholarly publishing’s “Napster moment,” where the internet finally disrupts a very resilient, profitable niche market. That’s probably true. But like music industry shut down Napster, Elsevier will likely be able shut down Sci-Hub. They’ve got both the money and the legal (though not moral) high ground and that’s a tough combo to beat.

But the future is what comes after Napster. It’s in the iTunes and the Spotifys of scholarly communication. We’ve built something to help to create this future. It’s Unpaywall, a browser extension that instantly finds free, legal Green OA copies of paywalled research papers as you browse–like a master key to the research literature. If you haven’t tried it yet, install Unpaywall for free and give it a try.

Unpaywall has reached 5,000 active users in our first ten days of pre-release.

But Unpaywall is far from the only indication that we’re reaching a Green OA inflection point. Today is a great day to appreciate this, as there’s amazing Green OA news everywhere you look:

  • Unpaywall reached the 5000 Active Users milestone. We’re now delivering tens of thousands of OA articles to users in over 100 countries, and growing fast.
  • PubMed announced Institutional Repository LinkOut, which links every PubMed article to a free Green copy in institutional repositories where available. This is huge, since PubMed is one of the world’s most important portals to the research literature.
  • The Open Access Button announced a new integration with interlibrary loan that will make it even more useful for researchers looking for open content. Along with the interlibrary loan request, they send instructions to authors to help them self-archive closed publications.

Over the next few years, we’re going to see an explosion in the amount of research available openly, as government mandates in the US, UK, Europe, and beyond take force. As that happens, the raw material is there to build completely new ways of searching, sharing, and accessing the research literature.
We think Unpaywall is a really powerful example: When there’s a big Get It Free button next to the Pay Money button on publisher pages, it starts to look like the game is changing. And it is changing. Unpaywall is just the beginning of the amazing open-access future we’re going to see. We can’t wait!

How to smash an interstellar paywall

Last month, hundreds of news outlets covered an amazing story: seven earth-sized planets were discovered, orbiting a nearby star. It was awesome. Less awesome: the paper with the details, published in the journal Nature, was paywalled. People couldn’t read it.

That’s messed up. We’re working to fix it, by releasing our new free Chrome extension Unpaywall. Using Unpaywall, you can get access to the article, and millions like it, instantly and legally. Let’s learn more.

First, is this really a problem? Surely google can find the article. I mean, there might be aliens out there. We need to read about this. Here we go, let’s Google for “seven terrestrial planets nature article.” Great, there it is, first result. Click, and…

What, thirty-two bucks to read!? Well that’s that, I quit.

Or maybe there are some ways around the paywall? Well, you can know someone with access. My pal Cindy Wu helped out her journal club out this way, offering on Twitter to email them a copy of the paper. But you have to follow Cindy on Twitter for that to work.

Or you could know the right places to look for access. Astronomers generally post their papers are on a free web server called the ArXiv, and sure enough if you search there, you’ll find the Nature paper.  But you have to know about ArXiv for that to work. And check out those Google search results again: ArXiv doesn’t appear.

Most people don’t know Cindy, or ArXiv. And no one’s paying $32 for an article. So the knowledge in this paper, and thousands of papers like it, is locked away from the taxpayers who funded it. Research becomes the private reserve of those privileged few with the money, experience, or connections to get access.

We’re helping to change that.

Install our new, free Unpaywall Chrome extension and browse to the Nature article. See that little green tab on the right of the page? It means Unpaywall found a free version, the one the authors posted to ArXiv. Click the tab. Read for free. No special knowledge or searches or emails or anything else needed. 

Today you’ll find Unpaywall’s green tab on ten million articles, and that number is growing quickly thanks to the hard work of the open-access movement. Governments in the US, UK, Europe, and beyond are increasingly requiring that taxpayer-funded research be publically available, and as they do Unpaywall will get more and more effective.

Eventually, the paywalls will all fall. Till then, we’ll be standing next to ‘em, handing out ladders. Together with millions of principled scientists, libraries, techies, and activists, we’re helping make scholarly knowledge free to all humans. And whoever else is out there 😀 👽.

Introducing Unpaywall: unlock paywalled research papers as you browse

Last Friday night we tweeted about a new Chrome extension we’ve been working on. It’s called Unpaywall, and it links you to free fulltext as you browse research articles. Hit a paywall? No problem: click the green tab and read it free.

Unpaywall is powered by an index of over ten million legally-uploaded, open-access resources, and it delivers. For example, in a set of 11k recent cancer research articles covered in mainstream media, Unpaywall users were able to read around half of them for free–even without any subscription, and even though most of them were paywalled.

So far the response to Friday’s tweet has been amazing — 500 retweets, and in just a few days we’ve gotten more than 1500 installations: Hockey stick growth!  🙂

 

And we’ve also gotten rave reviews, like this one from Sarah:

Why the excitement?  Finding free, legal, open access is now super easy — it happens automatically.  With the Unpaywall extension, links to open access are automatically available as you browse.

