February 15, 2012

The Open Access Irony Awards: Naming and shaming them

Ask me about open access by mollyaliOpen Access (OA) publishing aims to make the results of scientific research available to the widest possible audience. Scientific papers that are published in Open Access journals are freely available for crucial data mining and for anyone or anything to read, wherever they may be.

In the last ten years, the Open Access movement has made huge progress in allowing:

“any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers.”

But there is still a long way to go yet, as much of the world’s scientific knowledge remains locked up behind publisher’s paywalls, unavailable for re-use by text-mining software and inaccessible to the public, who often funded the research through taxation.

Openly ironic?

ironicIronically, some of the papers that are inaccessible discuss or even champion the very Open Access movement itself. Sometimes the lack of access is deliberate, other times accidental – but the consequences are serious. Whether deliberate or accidental, restricted access to public scientific knowledge is slowing scientific progress [1]. Sometimes the best way to make a serious point is to have a laugh and joke about it. This is what the Open Access Irony Awards do, by gathering all the offenders in one place, we can laugh and make a serious point at the same time by naming and shaming the papers in question.

To get the ball rolling, here is are some examples:

  • The Lancet owned by Evilseviersorry I mean Elsevier, recently  published a paper on “the case for open data” [2] (please login to access article). Login?! Not very open…
  • Serial offender and über-journal Science has an article by Elias Zerhouni on the NIH public access policy [3] (Subscribe/Join AAAS to View Full Text), another on “making data maximally available” [4] (Subscribe/Join AAAS to View Full Text) and another on a high profile advocate of open science [5] (Buy Access to This Article to View Full Text) Irony of ironies.
  • From Nature Publishing Group comes a fascinating paper about harnessing the wisdom of the crowds to predict protein structures [6]. Not only have members of the tax-paying public funded this work, they actually did some of the work too! But unfortunately they have to pay to see the paper describing their results. Ironic? Also, another published in Nature Medicine proclaims the “delay in sharing research data is costing lives” [1] (instant access only $32!)
  • From the British Medical Journal (BMJ) comes the worrying news of dodgy American laws that will lock up valuable scientific data behind paywalls [7] (please subscribe or pay below). Ironic? *
  • The “green” road to Open Access publishing involves authors uploading their manuscript to self-archive the data in some kind of  public repository. But there are many social, political and technical barriers to this, and they have been well documented [8]. You could find out about them in this paper [8], but it appears that the author hasn’t self-archived the paper or taken the “gold” road and pulished in an Open Access journal. Ironic?
  • Last, but not least, it would be interesting to know what commercial publishers make of all this text-mining magic in Science [9], but we would have to pay $24 to find out. Ironic?

These are just a small selection from amongst many. If you would like to nominate a paper for an Open Access Irony Award, simply post it to the group on Citeulike or group on Mendeley. Please feel free to start your own group elsewhere if you’re not on Citeulike or Mendeley. The name of this award probably originated from an idea Jonathan Eisen, picked up by Joe Dunckley and Matthew Cockerill at BioMed Central (see tweet below). So thanks to them for the inspiration.

For added ironic amusement, take a screenshot of the offending article and post it to the Flickr group. Sometimes the shame is too much, and articles are retrospectively made open access so a screenshot will preserve the irony.

Join us in poking fun at the crazy business of academic publishing, while making a serious point about the lack of Open Access to scientific data.


  1. Sommer, Josh (2010). The delay in sharing research data is costing lives Nature Medicine, 16 (7), 744-744 DOI: 10.1038/nm0710-744
  2. Boulton, G., Rawlins, M., Vallance, P., & Walport, M. (2011). Science as a public enterprise: the case for open data The Lancet, 377 (9778), 1633-1635 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60647-8
  3. Zerhouni, Elias (2004). Information Access: NIH Public Access Policy Science, 306 (5703), 1895-1895 DOI: 10.1126/science.1106929
  4. Hanson, B., Sugden, A., & Alberts, B. (2011). Making Data Maximally Available Science, 331 (6018), 649-649 DOI: 10.1126/science.1203354
  5. Kaiser, Jocelyn (2012). Profile of Stephen Friend at Sage Bionetworks: The Visionary Science, 335 (6069), 651-653 DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6069.651
  6. Cooper, S., Khatib, F., Treuille, A., Barbero, J., Lee, J., Beenen, M., Leaver-Fay, A., Baker, D., Popović, Z., & players, F. (2010). Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game Nature, 466 (7307), 756-760 DOI: 10.1038/nature09304
  7. Epstein, Keith (2012). Scientists are urged to oppose new US legislation that will put studies behind a pay wall BMJ, 344 (jan17 3) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e452
  8. Kim, Jihyun (2010). Faculty self-archiving: Motivations and barriers Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology DOI: 10.1002/asi.21336
  9. Smit, Eefke, & Van Der Graaf, M. (2012). Journal article mining: the scholarly publishers’ perspective Learned Publishing, 25 (1), 35-46 DOI: 10.1087/20120106

[CC licensed picture “ask me about open access” by mollyali.]

