If and when I ever leave the world of academia, I will be very sorry. Not because of the usual reasons, but because I will no longer have free access to thousands of academic journals on the Internet. It’s simply a wonder to be able to go over to Pubmed, type in any keyword, and get links to dozens or hundreds of papers and reviews that I can download as PDF. It’s a real shame that most journals won’t allow the public to browse their archives. I’m well aware that there are several projects to try and get more papers into the public domain, which is laudable, but it just isn’t enough.
Here’s a practical example. In preparation for revision, I’ve been downloading the PDFs for every single paper that’s been referenced in my course so far. As you might imagine, that adds up to quite a lot of papers – just under 200, I think. The point here is not that I’m going to read all of them, which would be a waste of time, but I don’t want to have to be going off and searching around for references all the time. It’s much more convenient having them all in one place.
So, it took me a fair few hours to get all the papers together. I reckon I managed to download about 80-90% of all of the references; I couldn’t get some because they were too old (why can’t all journals be like Science and host every single issue online, eh?) or because Cambridge isn’t subscribed to all of the journals (either we’re being extorted, or we’re too cheap – or both). Perhaps 10% of all of the papers I downloaded were available online for free, and most of those were from PNAS.
It really is astonishing how much information is out there, online at journals, and I honestly can’t imagine how much science would be accelerated and improved if everyone had free access to all papers.