There has been much written recently about Nature’s new link-sharing initiative. I am not going to go in depth into how it works, but essentially this allows for the sharing for links by people who already have access to them to those without access. A good summary, with links to numerous other posts (none of which are overly positive) has been written by Jon Tennant.
As a friend put it when I described it: “But we already have that”. And that is one of the problems that I have with this. It is not a major step forward. You still need to get a link from someone with access. The only difference is that this is officially sanctioned by the publisher, and can be tracked by them, unlike emailing the author or getting it from a friend. (Cue sarcastic “thank you for letting us share our own research, paid for with government money, for people not lucky enough to have a subscription”?) The addition of some news outlets in the list of people who can generate links is a good move, in my opinion, which I will talk about later.
However, why should people need to ask for a link? Making everything available to read (even using the crippled, proprietary ReadCube software) would have been a much bigger step to letting people get scientific papers.
However, in a way, I am glad that they did not. If DRM becomes common in science, this will lead to people getting more barriers put in their way, not less. Likening ReadCube to “iTunes for Papers” is on its own a damning indictment. Anything purporting to improve access to scholarly research needs to be removing barriers, not putting new ones in place, which is exactly what has happened here. Not being able to print a paper, or save a paper means that you can not do anything useful with it. Some people still prefer to read on paper, rather than a screen. Some people have visual impairments and need to use screenreaders, which do not seem to work in ReadCube. Some people would like to read things on their mobiles, which also does not work. This does not allow for people to do anything useful regarding datamining of the literature. All of this is a step backwards from the standard pdf, which allows for one to do all of these things.
So how likely are people to use this link-sharing initiative (which is slated to run for a year)? I suspect that most researchers will carry on with what we have now, because this is not really going to help. So maybe this will go away after a year because of insufficient uptake. Maybe another initiative, to force use of ReadCube on scientists will happen, especially if people like (Ross Mounce)[http://rossmounce.co.uk/2014/12/02/beggar-access/] are right about this being an attempt to start gaming the alternative metric system and increase uptake of subsidiaries of MacMillan like ReadCube. On the other hand, the ability to embed a paper in news articles (which people are anyway doing without all the restrictions when reporting on papers in PLoS or PeerJ and other Open Access journals…) is a positive, since it allows for the general public to at least read the papers. But this step is not big enough for science, and might not even be in the right direction.
1: who is not into Open* but hears far too much about it, and knows about things like #ICanHazPDF and the Open Access Button. ^
2: note that I have not said “get access”, because I feel that access means that I can do much more with it: printing, saving, text-mining. ^
3: These points are expressed more clearly in Peter Murray-Rust’s post. ^