How to read a scientific journal for free
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How to read a scientific journal for free

How to read a scientific journal for free

Ever tried to access a journal while researching, only to be told you had to pay a week’s worth of groceries just to read one single article? Ever had to go through this exact experience, but with the knowledge that the journal featured research you desperately need for your assignment?

Here’s a nifty study hack courtesy of a generous academic Dr Holly Witteman, Associate Professor in the Department of Family & Emergency Medicine, Université Laval (Laval University), Quebec City, Canada:


It’s a tip that mostly works (unless the journal author’s is no longer alive). Some authors even say they are grateful that someone wants to read their work.

Additional pro tips include making a request from your .edu email address to get a faster response or looking for the “final draft” of the particular journal entry, which is typically word-for-word identical to the published versions.

Some who have tried this email trick not only received the journal article, but were also given other unpublished relevant work by the author and got added to a forum with members working on similar projects as them.

If all of the above fails, there is a final recourse in the form of Sci-Hub. The website describes itself as “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers”. There are now more than 70 million papers and counting.

While the paid journal system is not ideal, it is necessary to ensure people like copy editors and server costs are paid. Many would argue that such information should be free to access for the good of society, and they are right in many ways, but the journal system still provides a reliable, centralised and curated ecosystem, which of course, costs money to run.

Many are overpriced – some universities can’t even afford access to Elsevier – but then again we are dealing with a centralised repository of a huge amount of scientific information.

While we do not condone piracy, it is understandable why sites like Sci-Hub have been created and are so popular. With students already dealing with crippling debt and struggling to even afford the basic necessities, asking a working-class student to fork out US$35 for one journal article is ridiculous. Sci-Hub aims to discontinue this cycle of inequality of knowledge, stating “The scientific knowledge should be available for every person regardless of their income, social status, geographical location and etc.”

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