The prestigious scientific journal Nature is making its articles free to share and read online, a move that brings us one step closer to open access. The articles, dating all the way back to 1869, will be provided to subscribers and some media outlets in a format that can be read and annotated, but not copied, printed or downloaded.
According to the journal’s publisher Macmillan, who made the announcement on December 2nd, the one-year pilot trial will introduce two initiatives. The first allows subscribers, such as universities and scientists, to share papers from Nature and the 48 other journals within Macmillan’s Nature Publishing Group, such as Nature Neuroscience and Nature Physics.
Subscribers will have the opportunity to share links to a read-only version of the paper’s PDF, which will be hosted by a software platform called ReadCube. Institutional subscribers will have access to papers dating all the way back to when the journal was founded in 1869, but personal subscribers can only share papers from 1997 onwards.
The second initiative will allow 100 major news outlets and blogs across the globe, including the BBC and The New York Times, to provide readers with links to full text, read-only versions of Nature papers. Only subscribers and media outlets are able to create the links, but anyone who sees these links is then free to repost them online, such as sharing them in social media outlets like Twitter. This means that people all across the world will have access to some of the greatest scientific discoveries and breakthroughs of our time, such as solving the structure of DNA, identifying HIV as the causative agent of AIDS and cloning the world’s first animal, Dolly the Sheep.
Although the papers can’t be printed or copied, they can be annotated, which will allow readers to share their notes, encouraging scientists to collaborate by exchanging ideas and comments. Files can also be saved on to your desktop on a free version of ReadCube so they can be accessed again and again.
The idea behind this initiative is to not only open up public engagement with science to society, but also to attempt to put an end to so-called “dark sharing.” Everyone in academia knows that this goes on, but it’s impossible to stop it. All subscribers have to do is print or download a paper and add it to a shared folder, allowing people that don’t pay for a subscription to access the work.
Although this pilot does not necessarily mean that journals within the Nature Publishing Group will become open access, it’s a step in the right direction. Macmillan also hopes that other science publishers may follow suit if the trial proves successful, which would open up access to even more scientific research.