* Please note, some research articles in BMJ are available by Open Access, but news articles like [7] are not. Thanks to Trish Groves at BMJ for bringing this to my attention after this blog post was published. Also, some “articles” here are in a grey area for open access, particularly “journalistic” stuff like news, editorials and correspondence, as pointed out by Becky Furlong. See tweets below…


  1. […] kur­zer Hin­weis auf einen neuen Preis, auf den die Wis­sen­schafts­welt gewar­tet hat: den Open Access Irony Award. Er wurde von Dun­can Hull ins Leben geru­fen und geht an Fach­zeit­schrif­ten, die Stu­dien […]

    Pingback by Unser Beitrag zum Karneval | Kraut Publishers — February 15, 2012 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  2. How about GigaOm, who shouts stomps and screams against paywalls and yet makes ALL their monet on GigaOmPRO. It’s actually genius, getting others to bankrupt themselves, while you make money.

    Comment by Stephen — February 15, 2012 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

    • Hi Stephen, I might be missing something, but what does GigaOm have to do with publishing scientific papers?

      Comment by Duncan — February 16, 2012 @ 11:49 am | Reply

  3. Great post! Thank you. Here’s another, the authors say “utgers University Libraries is actively expanding its repository to include materials with scholarly merit that are currently siloed in academic departments or otherwise unpreserved and unavailable to the public. ” The article describing the collaboration is behind a paywall, however: http://pulse.me/s/5YAEk

    Comment by Garrett — February 17, 2012 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

  4. Good to read this, and had been wondering whether there is a place to record irony of this kind. Here is another example: http://www.webcitation.org/65XYPOsnQ (also webcitation is a convenient way to take snapshots).

    Comment by sebschmoller — February 18, 2012 @ 9:46 am | Reply

    • I just wanted to point out that our paper is and was always open access – even before it was published in IJTEL. Here is a link to the postprint: http://know-center.tugraz.at/download_extern/papers/open_science.pdf You can check it yourself: Google indexed it on Nov 13. We would not have published with them, if they had not provided the green road to open access.

      Comment by Peter Kraker — February 20, 2012 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

    • In a way I stand corrected, Peter, and I apologise if this has caused offence. An issue is that from the point of view of an “ordinary seeker after knowledge” the availability of the post-print is not all that obvious, especially as it is typically the closed access published instance of a paper that gets shared around (as in this case – a retweet by Figshare of one of the authors of the paper’s tweet that pointed to the IJTEL instance of the paper not the open instance).

      Comment by sebschmoller — February 21, 2012 @ 6:36 am | Reply

      • Thanks for your answer Seb. No offence taken, just glad that we could clear up the confusion. I see your point about the closed access instance: that can be misleading. Nevertheless, a quick Google search will instantly unearth the freely available post-print, so I do not think that our paper belongs on this list.

        Comment by Peter Kraker — February 21, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  5. […] “… But there is still a long way to go yet, as much of the world’s scientific knowledge remains locked up behind publisher’s paywalls, unavailable for re-use by text-mining software and inaccessible to the public, who often funded the research through taxation. Ironically, some of the papers that are inaccessible discuss or even champion the very Open Access movement itself …” (more) […]

    Pingback by Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » The Open Access Irony Awards: Naming and shaming them — February 18, 2012 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

  6. […] submit their manuscripts…and some are committing publicly to publish only in OA journals…albeit ironically some Open Access is more Open than […]

    Pingback by Genomics, prizes, DfID and Open Access | Professor Douglas Kell's blog — February 27, 2012 @ 9:27 am | Reply

  7. Here is another — John Willinsky & Juan Pablo Alperin, 2011, The academic ethics of open access to research and scholarship, Ethics and Education, 6(3):217-223, DOI:10.1080/17449642.2011.632716 (I can’t even find a green OA version of the article.)

    Comment by Joe Kraus — May 7, 2012 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  8. […] Hull compiled an excellent list of […]

    Pingback by Open Science – The great leaps forward | Sustainable Research — June 20, 2012 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  9. […] or even champion the very Open Access movement itself but they are (ironically) inaccessible. So Dun­can Hull foundet the Open Access Irony Award – naming and shaming closed access publications about open access which can be found at his […]

    Pingback by 2012 in review: Set the Default to Open Access › Hybrid Publishing Lab — December 31, 2012 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

  10. This is a great post – thanks! I had a debate with myself in my head about whether to quote some of such “ironic” papers in my own blog if my readers cannot access them, and eventually decided to do it so to bring people’s attention to the frustration – unfortunately many I talked to either in or outside of the research community are still not familiar with this important issue. (I do have some sympathy for the authors though – If you can publish in a high impact journal and your tenureship is riding on it…)

    Comment by Terrific T — February 7, 2013 @ 7:21 am | Reply

  11. Article number 9 is freely available at the very publisher’s site you link to. (As well as freely available via the usual web search channels).

    Comment by Richard Van Noorden (@Richvn) — October 21, 2013 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

    • Hello Richard, good to see that the article is freely available now, it wasn’t when I first wrote this post two years ago. S

      Comment by Duncan Hull — October 22, 2013 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  12. Thanks to your inspiration I keep a list here:


    that gets added to from time to time.

    Comment by juliusbeezer — October 22, 2013 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  13. FYI: @oajoe and Duncan Hill, that article was made OA immediately upon acceptance, and we ensured we’d have the right to post it before we submitted. The reason you see a later modified PDF is that I may have fixed a formatting issue or a typo (I don’t recall now).

    Comment by Juan Pablo Alperin (@juancommander) — March 31, 2015 @ 3:31 am | Reply

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