Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login

Oh, I'm not surprised to find the CS literature leading the way to our hyperlinked future. CS folks are the first to know the score when it comes to online publishing.

Unfortunately, I was never a CS guy, I was a cancer researcher. And if you can't read the Nature journals you're not going to keep up with medical or genetic research -- everyone in the field openly lusts after Nature publications; Nature gets first crack at every manuscript -- and Nature sits firmly behind a paywall.

Let's try your helpful suggestions on the legendary paper, Viable offspring derived from fetal and mammalian cells, a.k.a. "the Dolly-the-sheep paper", Nature 385, 810-813 (27 February 1997). Surely I can write a blog post in which I link directly to the methods section of this famous work, which contains the first-ever working recipe for cloning an entire mammal? I mean, this is from 1997. We even had the web in 1997. Don't try to tell me that this has to be painstakingly transcribed from some faded papyrus.

Pubmed has the abstract, of course -- they have abstracts for everything:


And Microsoft provides lots of cute metadata about this paper, but no actual contents:


...so if I want to talk about the methods section, it looks like I'll have to tell my blog readers to click through to, e.g., the Nature Publishing Group and pay thirty-two dollars for the privilege [1]:


Or will I? Google Scholar to the rescue:


The first link is to a reprint of most of the article, in a book. And they've managed to include every page. Today, anyway. For me, this time. (Other pages of the book are "not included" in the preview, so maybe others won't be so lucky?)

Oops, except the figures and tables aren't there. Sure hope there wasn't any data in those figures and tables.

So I'm saved, sort of, thanks to Google's big scanning budget and even bigger legal budget, provided I want to cite the words of Wilmut et al, and not their data. Or their slightly-more-obscure references, or any of their many citations -- for those, I will have to repeat this dance, and hope I still get lucky.

I know I've got a bit of an idee fixe here, but I cannot get over how utterly lame this is. My god, it is lame. Much of the best work of modern civilization, the pinnacle of hundreds of years of scientific advance, work which our society invests billions of dollars in, is hidden inside this pitifully obsolete rent-seeking system while we use state-of-the-art infotech to exchange pop-music lyrics and annotate famous games of Magic: The Gathering.


[1] No, that is not thirty-two dollars per year, or even per month. That's one paper. You're probably better off springing for a subscription ($199) although that only gets you Nature: all the other journals in the Nature family, like Nature Medicine, are extra, and of course every other journal is also extra.

And even in CS you are mostly out of luck if it has been published by any of the usual anti-progress rackets like the ACM or IEEE or the other usual suspects (Springer , Elsevier and their ilk). Sometimes authors are allowed to publish a copy on their homepages, and sometimes they even do, but you still have to find it. Just yesterday I tried to find a description and current assesment of an algorithm from the late 60ies (arc labeling for shortest paths with turn penalties), and most references I found were north of $35 for twelve pages.

I completely agree about Springer and Elsevier, but the ACM and IEEE both offer "Digital Library" subscriptions that give you complete access to the entire archives of all of their publications for a couple of hundred bucks a year (including their membership fee.) That's a small price to pay for the quantity and quality of material available, at least in my opinion-- and I'd be ecstatic if Elsevier or Springer offered a similar option. (I've probably paid more than that to Springer this year alone just to get a half-dozen individual articles.)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact