Finding open access research articles

Not all search tools are equal. Also, the advantage of standard licenses.

• Peter Desmet

Image by Peter Desmet

Note: This post is a response to this task of an online course on open science I am following.

As an exercise, I searched for open access (OA) research articles published after 2008 and related to "GBIF" AND "data quality".

Search tools

I tried four search tools:

Search tool Results OA filter
Google Scholar 332 no1
ScienceDirect 100 no2
PubMed Central 148 yes
DOAJ 5 OA only

I found it surprising that not all of these offer the option to filter on open access only. I am curious to know if this is mostly because of technical or other limitations.

Finding the license

For three articles, I dug a little deeper to find the license. Two of these use and clearly indicate Creative Commons Attribution (coincidentally these two were not found by ScienceDirect):

Hill A.W., Guralnick R., Flemons P., Beaman R., Wieczorek J., Ranipeta A., Chavan V., & Remsen D. (2009). Location, location, location: utilizing pipelines and services to more effectively georeference the world’s biodiversity data. BMC Bioinformatics, 10(Suppl 14), S3. doi: 10.1186/1471-2105-10-S14-S3

Belbin L., Daly J., Hirsch T., Hobern D., & La Salle J. (2013). A specialist’s audit of aggregated occurrence records: An ‘aggregator’s’ perspective. Zookeys (305), 67-76. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.305.5438

The other one:

Costello M.J., Michener W.K., Gahegan M., Zhang Z., & Bourne P.E. (2013). Biodiversity data should be published, cited, and peer reviewed. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 28(8), 454-461. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2013.05.002

… (which was not found by PubMed Central and DOAJ) can be downloaded as pdf (= OA), but if you actually want to do something with the content, you have to indicate in a very detailed manner what you want to (re)use the article for. Very few use cases seem to be free. In other words: yuck!

I am quite familiar with the Creative Commons licenses, but now I realize what a mess you get if those aren’t applied. This OA article also demonstrates that the term “open access” doesn’t tell you that much: there’s still a whole range of how open something really is.

  1. Although Google Scholar does not provide an OA filter, it clearly indicates which search results can be accessed for free, by providing a link on the right hand side (which includes the provider and format). 

  2. ScienceDirect also indicates which search results have Full-text available