Accessing Scientific Papers

PSE Healthy Energy

The number of peer-reviewed scientific papers available to non-academics has been growing in recent years thanks to new open access journals (see PSE's list of reccommended open access journals) and open access options in traditional journals. Still, a large proportion of today's most important science is not accessible to the public without considerable expense.  A subscription to an academic journal can run anywhere from $100 to more than $800 per year - a cost not easily justified by most non-professionals. Some publishers may offer full access to a paper with a one-time fee, generally $20 - $50 per paper. However, this can also become a prohibitively expensive option if you need multiple papers.


The PSE Healthy Energy online library provides abstracts and permanent Digital Object Identifier (DOI) resolved links[*] to the best research available to date related to the environmental and human health dimensions of conventional and unconventional fossil fuels and renewable resource options. While we strive to bring relevant science to advocacy, educators, policy-makers and the general public, it is the quality of the science, and not necessarily the accessibility of that science that informs our decision to include a paper in the library. This, of course, means that some papers listed in the library are not freely accessible from the publisher.


We've marked open-access articles in the PSE Library listings (see top right corner of the list item) to help users find accessible information.  For restricted access papers (subscription/fee based), we offer the following information and options for accessing the full text of academic papers.



How to Access Restricted/Copyright Content:

  • Publically funded research[†] - As per a 2013 Presidential Directive (codified under the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill), much of federally funded independent academic research must now be made available to the public within 6 months after the initial publication. Funding information for a study is usually provided along with the abstract on the journal content page. If the journal content page for the study you're interested in notes federal funding and was published more than 6 months ago, you should be able to find a full-text copy of that study in a federal online library. Currently, the most comprehensive of the federal libraries is PubMed from the National Institute of Health, though the other federal agencies are expected to provide similar libraries soon. We will post links to new federal libraries here as they are made available.
  • University/College Libraries - Academic institutions usually have subscription to a wide range of scientific journals. Some of these libraries are free to the public. Contact your local university library or look at their website to see if you may use their resources and if they subscribe to the journals that you're interested in. Often, the library's catalog of holdings is online and publicly searchable.
  • Author webpage - authors frequently provide pdfs of their papers on their webpage. Lookup the webpage of the corresponding (contact) author of the paper. Very often this will be the first author, but not always. The journal abstract web page will identify which author is the corresponding or contact author for the article.
  • Contact the corresponding author - If a full text file of the paper is not available from the author's web site, you may request a copy of the paper directly from him or her using the contact information provided on their webpage. Be polite, but brief, in your request and don't forget to provide the title, publisher, and date of publication for the article you are requesting.



[*] Why we use DOI permalinks: url links can subject to change as webpage change causing dead links. Digital object identifiers are unique codes assigned to publications, which can follow the object if the url changes.

[†] The Presidential Directive also requires that the findings of research carried out by federal employees be published as open-access at first printing. The journal content page will usually note the affiliations of all authors of the study. If any of the authors are associated with federal labs or agencies, you should be able to find a full-text version of the study, though access options may not be obvious on the journal website.  You can usually access a full text file of the study by searching for the study on the relevant agency/lab webpage.






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