Pages

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Nature publications and the ReadCube: see but no touch. Or...

Altmetric.com score for the news
item by Van Noorden (see text).
The big (non-science) news this week was the announcement that papers from a wide selection of Nature Publishing Group (NPG) journals can now be shared allowing others without a subscription to read the paper (press release, news item). That is not Open Access to me (that requires the right to modify and redistribute modifications), but does remove the pay-wall and therefore speeding up dissemination. It depends on your perspective if this news is good or bad. I rather see more NPG journals go Open Access, like Nature Communications. But I have gotten used to the publishing industry moving slowly.

Thanks to Altmetric.com (a sister company of ReadCube) and the DOI we can easily find all discussion around the news item by Van Noorden (doi:10.1038/nature.2014.16460) in blogs. From the free, open dissemination of scientific knowledge ideal point of view the product is limited:
Of course, it is a free boon, and from that perspective this is a welcome move:
And it is a welcome move! We have all been arguing that there are so many people not able to access the closed-access papers, including politicians, SMEs, people from 3rd world countries, people with a deathly illness. These people can now access these Nature papers. Sort of. Because you still need a subscription to get one of these ReadCube links to read the paper without pay-wall. It lowers the barrier, but the barrier is not entirely gone yet.

Unless people with a subscription start sharing these links as they are invited too. At this moment it is very clear when and how these links can be shared. Now, this is an interesting approach. In most jurisdictions you are allowed to link to copyrighted material, but the user agreement (UA) can put additional restrictions. When and how this UA applies is unclear.

For example, Ross Mounce suggested to use PubMed Commons. Triggered by that idea, I experimented with the new offering and added a link on CiteULike. I asked if this is acceptable use, and it turned out to be unclear at this moment:
This tweet also shows the state of things, and I congratulate NPG with this experiment. Few established publishing companies seem willing to make these kind of significant steps! Changing the nature of your business is hard, and NPG trying to find a route to Open Science that doesn't kill the company is something I welcome, even if the road is still long!

A nice example of how long this road is, is the claim about "read-only". I think this is bogus. ReadCube has done a marvelous job at rewriting the PDF-viewer and manages to render a paper fully in JavaScript. That's worth a congratulations! It depends on strong hardware and a modern browser. Older browsers with older JavaScript engines will not be able to do the job (try opening a page with KDE's Konqueror). But clearly it is your browser that does the rendering. Therefore:
  1. you do download the paper
  2. you can copy the content (and locally save it)
  3. you can print the content
Because the content is sent to your browser. It only takes basic HTML/JavaScript skills to notice this. And the comment that you cannot print them?? Duh, never heard of screenshots?! Oh, and you will also notice a good amount of tracking information. I noted previously that it knows at least which institute originally shared the ReadCube link, possible in more detail. Others have concerns too.

Importantly, it is only a matter of time that someone clever and too much time (fortunately for ReadCube, scientists are too busy writing grant applications) that someone uses the techniques this ReadCube application uses to render it to something else, say a PDF, to make the printing process a bit easier.

Of course, the question is, will that be allowed. And that is what matters. In the next weeks we will learn what NPG allows us to do and, therefore, what their current position is about Open Science. These are exciting times!