Getting hold of papers

Over at the Open Source Paleontologist there is an excellent article about getting hold of research papers (primarily PDFs, but also other sources). It’s well worth a read as he lists various sources for PDFs and ways of searching for them online. There are a few on there I didn’t know about so it’s well worth a look.

Two quick things I will add here (which I also left in a comment on the site) are quite important to this area of scientific research (both for amateurs and professionals). First off, while Andy mentions them, there are increasing numbers of ‘PDF collections’ online, with indices of whole rafts of papers based around subjects (ones for theropods, pterosaurs and ankylosaurs are out there) or people (Marsh is done and Cope I believe is in progress) and more and more researchers are making their papers availbale online on homepages and lab pages (Mike Benton for example has most of his papers, going back to the 70’s, available to download). In other words, in addition to open source journals and google there are huge stores of research inforamtion available online to anyone with a computer and two minutes worth of ‘googling’. Which brings me to my second point.

Why must I (and plenty of other people) put up with the endless requests for papers from people? If you want a copy of *my* papers, then fine, I’ll more than happily send on a PDF or hardcopy if I can. I want people to read my research and cite my papers. That’s a fundamental part of my job and all to the good. What I don’t like is the constant barrage of requests made by people all over the web for every single paper that comes out. This is especially seen on blogs where someone reports on a paper and instantly half a dozen people request copies of the PDF (and this is the same on mailing lists too, with constant requests for papers followed up by loads of other guys asking for a copy once the cry has gone up). It is probably freely available online and if not, the authors will happily send you a copy if you e-mail them.

It is, I feel, discourteous to expect researchers to spend their time randomly e-mailing copies of papers to anyone who asks when they have nothing to do with the paper. Yes it is their chocie to blog about it and spead the news in the first place, but that is in itself a service, and asking for all kinds of ‘extras’ constantly is an unfair use of their time. It will take you as long to e-mail the original author and ask for a copy of the paper as it will to put in a comment on the blog asking for someone to mail the paper to you, who has nothing to do with the work, and is already giving up his time to tell you about it in the first place. It’s especially true of the non-professionals who understandably don’t necessarily have access to all the journals etc. but enough professionals are guilty of the same thing and that’s not an excuse to harry people for reprints and PDFs.

I know some people are good about going this extra mile for service, and yes obviously not every paper is easily available online, or for that matter the contact details of the author (though increasingly that is less and less of an excuse) but it IS a pain. I feel mean when I don’t dig them out myself and send them on because, well, I am a nice guy, but it is (in my opinion) unthinking and unnecessary to expect people to just send out these things when they have real work to do. The act of unthinkingly asking (or even demanding) papers becuase you want to read them is not right. So if you are one of those “I must have it now, please send it to me” types, do stop and think for a minute. You have google. You have online archives. You can contact the authors. You can, and this may be shock, wait a few days before you read it, it won’t kill you – so calm down and look properly online first. If you must contact someone, contact a close research assocaite of the author who is likely to have a copy (a common co-author, his students, or someone who works in a simialr field) who is likely to have it. Send them a short and polite e-mail asking for a copy. Don’t just bang down a bunch of comments on blog threads or e-mail half the palaeo community asking for it.

This is something that rarely affects me personally I admit (apart from when I have my inbox filled with people requesting some new fish paper via the Vert Pal mailing list) and I am not sure how much it bothers others but is I think an important piece of netiquette that people need to think about. Do your own work, and don’t expect others to do it for you. And if you have to ask, ask nicely and ask the right people. Authors are delighted to know people are interested in and reading their papers and it helps them keep track of who is doing what and how their work is recieved, so just ask them.

14 Responses to “Getting hold of papers”

  1. 1 BrianR 02/04/2009 at 11:38 am

    “It is, I feel, discourteous to expect researchers to spend their time randomly e-mailing copies of papers to anyone who asks when they have nothing to do with the paper.”

    I agree.

    “Do your own work, and don’t expect others to do it for you.”


