A few days ago, Nature announced that they will allow readers with subscription to share links for free viewing of their articles. Many in the media have mistaken this to be a move towards open access by the Nature Publishing Group. It is not – the links allow viewing only, without the ability to download or print the article. Michael Eisen has responded with: Is Nature’s “free to view” a magnanimous gesture or a cynical ploy?.
I agree that this could be used against open access if people mistake these view-only links as fulfilling the goals of truly open, reusable and accessible science communication. On the other hand, I know Timo Hannay, managing director of Digital Science (the sister company of NPG which was behind the push for the free-view links). I also know some of the founders of the startups supported by Digital Science, and they tend to genuinely strive for improving science with technology. Therefore, I am willing to give this new initiative some benefit of the doubt.
Digital Science is operating within the constraints of a subscription publisher. Subscription publishers generally seem to be resistant to trying anything new that might make science communication better. So I imagine that pushing through this free-link initiative was a huge struggle for Timo Hannay.
Thus, tempering our skepticism, we have enabled link-sharing on PubChase for articles in the Nature journals. Just as scientists can share these links on Twitter or over e-mail, they can easily do the same on PubChase. The added benefit is that the link is then persistent and accessible to other scientists interested in the work.