This is useful for researchers like Ethan.  It’s also really helpful for people outside academia, who don’t enjoy the expensive subscription benefits of institutional libraries. This is especially true for nonprofits:

…. and folks working to communicate scholarship to a broader audience:

Go give it a try and see what you think! The official release is April 4th, but you can already  install it, learn more, and follow @unpaywall. We’d love your help to spread the word about Unpaywall to your friends and colleagues. Together we can accelerate toward to a future of full #openaccess for all!

 

 

 

behind the scenes: cleaning dirty data

Dirty Data.  It’s everywhere!  And that’s expected and ok and even frankly good imho — it happens when people are doing complicated things, in the real world, with lots of edge cases, and moving fast.  Perfect is the enemy of good.

Thanks http://www.navigo.com.au/2015/05/cleaning-out-the-closet-how-to-deal-with-dirty-data/ for the image

Alas it’s definitely behind-the-scenes work to find and fix dirty data problems, which means none of us learn from each other in the process.  So — here’s a quick post about a dirty data issue we recently dealt with 🙂  Hopefully it’ll help you feel comradery, and maybe help some people using the BASE data.

We traced some oaDOI bugs to dirty records from PMC in the BASE open access aggregation database.

Most PMC records in BASE are really helpful — they include the title, author, and link to the full text resource in PMC.  For example, this record lists valid PMC and PubMed urls:

and this one lists the PMC and DOI urls:

The vast majority of PMC records in BASE look like this.  So until last week, to find PMC article links for oaDOI we looked up article titles in BASE and used the URL listed there to point to the free resource.

But!  We learned!  There is sometimes a bug!  This record has a broken PMC url — it lists http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC with no PMC id in it (see, look at the URL — there’s nothing about it that points to a specific article, right?).  To get the PMC link you’d have to follow the Pubmed link and then click to PMC from there.  (which does exist — here’s the PMC page which we wish the BASE record had pointed to).

That’s some dirty data.  And it gets worse.  Sometimes there is no pubmed link at all, like this one (correct PMC link exists):

and sometimes there is no valid URL, so there’s really no way to get there from here:

(pretty cool PMC lists this article from 1899, eh?.  Edge cases for papers published more than 100 years ago seems fair, I’ve gotta admit 🙂 )

Anyway.  We found this dirty PMC data in base is infrequent but common enough to cause more bugs than we’re comfortable with.  To work around the dirty data we’ve added a step — oaDOI now uses the the DOI->PMCID lookup file offered by PMC to find PMC articles we might otherwise miss.  Adds a bit more complexity, but worth it in this case.

 

 

So, that’s This Week In Dirty Data from oaDOI!  🙂  Tune in next week for, um, something else 🙂

And don’t forget Open Data Day is Saturday March 4, 2017.   Perfect is the enemy of the good — make it open.

oaDOI integrated into the SFX link resolver

We’re thrilled to announce that oaDOI is now available for integration with the SFX link resolver. SFX, like other OpenURL link resolvers, makes sure that when library users click a link to a scholarly article, they are directed to a copy the library subscribes to, so they can read it.

But of course, sometimes the library doesn’t subscribe. This is where oaDOI comes to the rescue. We check our database of over 80 million articles to see if there’s a Green Open Access version of that article somewhere. If we find one, the user gets directed there so they can read. Adding oaDOI to SFX is like adding ten million open-access articles to a library’s holdings, and it results in a lot more happy users, and a lot more readers finding full text instead of paywalls. Which is kind of our thing.

The best part is, it’s super easy set up, and of course completely free. Since SFX is used today by over 2000 institutions, we’re really excited about how big a difference this can make.

Edited march 28, 2017. There are now over 600 libraries worldwide using the oaDOI integration, and we’re handling over a million requests for fulltext every day.

 

How big does our text-mining training set need to be?

We got some great feedback from reviewers our new Sloan grant, including a suggestion that we be more transparent about our process over the course of the grant. We love that idea, and you’re now reading part of our plan for how to do that: we’re going to be blogging a lot more about what we learn as we go.

A big part of the grant is using machine learning to automatically discover mentions of software use in the research literature. It’s going to be a really fun project because we’ll get to play around with some of the very latest in ML, which currently The Hotness everywhere you look. And we’re learning a lot as we go. One of the first questions we’ve tackled (also in response to some good reviewer feedback) is: how big does our training set need to be? The machine learning system needs to be trained to recognized software mentions, and to do that we need to give it a set of annotated papers where we, as humans, have marked what a software mention looks like (and doesn’t look like). That training set is called the gold standard. It’s what the machine learning system learns from. Below is copied from one of our reviewer responses:

We came up with the number of articles to annotate through a combination of theory, experience, and intuition.  As usual in machine learning tasks, we considered the following aspects of the task at hand:

