Open Access Activism

“In our push for open access, we must recognize that those pushing for institutional policies are exhibiting one form of activism. There are many other open access activists who are exposing kindred faults in the system, and we must recognize and fix those too.” Open Access Isn’t Just About Open Access

“Katoomba Mural” flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using (CC0)


Among the growing national and institutional open access mandates there are educators, researchers, and students seeking access open solutions.  We will consider three:

The Open Access Button has two main goals:

  1. Track when and where researchers encounter publisher pay walls (articles unavailable because the user hasn’t paid a subscription or access fee).
  2. Provide researchers with additional tools to find available full text articles (such as copies available from open access repositories).

This student-led idea arose during a conference in Washington DC run by charity Medsin, which aims to tackle health inequalities.  In partnership with the Right to Research Coalition.

The use of The Open Access button aims to help more people find research papers. But just as importantly, it generates worldwide data on the extent of problems created by academic journal paywalls.

Unpaywall harvests open access content directly from over 50,000 journals open-access repositories from all over the world. They also use open data from PubMed Central, the DOAJ, Crossref and DataCite. Unpaywall shares their open data to allow institutions and researchers the ability to leverage their database.


What to Do

Explore The Open Access Button

Get your Open Access Button.

You can get your very own Button in seconds at Simply sign up by providing your name, email and profession, then drag the button to your bookmark bar – you’ll need to make sure your browser bookmark bar is enabled first. Now you have the Open Access Button!

How do you enable your browser bookmark bar?

You can find instructions for activating yours here: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, iPad, Internet Explorer

I’m in front of a paywall, what should I do now?

Every time you hit a paywall, simply click the Open Access Button. After a second you’ll see the button activate. When you are asked to allow the Button to find your location, you should say ‘yes’ so they can put you on the map (Don’t worry, they don’t use your exact location). Take another second to tell them why you are looking for that paper, then hit submit.

Share your experience

On the next page, you can use Facebook and Twitter to help build awareness for the Open Access movement.  Feel free to interact with these or you can simply skip to the next page.

Find the research you need

On the final page you will find many ways to get the paper you were seeking. Firstly, an automated Google Scholar search runs. You may also find the paper you need, or something similar, using a pool of open access papers they’ve incorporated into this page. If that doesn’t work, you will be prompted to optionally email the author to ask for the paper directly.

There is no guarantee that these will always work, but you may just get the research you need.

I still couldn’t find my research

By continuing to use the Open Access Button at each paywall, your frustration becomes visible. This data helps build awareness of the need for a more open scholarly publishing system where you can access the research you need.

Take a look at the map.

Head over to to see you’ve made your mark on the map!

Review #icanhazPDF hashtag

What if you’re a scientist looking for the latest published research on a particular subject, but you can’t afford to pay for it?

This ongoing social media campaign is an attempt by academics and researches to pool access journal privileges and provide a means to make and fulfill requests for access to paywalled research.

Consider these viewpoints.  What is your perspective?

“Science moves slow enough as it is, so anything that we can do to make it happen faster is a good thing.” ~ Andrea Kuszewski, Cognitive Scientist and Science Writer

“I’m all for open access on all research though too often the discussion really involves career progression of early career academics. While first world problems are still problems I think we would be better making all published research open access.” BoingBoing comment

The business model of, ‘I’ve got something you want, and I won’t let you look at it unless you pay me money,’ is a very old business model. It’s been going on for quite a long time. I suspect there will be people who continue to find a way to make money off of that. That said, I think that’s going to be such a tiny minority, simply because research funders are getting tired of funding research that’s needlessly hidden behind a pay wall. ~ Jason Priem – cofounder of Impactstory

Academics should resist signing over the copyright of their research to a “profit-oriented” academic publisher if they can secure a licence to publish themselves. ~ Untangling Academic Publishing

Featured Image: Katoomba Mural flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)