A question for the personal website OA fans

January 14, 2013

For some reason the response on Twittah to the JSTOR downloader guy killing himself has been a round of open access bragging. People are all proud of themselves for posting all of their accepted manuscripts in their websites, thereby achieving personal open access.

But here is my question…. How many of you are barraged by requests for reprints? That’s the way open access on the personal level has always worked. I use it myself to request things I can’t get to by the journal’s site. The response is always prompt from the communicating author.

Seems to me that the only reason to post the manuscripts is when you are fielding an inordinate amount of reprint requests and simply cannot keep up. Say…more than one per week?

So are you? Are you getting this many requests?

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No Responses Yet to “A question for the personal website OA fans”


  1. I don’t get requests … because my papers are on my website! I do know they get downloaded and read. There were just over 1,000 hits to the publications page in 2012, and people occasionally mention to me that they’ve gotten papers from the website.

    The other reason to put papers up is to get them cited. A few of my papers that were in press got cited before they were actually published. Actually, I also sometimes put up drafts, and they have gotten cited as well. It’s not a huge number of citations, all in all, but at my stage of my career, every little bit helps.

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  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    Website hits are a very poor indicator of paper downloads. Especially if it is from Google juice from a few keywords. I suspect the people telling you they downloaded your paper overlap substantially with those that would have dashed off an email request if they had to.

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  3. GMP Says:

    Honestly, the biggest reason for me posting my own articles on my group website is laziness: my students and I can easily access them from wherever. Unless I am on campus, it’s a pain in the ass to access anything through the library or by remotely logging into my office machine and then downloading/emailing to self. While I must do that for the papers of others, I don’t want to do it for my own.

    I love article PDFs posted on people’s websites. As I am googling people, I always check publications and I will open various interesting-sounding posted PDFs; I learn a lot of cool new things that way. If I had to look each of those papers up through formal channels, it would not happen.

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  4. Bashir Says:

    My papers are up. Not because of any OA feeling I have but because that seems to be the norm amongst the people I know, and I want my papers available for the usual professional reasons.

    My webtracker does keep track of downloads. Maybe I average one paper a week? Not terribly high.

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  5. I want people to read my papers – making the process a “request” one increases the energy barrier ever so slightly. I wouldn’t just post the title of a blog post and ask that readers email me for the full text, so why do so with a paper?

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  6. DrugMonkey Says:

    You know you aren’t generally permitted to post the journal’s PDF when it is otherwise closed access, right GMP?

    Manuscript format only, people. ‘Cause I’m sure you are all law abiding citizens.

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  7. AmasianV Says:

    I can see the request model as a de facto ice breaker to open up some communication. I haven’t personally experienced this with paper requests, but have with reagent requests where the corresponding author has provided additional insight/refs once they had an idea of why I needed the reagent. I’ve paid it forward.

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  8. A. Tasso Says:

    I frequently direct requests to the corresponding author, typically for “an electronic preprint or manuscript draft” of the article. Nine times out of 10 my request is granted. Every now and then an annoying twit will reply with a “I don’t think the journal would appreciate if I break the copyright — here is a URL where you can purchase the article”. Then I don’t cite them.

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  9. Laurent Says:

    You would do pdf web posting whenever you happen to have published papers with an email from an institution that refused to maintain that precise email adress (that even simply refused to redirect emails to another email of yours) because the contract was done period.

    That’s not so uncommon (though you probably should learn you better use a personnal email like gmail, your tenured co-authors may grumpily scream that it’s unprofessional and make the paper look like junk and they better put there their own email instead, or institution do pressure you to use your institutional email even if they eventually turn your account down a few year later).

    That is a reason. Conflict of interest between formal institution acknowledgement and their use of workforce not even worth ghost-redirection host accounts.

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  10. GM Says:

    You know you aren’t generally permitted to post the journal’s PDF when it is otherwise closed access, right GMP?

    But so many people do that – why hasn’t anyone been busted yet?

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  11. GMP Says:

    Well, I don’t know about biomed journals, but a large number of physics and engineering journals allow you to post the published version of the article as long as you also leave a link to the paper on the publisher’s site. I also have a copyright disclaimer on my website — all is posted for personal use, copyright retained by publishers etc etc. For those publishers that specify that you are not allowed to post a version typeset by them, you are still allowed to post preprint plus link. I don’t know of any journals (in the fields I am familiar with) that prevent you from posting manuscript copies typeset by you; Nature and Nature Progeny don’t want you to do it before publication, but afterwards it’s OK.