  • prevalence: the number of software mentions we expect in each article
  • task complexity: how much do software-mention words look like other words we don’t want to detect
  • number of features: how many different clues will we give our algorithm to help it decide whether each word is a software mention (eg is it a noun, is it in the Acknowledgements section, is it a mix of uppercase and lowercase, etc)

None of these aspects are clearly understood for this task at this point (one outcome of the proposed project is that we will understand them better once we are done, for future work), but we do have rough estimates.  Software mention prevalence will be different in each domain, but we expect roughly 3 mentions per paper, very roughly, based on previous work by Howison et al. and others.  Our estimate is that the task is moderately complex, based on the moderate f-measures achieved by Pan et al. and Duck et al. with hand-crafted rules.  Finally, we are planning to give our machine learning algorithm about 100 features (50 automatically discovered/generated by word2vec, plus 50 standard and rule-based features, as we discuss in the full proposal).

We then used these estimates.  As is common in machine learning sample size estimation, we started by applying a rule-of-thumb for the number of articles we’d have to annotate if we were to use the most simple algorithm, a multiple linear regression.  A standard rule of thumb (see https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Multiple_linear_regression#Sample_size) is 10-20 datapoints are needed for each feature used by the algorithm, which implies we’d need 100 features * 10 datapoints = 1000 datapoints.  At 3 datapoints (software mentions) per article, this rule of thumb suggests we’d need 333 articles per domain.  

From there we modified our estimate based on our specific machine learning circumstance.  Conditional Random Fields (our intended algorithm) is a more complex algorithm than multiple linear regression, which might suggest we’d need more than 333 articles.  On the other hand, our algorithm will also use “negative” datapoints inherent in the article (all the words in the article that are *not* software mentions, annotated implicitly as not software mentions) to help learn information about what is predictive of being vs not being a software mention — the inclusion of this kind of data for this task means our estimate of 333 articles is probably conservative and safe.

Based on this, as well as reviewing the literature for others who have done similar work (Pan et al. used a gold standard of 386 papers to learn their rules, Duck et al. used 1479 database and software mentions to train their rule weighting, etc), we determined that 300-500 articles per domain was appropriate. We also plan to experiment with combining the domains into one general model — in this approach, the domain would be added as an additional feature, which may prove more powerful overall. This would bring all 1000-1500 articles to the test set.

Finally, before proposing 300-500 articles per domain, we did a gut-check whether the proposed annotation burden was a reasonable amount of work and cost for the value of the task, and we felt it was.

References

Duck, G., Nenadic, G., Filannino, M., Brass, A., Robertson, D. L., & Stevens, R. (2016). A Survey of Bioinformatics Database and Software Usage through Mining the Literature. PLOS ONE, 11(6), e0157989. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0157989

Howison, J., & Bullard, J. (2015). Software in the scientific literature: Problems with seeing, finding, and using software mentioned in the biology literature. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), Article first published online: 13 MAY 2015. http://doi.org/10.1002/asi.23538

Pan, X., Yan, E., Wang, Q., & Hua, W. (2015). Assessing the impact of software on science: A bootstrapped learning of software entities in full-text papers. Journal of Informetrics, 9(4), 860–871. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.joi.2015.07.012

Comparing Sci-Hub and oaDOI

Nature writer Richard Van Noorden recently asked us for our thoughts about Sci-Hub, since in many ways it’s quite similar to our newest project, oaDOI. We love the idea of comparing the two, and thought he had (as usual) good questions. His recent piece on Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan quotes some of our responses to him; we’re sharing the rest below:

Like many OA advocates, we see lots to admire in Sci-Hub.

First, of course, Sci-Hub is making actual science available to actual people who otherwise couldn’t read it. Whatever else you can say about it, that is a Good Thing.

Second, SciHub helps illustrate the power of universal OA. Imagine a world where when you wanted to read science, you just…did? Sci-Hub gives us a glimpse of what that will look like, when universal, legal OA becomes a reality. And that glimpse is powerful, a picture that’s worth a thousand words.

Finally, we suspect and hope that SciHub is currently filling toll-access publishers with roaring, existential panic. Because in many cases that’s the only thing that’s going to make them actually do the right thing and move to OA models.

All this said, SciHub is not the future of scholarly communication, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks it is. The future is universal open access.

And it’s not going to happen tomorrow. But it is going to happen. And we built oaDOI to be a step along that path. While we don’t have the same coverage as SciHub, we are sustainable and built to grow, along with the growing percentage of articles that have open access versions. And as you point out, we offer a simple, straightforward way to get fulltext.

That interface was not exactly inspired by SciHub, but rather I think an example of convergent evolution. The current workflow for getting scholarly articles is, in many cases, absolutely insane. Of course this is the legacy of a publishing system that is built on preventing people from reading scholarship, rather than helping them read it. It doesn’t have to be this hard. Our goal at oaDOI is to make it less miserable to find and read science, and in that we’re quite similar to SciHub. We just think we’re doing it in a way that’s more powerful and sustainable over the long term.