Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Unaccessible citations

Science is important, but if I have two citations on hand, and one of them is easily accessible, while the other one is not, I'm going to cite the accessible one.

I feel a bit sorry for the author (maybe they did not have any choice). I also realize that most probably I'm not "punishing" the publisher at all, because they simply don't care (especially in case of old publications, when citations do not affect the impact factor anymore). But still there's an emotional component to it. You're not giving me this 1975 paper, even though you clearly have a PDF version of it, and our university has access to your jornal? Fine! I'll just cite the latest review!

At the same time I wonder if there's any incentive at all for the publishers to put their old papers online. Right now I can not think of any, and it is kind of sad. Without references to old papers new publications become kind of boring: too mechanistic, arrogant, and shallow. It's like a case of anterograde amnesia, when a person kind of keeps the discussion going, but does not remember anything about the global picture anymore. Also in behavioral sciences even papers from 1960s may be directly relevant to your current research, because animals were the same back then as they are now, and the descriptions of their behavior are probably still quite valid.

So, while for new papers the invisible hand of the market can, in principle, encourage authors to publish in open-access journals, old papers are simply left behind.


  1. Of course you could always GO to the library to photocopy the original article...

    Plus the publisher in 1975 is unlikely to be the current publisher of the journal.

  2. Yes, I can go to the library. Still I find it disturbing that the PDF does theoretically exist, but we don't have access to it, and there's no "market force" out there that would make us get access to it, realistically. Nobody except me needs this pdf; it's just too old to be relevant for the majority of fields. A boring suboptimal stalemate situation it is.