Nature announces exaggerated “free to view” program

On Tuesday Nature published a news item with the following headline, “Nature Makes All Articles Free to View”, which from the headline alone sounded pretty good. Upon further inspection it looked like Nature had created a new form of access, that has been coined “Beggar Access”  (see Bonnie Swoger’s blog post). Two days later the Nature news article was corrected, and the title now reads “Nature promotes read-only sharing by subscribers” (see the corrected Nature news post here), which is a more realistic depiction of the new program. Comments from others, skeptical of the program, have now been included in the article. See excerpts from the corrected Nature news post below.

Annette Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan Science and Education, says that under the policy, subscribers can share any paper they have access to through a link to a read-only version of the paper’s PDF that can be viewed through a web browser. For institutional subscribers, that means every paper dating back to the journal’s foundation in 1869, while personal subscribers get access from 1997 on.

Initial reactions to the policy have been mixed. Some note that it is far from allowing full open access to papers. “To me, this smacks of public relations, not open access,” says John Wilbanks, a strong advocate of open-access publishing in science and a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri

Peter Suber, director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that the programme is a step forward by providing immediate free online access, in contrast to Nature‘s self-archiving open access policy, which still requires a six-month embargo. But, he notes, if authors prefer to share links rather than actually deposit their manuscripts in an online repository, the programme could be a step backward, because repositories host copies independently from the publisher, and those copies can be printed or saved and are generally more reusable than a screen-only file.