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 😀 👽.