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  12. qaz Says:

    It is true that I get fewer reprint requests for papers that have PDF up on my website, so it is having an effect. (I haven’t measured it quantitatively, but there is a noticeable difference between those that are up and those that aren’t. [I wait one year to put them up, but then put everything up in final PDF form.])

    But I think the more important issue is that I suspect that there are people reading the paper from the PDF on the website who wouldn’t send me a reprint request. From my own behavior, there are papers that I read from a colleague’s website that I wouldn’t bother them with a reprint request for. Obviously, if I really need a copy of the paper, I will get it from them (or from interlibrary loan), but that’s an extra step and I have noticed that it diminishes the likelihood that I will actually go get the paper. As Hopkinson says above, it’s a small, but real energy barrier.

    PS.I’ve noticed that actual reprint requests (which are finally now all email) almost always come from older faculty. I suspect that younger people don’t do the reprint request thing as much. I know that I’ve had to tell my students “It’s OK to send professor X an email and ask for a copy of the paper.” (Particularly new students are nervous about “wasting professor X’s time”.)

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  13. Even in the case where the journal disallows posting them on the website directly, I know of at least one professor who’s written an automated reprint-request system — click a button on the website and it will email you a PDF.

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  14. DrugMonkey Says:

    GM-

    Because it is only worth doing as a show trial, a la music pirating, or if they can nail something as big as a University. At a guess….

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  15. DrugMonkey Says:

    Laurent-

    Your reason can be easily handled by updating your email on the website of wherever you plan to host the paper list. Also works for the non-communicating authors.

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  16. becca Says:

    DM- why would sending them the published version of the pdf by email be any different (legally) than putting it up on a website? For that matter, where is the evidence that the draft versions are legally acceptable?

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  17. Andy Says:

    Working at an institution with minimal library facilities (with the exception of JSTOR), I rely upon author websites a fair bit. For papers of borderline interest (something of only partial relevance to what I’m working on at the moment) or “gee-whiz” value (not really relevant at all but it looks cool), having to email the author generally means I won’t bother. There are also times (grant deadlines, wrapping up edits on manuscript, etc.) when I need or want the paper at that very instant, and having to email the author rather than just download the PDF is a major hindrance. I may not have the option to wait one hour, or one day, or one week, or one month (if it’s field season), if the author ever responds at all. [from personal experience, I would say about 95% of authors respond to digital requests – those who are less well-known in their field may have different experiences]

    I have many of my papers posted (legally) at my institutional website, and email links for those that I cannot post. For those papers, I have noticed there are 3 or 4 that get pretty steady requests for copies (between once a week and once a month), and the rest have few requests.

    So, when authors post their papers they have people (like me) reading them who might not otherwise, and they allow readers to get the paper much, much more quickly. If you will forgive me being a little abrasive, I think those who are fortunate to have excellent library access do not realize what a pain it is for those who don’t.

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  18. DrugMonkey Says:

    becca-

    Because that’s what the publishers write into their agreement that you sign, thereby agreeing to uphold. (And before you get fronty, yes the communicating author agrees on behalf of all authors for many publishers.)

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  19. DrugMonkey Says:

    Andy-

    Oh, you would be surprised on that….

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  20. bashir Says:

    Does the copyright disclaimer mean anything? I don’t recall my agreement saying “you can do X as long as there is a disclaimer”.

    Also, as said before, do people get busted for this? I know many who post everything and have only heard once or twice of someone being asked to take a paper down (usually a glam mag).

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  21. lylebot Says:

    Almost everyone in my field posts their papers on a personal or institutional web page. It’s practically unheard of not to. Not sure any reason is needed if it’s so easy to do.

    The ACM (through which most of us publish a lot of our work) copyright policy says authors retain “the right to post author-prepared versions of the work covered by ACM copyright in a personal collection on their own Home Page and on a publicly accessible server of their employer, and in a repository legally mandated by the agency funding the research on which the Work is based.” In most cases the actual printed version is identical to the author-prepared version.

