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A shortcut to finding papers

Tool assists users in finding open-access articles or free copies of papers published in commercial journals

Acesso aberto_Scan1314NegreirosA new on-line platform has been developed to help researchers find open-access scientific articles or free copies of paper published in commercial journals. The DOAI (Digital Open Access Identifier), available at, is a service that tracks on-line versions of scientific works. After typing the digital object identifier (DOI) of the article, the tool displays any existing stored versions in university collections or author profiles. The database that provides the data for DOAI is Base, maintained by the University of Bielefeld, Germany. It indexes almost 90 million records from 4,000 academic repositories and other open-access sources worldwide. “Its scope is impressive,” says Roger Schonfeld, executive officer of Ithaca S+R, a science communication company, in his blog The Scholarly Kitchen. “And the search does not appear to favor official channels, such as large, open-access repositories,” he says, after finding texts he wrote on the platform, indexed in the University of North Texas library database.

The number of scientific articles available on the Internet is growing. It is estimated that 40% of papers are currently published in open-access publications. This percentage is greater when analyzing the universe of articles published in the past. This is because an increasing number of manuscripts migrate from proprietary databases—where they can only be seen by subscribers of the journals that published them—to open-access, in which they are available free on the Internet. A study published by the European Union in 2013 showed that 50% of all articles published from 2004 to 2011 were available at no cost at that time.

One of the advantages of the DOAI tool is that it provides a portal for open-access articles without requiring that users understand the rules and terminology governing this model. Free access can be divided into two main categories. One is the “golden road,” in which journals are open and provide free access to their content. Some outstanding examples of this strategy are the journals in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) or the SciELO Brasil Library collection of periodicals, a program financed by FAPESP. The second category is know as the “green road.” In this case, an author may store a copy of his scientific articles—published in a commercial journal—in his institution’s database or in his professional profile. Those wishing to read the article without paying can turn to these repositories—most of them are in the DOAI database.

There are several other variations. Some publications allow authors to store copies of their articles in repositories, but only six months to a year after publication, thus preserving the publisher’s profits during this initial period. Funding institutions, such as the Wellcome Trust, a British foundation supporting biomedical research, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the United States, require that researchers receiving funding from them make their articles available in open-access databases, such as PubMed Central, one year after original publication in commercial scientific journals. Other journals do not enforce this restriction and publish articles on-line before that issue of the periodical is even printed—but charge the author an additional fee to publish her article without restrictions and in advance.

“The system for science communication is complex. DOAI could become an important search tool, but the platform still needs to be consolidated,” says Abel Packer, director of the SciELO program. According to him, DOAI is still not well known, and it is too early to know if it will gain general acceptance among the public. It will take time for news about this tool to spread. If all goes as planned, all articles indexed on SciELO will have an identifying code,” says Packer.

DOAI is a legal alternative to the site Sci-Hub, established in 2011 by Kazakhstani programmer and student Alexandra Elbakyan and hosted in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Sci-Hub is an on-line repository with 48 million articles, most protected by copyright, which had 200,000 searches per day in February 2016. Sci-Hub and DOAI operate in a similar way, although Sci-Hub offers more complete search options than just DOI code. Its huge database provides articles that were downloaded using passwords shared by subscribers at no cost to the site. In 2015, academic publisher Elsevier filed a case against the founder of Sci-Hub in a New York court for copyright violations, but is having trouble in its attempts to bring to justice an initiative operating in a distant country.  “A single woman was able to make public millions of articles that were previously restricted,” says Moreno Barros, a librarian who received his PhD in the History of Science from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

According to him, initiatives such as DOAI and Sci-Hub indicate that science communication is changing slowly and that the Open-Access movement, launched in 2002 with the goal of providing free access to scientific results, has had limited success. “Collectively, 14 years of efforts to rend knowledge from the hands of publishers, one article at a time, has so far resulted in 40% of new articles being free,” says Moreno Barros.