I received an edit on the question Why “Having chlorophyll without photosynthesis is actually very dangerous” and “like living with a bomb”?

Removed reference to paywalling. Nature is a print publication that costs to produce. If you want a copy you need to buy it.

I was surprised by this because I will often include either "open access" or "paywalled" in questions when I'd like to call attention to the level of availability of an article.

The editor's comment is misleading in two ways.

  1. Many major journals have both open access and paywalled articles in the same volume. Just because something is published in Nature does not mean it is paywalled. If someone lives behind a paywall they may not have noticed this, but the rest of us have.
  2. Libraries are still wonderful places you can go and read journals and books. Not everyone in the world has access to libraries, but in many countries university libraries will let people come in to read, and larger public libraries will provide access to major journals as well.

The reason I mentioned that the article is paywalled is based on the first point, and for two reasons:

  1. I'm letting readers know that this particular article is not open access, so if they don't have access through their current internet connection, they don't need to click on it to find out if they'll be able to read the article.
  2. It clues people in that I probably can't read the article right now either, which gives people pause before writing one of those "Why don't you read the article instead of asking us to do it for you" comments.

Question: After considering all of this I'd like to hear others' views on the question: Is it bad to mention if a specific article is open access or paywalled?

Should the word be banned from this SE site, or is it within the allowable range of words that users are allowed to use at their discretion when composing questions?

I'll note that the editor also posted an answer to my question and used the opportunity to slam "free journalism":

Alex Reynolds has explained why “Having chlorophyll without photosynthesis is actually very dangerous”, but I think that the original sensational statement by Phys.org is unhelpful as it distracts from the real question. However that’s what you get with so-called ‘free’ journalism.

This is also misleading, actually in error. The word "bomb" is a direct quote from one of the authors, and even a brief look at my question would make this clear.


Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants and algae that allows them to absorb energy from sunlight during photosynthesis.

"Having chlorophyll without photosynthesis is actually very dangerous because chlorophyll is very good at capturing energy, but without photosynthesis to release the energy slowly it is like living with a bomb in your cells," Keeling says.

The answer goes on to say:

The interesting question is what they use it for. Bombs are for writers that don’t do biochemistry.

which has drawn applause, but it's wrong. The user's bone to pick seems to be with the author of the Nature paper.


2 Answers 2


If you are unsatisfied with the edit, please feel free to rollback the edit or simply re-edit your question as you please.

I agree that the edit is inappropriate and likely would have been rejected if it had entered the review queue (This edit deviates from the original intent of the post. Even edits that must make drastic changes should strive to preserve the goals of the post's owner.).

I think it's useful to include information regarding availability of the sources you cite so that others can know before visiting that link what to expect.

The other user's issues with open source literature should not dictate what you're allowed to write in your posts. If this continues to be an issue, please ping a mod and we will address it further. I don't expect this to be an ongoing problem for this specific post.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the feedback! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 15:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ As mostly a user/lurker on this branch of SE, I appreciate the heads-up re: paywalled articles. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 16:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @theforestecologist, thanks for answer before I even asked the question. I intend to always mention if a source is paywalled to avoid wasting peoples time trying to follow the refs. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2020 at 2:40

Compare the following two sentences.

  1. I am pro-life.

  2. I support a woman’s right to choose.

These both use different vocabulary to state a position on whether abortion should be legal, but neither use the word abortion.

This illustrates how the choice of words is often not neutral. The expressions “paywalled” and “open access” are also of this type. For example, for “free to view” I could substitute “author pays” (if I published in this manner) or “taxpayer pays” (for the majority who do) to indicate a different perspective.

I suggest that instead of “paywalled” — which suggests a barrier has been erected merely for the purpose of extracting revenue — a neutral descriptive term be used such as:

Subscription required for full article

(Of course, if contributors to this list are really interested in reading full articles to which they do not have a personal or institutional subscription, they can always email the authors and ask for a pdf reprint.)


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