    Some researchers don’t provide papers published by publishers with a stricter copyright policy, such as Springer or Elsevier. Some don’t bother submitting anything to those publishers since they prefer the ACM’s policy (and the ACM would almost certainly have an alternate venue for them). But I’ve never heard of anyone asked to remove anything they’ve put up.

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  22. zb Says:

    Some of you seem to have the data to make the comparison: downloads v email requests. I would hypothesize that email requests would be much much lower than downloads (though if you added the caveat that email requestors are probably more likely to read, I don’t know how many more readers one would have).

    I agree wholeheartedly with Andy that those who have easy access via their institutions/libraries vastly underestimate how significantly the limited access impedes others’ work. I remember a brief period in the olden days when our university had barriers to access from home internet connections. That barrier used to make it nearly impossible to work from home.

    And, I noted a particular problem with access to articles when reviewing — in that case, there are minor barriers to requesting papers (which identifies you to the authors) and when requesting work from authors unfamiliar with you.

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  23. zb Says:

    Are you surprised “for some reason” that folks are posting their own support for the open-access paradigm in honor of someone who worked so hard in support of open access? It seems the sensible reaction to me, if you also believe passionately in open access. And, many scientists do. They believe the work they do should be accessible to anyone who wants to read it, in the easiest to obtain format possible. They balance this need with other constraints (prestige of journals, privacy concerns, confidentiality), but ultimately they want the information to be free (like butterflies).

    I think it’s wrong to blame the open access battle for Swartz’s death (depression *is* a pathology), but it is a predictable reaction that people would try to honor a person they respect for something he believed in. And, yes, if there’s some civil disobedience involved, that’s a risk many are willing to take, too.

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  24. zb Says:

    Also, I like to remember Swartz as the PACER downloader guy. PACER (electronic federal court records) restriction is much less justifiable than the JSTOR restrictions. PACER is used by the courts as a revenue raiser by limiting access to public information (information that isn’t copyrighted). I think the court gets away with this because they’re the ones who get to decide whether its legal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PACER_%28law%29

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  25. David Dobbs Says:

    This is silly: The reason to post them proactively is to make them available to search, or to anyone who comes across the researcher’s website from interest. Why require people to write the author to get the paper?

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  26. drugmonkey Says:

    DD- because that’s what the authors agreed to do, period, end of story. don’t like it, don’t agree. Is open access the standard in journalism? Do all journalists, commenter, book authors, etc make their stuff totally and freely available to “search”? no? Why not?

    I think it’s wrong to blame the open access battle for Swartz’s death (depression *is* a pathology),

    Yep. This is what’s really pissing me off in all of this. Bunch of tagging along on sensationalistic bullshittio that if scientists had this turned on them they would be on the fucking barricades about how unjustified it was.

    if there’s some civil disobedience involved, that’s a risk many are willing to take, too.

    Interesting that so many scientists are more willing to “risk”* the consequences of this type of civil disobedience rather than simply publishing OA in the first place, isn’t it? God forbid they should risk* the IF halo credit to their careers…

    *and of course that is because they think paying any sort of price is unlikely in the first case and a near surety in the second.

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  27. zb Says:

    “*and of course that is because they think paying any sort of price is unlikely in the first case and a near surety in the second.”

    But, that’s a perfectly reasonable assessment to make in deciding how to pursue the goal of open access. If the risk of civil disobedience v the risk of career damage through OA journals (or lower IF journals) is lower, by all means, it’s reasonable to take that risk. Committing career suicide (if that were the risk of publishing only in OA journals) wouldn’t further the goal of OA very far. Making all your work available (taking the risk that you will be harassed about it) might be a reasonable risk that furthers the goal.

    For example, I wouldn’t encourage a non-US citizen to take the risk of civil disobedience in violating copyright laws, because the consequences to them could be great (if they get deported or don’t get a visa renewed, both easier to do than a criminal prosecution).

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  28. drugmonkey Says:

    The true wackaloon (and really I mean that descriptively) believes that open is not career suicide and in fact the opposite. see Michael Eisen. Of course he is a science 1%er so he can do nutty stuff like publish every thing in PLOS ONE with zero risk to his career and grant prospects. probably with nil risk to his trainees as well.

    what people have to think about is that most of the run of the mill postdocs and assistant professors being told to go open access, fight the power, etc are basically cannon fodder soldiers being used by the generals, politicians and the neocon type chickenhawks to further their own agendas. Will it result in keeping our grandchildren free of Communist rule (I mean, “paywall journals”)? maybe. but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of labless veterans panhandling on the corner for spare grant change either.

