Two short observations on AAAS and open access

May 18, 2015

Matt drew my attention to an old paper I’d not seen before: Riggs (1903) on the vertebral column of Brontosaurus. The page I linked there shows only the first page (which in fact is half a page, since Riggs’ work is only in the right column).

Why only the first page? As Matt put it, “It’s been 110 years, just give us the PDF already. And they wonder (do they wonder?) why people don’t rush to embrace their stumbling broken halting limping steps toward OA.”

That’s exactly right. AAAS allows anyone to read the old Science papers anyway (good for them, as far as it goes), so why all the poxing about with registration? Just make it actual open access, as if you were good guys.

So, two observations, as promised.

First, here’s Matt’s observation: even making users register betrays a way of thinking wrongly about the material. It says, “This is ours but you can see it if you’ll jump through our hoops. Because it is ours.” Whereas real OA outlets say, “Hey, this is yours now, do what you want.”

And here’s mine: I sometimes wonder whether we’re headed for a world where the meaningful scientific literature is going to be from 1660-1923 and from 2010 onwards, with a big gap from 1924 to 2009 that just gets ignored. Because it’s the literature not old enough to be out of copyright but not new enough to be OA.


13 Responses to “Two short observations on AAAS and open access”

  1. Einstein’s original 1905 papers are also still behind a paywall (Springer, this time). If anything deserves further exposure it’s these classics that changed our understanding of the universe.

  2. Chase Says:

    Agreed. While I was searching for information on Erectopus superbus for my series Terrific Tetanurae, I encountered this issue far too much . Friedrich von Huene’s 1923 and 1926 papers on the animal were invaluable to me at the time, and I only had a little time to write the article, so the website registration was just annoying. I don’t even remember which website I was using to get the papers, but it goes to show how widespread this “paper hogging” method is.

  3. Chase Says:

    I also run into this issue when I am doing research on the prehistoric flora and fauna of the Eastern US. Only a few others are doing digs and research on this area presently, and so many of the papers describing fossils found around here are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is the sad truth for many other researchers in paleontology, and we can’t function as well if we don’t have access to these old papers which document the finds.

  4. Marcin Says:

    Didn’t Seeley just recently comment on the 14+14 years (patents), as substantiation for the paywall they cherish oh so fondly?

  5. Zach Miller Says:

    Erectopus superbus is the greatest binomial ever conceived.

  6. “I sometimes wonder whether we’re headed for a world where the meaningful scientific literature is going to be from 1660-1923 and from 2010 onwards, with a big gap from 1924 to 2009 that just gets ignored.”
    A similar situation exists with history and literature. More, and more accessible, texts and sources are available for the c19th than the c20th.

    Einstein’s 1905 papers are freely available; follow the links from the Wikipedia article:
    This appears to be a common practice, of commercial publishers charging for public domain material that is freely available elsewhere. Another example: CUP charge for the c19th volumes of the Camden Records:
    Many of these have been digitized and are freely available:

  7. Huh, I went to double check, and no, it seems they’re not. I was sure the one I saw only last month was indeed paywalled.

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Erectopus superbus is the greatest binomial ever conceived.

    No, that’s Xenoposeidon proneneukos.

  9. Science is freely readable through 1922 at both JSTOR and the Internet Archive. Here’s my cover page with links to both:

    Like most 20th-century academic journals, the AAAS’ Science didn’t renew their issue copyrights, so they should be fair game in the US through 1963 (except perhaps for the odd renewal of an article — quite rare in scholarly publishing but not entirely unheard of — or reprint of copyrighted material from elsewhere.) No major electronic text archive is systematically opening up journal content in the 1923-1963 range at this point, but sufficiently motivated folks able to do the appropriate copyright research could. (Note that journals that didn’t publish in the US are exempt from renewal requirements, but “publishing in the US” for the purposes of this rule should include journals that regularly sold subscriptions to US addresses and sent them issues as they came out. Though I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take this for legal advice.)

    One trouble, though, is that while the 1923 expiry-due-to-age wall is set to start moving again in less than 4 years, the 1964 expiry-due-to-nonrenewal wall will *not* move. So while, with sufficient effort, we could get an additional 41 years of many journals that marketed to US readers, those years will slip further and further into the past, until everything that hasn’t made special open access provisions is under an embargo of 95 years or more.

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for this, John (or is it John Mark?).

    I’m not sure whether reading this makes me happier or sadder. It seems particularly perverse that much of the content of Science is freely available from two sources, but not from its own website.

    And that only issues up to 1922 are available again seems simply petty.

    Still, it’s great that we have people like you on the case, tracking where we are. Hopefully at some point your job will get a lot simpler. The idea that putting barriers in front of scientific articles from 1924 can “advance the sciences and useful arts” is, after all, literally indefensible.

  11. Michael Richmond Says:

    Speaking of AAAS and Science, I learned this week that my university (the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, NY) has recently lost its subscription to Science. Why? Within the past decade or so, RIT has created satellite campuses in a few other countries (Croatia, Dubai, and a couple of others). Our library was told that if it wanted to continue to subscribe to Science, it would not only have to purchase a “package” of journals which included the Science itself, but would also have to purchase the same package for _every_ satellite campus.

    Since each instance of the package was (if my memory is correct) over $10,000, this was seen as too expensive.

    The result? Our university, which has been trying to turn itself into an R1 research institution, has no access to Science.


  12. Kenneth Carpenter Says:

    Science has been available in its entirety through 1922 at the Biodiversity Heritage Library website:

    The only complaint I have of them is that loading search results is very slow.

  13. Michael Richmond Says:


    Thank you for that information. Since most of my colleagues are more interested in material published in the past year than in work published before 1922, I fear that the BHL website will not help them much.

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