    In my experience, those that are the most demanding are typically the least grateful.

    btw, nice choice of blog theme 🙂

  2. 2 Roger 02/04/2009 at 2:22 pm

    I’ve asked the dinosaur email list for two or three papers in my time; to be fair, they’re from journals like Acta Geologica Sinica or that have only just started to make their content available through western publishers. Do you know of a better way to access Vertebrata PalAsiatica, Chinese Science Bulletin or Acta Geologica Sinica?

  3. 3 David Hone 02/04/2009 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    Roger, access to these journals is tricky it’s true, but then most Chinese authors are easy enough to hunt down. Most publish in English journals too so their e-mail addresses can be found in those papers, in addition to online indexes and contact details. You don’t have to contact the lead author every time either, so you can always try and get hold of them, or even just other people in the same department or university. Even if you are still stuck, as I say, e-mail a few relevant researchers who are likely to have the paper (so with Mesozoic birds say Chiappe, Dyke, Lindow, Lemana etc.) or know the author who can then let you know, rather than 500 people on a mailing list.

    Of course it can be your only resource, and if you need something ina huge hurry then of course it’s best to ask a ton of people than two or three consecutively and hope for an answer. I’m not saying (though I might have sounded it) that this MUST END NOW!!! but most of the time, these e-mails and blog comments seem to be an unthought of reflex, “oh I want that paper, gimmie” and that is an issue.

  4. 4 Roger 02/04/2009 at 4:09 pm

    This is true. I feel worse, however, about bothering Luis or Gareth (even Jingmai) because they’re always flat to the boards, and it’s easy enough to ignore requests for papers on the dinosaur list. At least an interested amateur often has a paper that they can email easily enough.

    Perhaps it’s different if you have all the dino list messages stream into your inbox (I have them bypass my inbox and labelled with a gmail filter), but there’s enough banal conversation on that list for it not to be THAT bad (what dinosaurs could you take in a fight??? give me a break).

  5. 5 Roger 02/04/2009 at 4:12 pm

    By the way, no April Fools post? I feel cheated!

  6. 6 David Hone 02/04/2009 at 4:36 pm

    Well, that is why they are your research collagues. Again, I’d rather badger friends and colleagues for rare papers since I know they will do the same to / for me (I get lots of requests for Chinese papers now, and before that they were German ones I could provide, or at least point people as to whom to ask) than lots of random people, or leave a comment on some guys blog.

    As for April 1st, I did have a ‘fun’ post prepared, but entirely independently of April Fools and then realised. It’s not really a ‘trick’ more just a bit of fun, but it will go up in a few days. I don’t really plan in that way and frankly rarely know what the date is.

  7. 7 Roger 02/04/2009 at 4:41 pm

    I wasn’t really chastising your lack of zany posts… they just seem to be par for the course on palaeo blogs these days!

  8. 8 David Hone 02/04/2009 at 4:59 pm

    I just don’t go in for that kind of thing normally. And no chastising was detected, don’t worry.

  9. 9 Andy 04/04/2009 at 10:37 pm

    Excellent post! You’ve nailed one of my pet peeves about VRTPALEO / Dinosaur Mailing List. . .the “gimmee the paper now” reflex. My favorite(?) recent experience in this vein was the one or two requests for copies of my PLoS ONE article. . .I mean, wow, that’s lazy.

  10. 10 David Hone 05/04/2009 at 9:14 am

    They asked for PLOS ONE papers? Wow, that is brilliant. I rest my case.

  11. 11 Kenneth Carpenter 01/02/2011 at 4:13 pm

    Sorry to jump into this late, but I just stumbled upon your blog article. Here are some other sources for free PDFs:

    Biodiversity Library

    Internet Archives

    Open Library:

    Directory of Open-Access Journals (mostly geoscience)

    Geoscience e-Journals

    And, no it does not bother me to have people ask for my publications. I expect it an view it as a responsibility for having asked for articles from others in the past.

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