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  29. Grumble Says:

    Well, given that paywall journals haven’t raised a fuss about authors’ posting their own papers on their own websites, it seems that the most reasonable course of action for a PI would be to keep submitting to those journals, then post the papers on his/her website.

    Because, look, there’s probably a reason why Elsevier et al haven’t come out screaming at PIs and colleges to take down these papers: it would make them look completely ridiculous. Can you imagine the blogospheric brouhaha? “Elsevier told me I can’t post my own paper on my own website, but it’s fine to e-mail the paper when requested, so what exactly is the difference? Elsevier sucks and I’m going to avoid publishing with them in the future blah blah blah.” Maybe Elsevier ignores reprints on PIs’ websites because it knows it would lose more than it would gain by threatening its own authors.

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  30. @David
    Exactly. I appreciate easy access to the publications of others, so I return the favor for others by putting mine on my website. Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to the problem because I work at at a soft money institute that basically only subscribes to the glamour mags and so we need to use interlibrary loan (which often takes a week or more) to get papers from other journals if we can’t find the pdfs of the papers we want on somebody’s website rather than behind a journal paywall. I know people at large research universities that just subscribe to the complete set of Elsevier and Springer may never have have run into the problem of running into these annoying paywalls, but they are very real for many of us.

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  31. @DM
    “Do all journalists, commenter, book authors, etc make their stuff totally and freely available to ‘search’? no? Why not?”

    Completely different case. Journalists and book authors write stuff to sell and make money on. Sure, the publishers make money too, but the authors get their share of the profits from their content. Academia is different in that the content producers don’t get paid. The only people who get paid for academic works are the unnecessary middlemen.

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  32. Laurent Says:

    DM:
    Your reason can be easily handled by updating your email on the website of wherever you plan to host the paper list. Also works for the non-communicating authors.

    True, but unfortunately suffering conditions (I’m assuming the ref list will be institutional):
    – The place you wish to have an updated list of your references and working email needs to have more visibility than your previous ones and will not be burried away in the great sink deepness of the obscure infrawebs. When you’ve been transitioning several times in your career or have been giving talks with a huge success, people may still not find your current email.

    – You have this opportunity of having a hosted page because your next Lab does it (not necessarily true for all institutions around the world for plenty of different reasons, all bad).

    – You are actually employed somewhere, that is, you jump from post-doc so to the next one.

    – You have an autor’s name that’s cute enough but not too exotic, and don’t share it with some football or actress celebrity, so that people can track your brand new working email. (How many homonyms in there? That sucks too!).

    If a more stable situation is to self-manage your own research page, then putting pdf files to wide access might be the same as just putting a simple listing with a working email, wouldn’t it? (Except that you don’t really know who’s been asking a reprint for real, whatever that means).

    ———-
    That said, most embargoes in my field do not usually span over a year at most, so it is not unmanageable to upload papers once in a while while respecting these.

    An advantage of putting pdf files somewhere is that it is tracked down by google scholar, which means access is increased despite your own page being somewhere in nihil-silico.

    This may be a reason not so obvious at first, but:
    another advantage that I find most convenient is that people can reach my papers even when I’m lost for several months into remote some fieldwork place and without internet access. (not every scientist is in this situation, but many are).

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  33. drugmonkey Says:

    people can reach my papers even when I’m lost for several months into remote some fieldwork place and without internet access.

    You certainly have a point for people in this situation.

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  34. Anonoctopus Says:

    I think it’s an activation energy thing. People are much more likely to right click and download than to write an email to the communicating author. The listed # of downloads for our PLoS ONE paper is quite large; so even if it’s an order of magnitude lower for pdfs on a personal website I’d say that’s pretty substantial.

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  35. toto@club-med.so Says:

    Are we seriously asking why it would be a good idea to eliminate a level of bureaucracy? Because yes, asking for an actual request to provide information is a definition of bureaucracy.

    Besides, PDFs on your website can be indexed by Google and Google Scholar. PDFs on your hard drive can’t. Besides the sheer advantage of having a direct download link next to search results, it can also present you from being in the results at all: if you’re in a conference-heavy field like Comp Sci, conference organizers won’t necessarily host your paper for search engines to read. Unless you hate having your research cited by others, that’s a pretty strong argument.

