Academics work around the paywall

Academics are finding ways around paywalls to provide access to academic research for colleagues. That’s one of the findings of research conducted by Jason Priem and Kaitlin Light Costello of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on how and why scholars cite on Twitter.

In the research, Preim and Costello analyzed the links tweeted by academics. They  broke the tweets down into 1st and 2nd order tweets. 1st order tweets were tweets that contained direct links to peer reviewed resources. 2nd order tweets were links to a web page (like a blog) which contained either a link or description of a peer-reviewed resource. The tweets analyzed were almost evenly split between 1st and 2nd order links (52%-48% respectively).

What is interesting about this is the reasons why academics link to 2nd order resources. Some found that it fit their workflow better. But others said that it helped them get around paywalls to articles.

That second point bears repeating. It helped them get around paywalls to articles.

[Armando] I’m much more likely, if I see an article that I think is really interesting, to blog about it myself and post a link to that or to link to someone else’s blog about it. Because you can provide a little more substance that way, even to people who do not have access to it behind the paywall.

The quantitative data support this interview finding. While 56% of first-order links were open access, only 25% of second-order links were free to access. This significant difference (p < .001, ?² = 12.86) suggests that scholars may prefer to link directly to the article when it is open access but will resort to second-order links to bypass paywall restrictions. Participants were attracted to open-access articles for Twitter citations; Ben said “I would certainly be much more likely to link to things if they were more readily available.”

Now, I am no academic. I am clueless about how the inner machinations of academic publishing work. But something tells me when academics are finding ways to work around the restrictions put in place to prevent access the research they are creating – well, that tells me something is not quite working with the current system.

Thanks to Tom Fullerton for sending this article my way – via Twitter – a first order citation of the highest order.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


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