When answering questions on this site, it is helpful to be able to read the primary literature.

Is there any legal way to access papers behind a paywall?

Can we add the best answer(s), or a pointer to them, to the FAQ?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ While illegal in some regard, you can always ask other SE members to provide you with the pdf. $\endgroup$
    – bobthejoe
    Apr 3, 2012 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ you can flag a moderator to tag this as a FAQ $\endgroup$
    – Abe
    Apr 3, 2012 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Abe I did flag a moderator but the flag was declined with the rationale: "flags should only be used to make moderators aware of content that requires their intervention" $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2012 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Okay. I will flag it again. $\endgroup$
    – Abe
    Apr 3, 2012 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ The FAQ tag is really meant for questions about the site itself, not for resources like this. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2012 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ If anyone needs any pdf's I offer my services. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2012 at 12:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You guys have got to be kidding. SE is doing you a favor by letting you have a stack, don't play fools in their back sharing paid subscription content for free. If you want access to such resources, take a trip to your community college and use a computer, or at least discuss such matters outside of this stack. Wouldn't want to put SE in trouble, now would you? $\endgroup$
    – CHM
    Apr 4, 2012 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ I don't want to be patronizing, but I feel like this is a sensitive subject. $\endgroup$
    – CHM
    Apr 4, 2012 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @CHM I agree. If there are specific actions that you specifically think should be prohibited, please post an answer! $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2012 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


I think my answer to a similar question at parenting.se may be useful:

Here are some options:

  1. Search from PubMed Central's free archive of journals (also try the UK PubMed)
  2. MayoClinic has reputable summaries of medical research on its website
  3. search google for the article title in quotes + filetype:pdf (see first link in this example)
  4. search google scholar, and when the article you want shows up, click the 'all N versions' link on the bottom right of the result - one may be in pdf format
  5. Email the corresponding author and ask for a copy by pdf.
  6. ask your librarian for help obtaining an article
  7. write your congressperson and demand that federally funded research be made freely available
  • $\begingroup$ 5a. If the corresponding author does not respond, contact the first author: generally he/she made most of the work and should be more motivated to share his/her last results. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2012 at 16:11

Considering the fact that most of the SO.Biology users are either students or University employees (or both, like me :) ), it is often not a problem to get access to a certain publication -- the university library has a subscription which is available through your IP. PubMed and other search engines can detect your subscription and show you the paper availability directly in the search results.

Nonetheless, the chances that the person who asked the question or who found the thread using search engine doesn't have the same level of access to scientific publications is rather high. This is why I am trying to cite only those papers which are generally free and hence can be immediately linked from the answer. Often you find reviews not available, whereas single papers referenced by the review articles are.

  • $\begingroup$ the second point that you make is useful. Do you have evidence to support the first? $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2012 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Strongly agree with finding free publications where possible $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Apr 4, 2012 at 19:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ FWIW, I completely disagree that people should make the effort to cite only free papers. If we want expert answers, those answers should cite to the most relevant and useful resources. It's unfortunate that so much content is not free, and I support linking to free content when we can. If the best resource is not free, however, a free resource could be added as an auxiliary resource but not a substitute. $\endgroup$
    – yamad
    Apr 9, 2012 at 15:05

As per a request by the inquirer,

I do not think that discussing of such matters as (most probably) illegal trade of paid subscription content is appropriate here.

There were good alternatives presented, which don't involve illegal actions.


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