    Seriously, the question goes the other way round. Why on earth would you want to put a turnpike between your research and the world, when it actually costs less effort and hassle to just put everything out there once and for all and be done with it?

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  36. DrugMonkey Says:

    The question is not about whether totes open access would be good thing. It is more about the fact that you are violating a contract you agreed to follow when you made your publication deal.

    Are you suggesting you have a rationale for why you are not, in fact, a dishonest participant in an agreement or bargain? If you are dishonest, how can we trust your word in other contracts and bargains….like, f’rinstance, the implicit contract with fellow scientists not to fake data?

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  37. @DM
    There are reasonable contracts and unreasonable ones. Unreasonable ones *ought* to be broken, and I for one take *pride* in doing so. Publishers have no reasonable say in what I do with *my* papers so I post them on my site and Apple has no reasonable say in what I do with *my* iPhone so I jailbroke it.

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  38. zb Says:

    A good example being restrictive covenants on the purchases of property (common, and limiting sale to non-whites). Yes, it would be a more honorable battle to fight having it in place in the first place, when you bought the house. And, also, a battle that would have been nearly impossible to win. But, if it’s there, it’s more honorable to ignore it.

    And, no, someone’s decision to break that contract wouldn’t make me think that they were at all more likely to fake data.

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  39. Alifair Says:

    I had a conversation with a fellow grad student the other day, and she didn’t even realize that she *could* email an author to request a print. I told her that of course she could, and she said that she was way too intimidated to ever do something so brash. So it’s not just the required activation energy that prevents people from requesting prints, but fear and cluelessness!

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  40. Arseny Says:

    I know how I look for papers. Pubmed returns say 30 refs that look promising. But at this point I’m not yet sure they are good, they are just promising. If I can not find one of them online, would I write to the author? No! It doesn’t worth the effort at this point.

    Thus: having your papers in open access increases the chances to be read, to be cited, and, generalizing, to be alive in professional sense.

    As other people have indicated not only writing to the author takes time, it is also a human-to-human interaction, and thus takes effort, and may have (for some people, on some days) a rather high threshold.

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  41. drugmonkey Says:

    JB-

    Bank robbers have the same rationale for why it is cool that they steal money from banks.

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  42. drugmonkey Says:

    Also “that guy *needed* killin'”

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  43. The difference is that there are very reasonable reasons why robbing banks and killing people are illegal — society couldn’t function in such a Mad Max world were these weren’t illegal. But all progress in society comes from violating the unreasonable rules. Just like how few people today can understand how society thought it was okay to make rules as to what ethnic groups could use certain bathrooms, and that these rules didn’t change until people stopped obeying them. I hope future generations will be equally puzzled by how certain corporations thought that they could control the access of content that they didn’t write, and I’ll be proud to have done my part.

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  44. zb Says:

    “I hope future generations will be equally puzzled by how certain corporations thought that they could control the access of content that they didn’t write, and I’ll be proud to have done my part.”

    I’d change “write” to “create” and agree. I see the current publication paradigm, in which content creators turned over all copyrights to publishers (in, particularly, science, in which the content creation was paid for by universities & government & not-for-profit agencies) as an artifact of a past world in which the work of the corporation (reviewing/formatting/printing) the content was a sizable portion of the work, and the creators had no real alternatives for dissemination of the information. The world has changed, and so the system has to change going into the future.

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  45. drugmonkey Says:

    and I’ll be proud to have done my part.

    “Grampy? Where were YOU when they shot the Eisen Bros on that balcony in Atlanta?”

    JB- “on the barricades, honey, on the barricades”.

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  46. bam294 Says:

    I’m confused*. Are we suppose to be doing something with ‘publications”? I thought I was working on science for ‘public relations’. This is going to be embarrassing for tenure…

    *Not so confused that I only wear one sneaker, so that’s a huge relief yes DM?

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  47. Boehninglab Says:

    A barrier for me is ridiculous bills of $1000+ to publish a paper. I recently had a paper with a much maligned fee-based publisher and did not get a bill. I called the editorial office and asked about page charges they acted like I was insane. IT WAS FREE! Like DM, I have never had an issue getting a pdf via email. I get very few reprint requests (my last one was OA, LOL) and I still manage to get a few citations.

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