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In looking over the broad types of questions in BioSE, it looks like many fit into two categories. One asking practical lab advice from research, and more general questions on topics of interest to a more general public (though I have a feeling there's a bit of a selection bias if you were to look at who SE users are).

We obviously want to cite our answers as best we can, but I came up with my first dilemma last night after answering my second question. Should we cite a better article behind a pay wall, or opt for a less appropriate/rigorous/etc article that has open access. Ultimately I went for open access because I thought it was only moderately inferior to the article I wanted to cite. Obviously this is also going to be a case by case decision, but I was thinking we might try to set a precedence on preference.

I think I would be more inclined to cite an article behind a pay wall to a question about practical lab advice (on the assumption that the asker and future visitors to the question are likely to have a more broad journal access). On the flip side, I feel more inclined to cite open access articles on general questions because I would want the reader to actually be able to read the article if they were inclined (and I also look for more reviews or solid introductions).

Should we establish a policy on this? If there already is one I didn't find it. This touched on the subject, but didn't really address the question here.

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My vote is "both".

What form that takes is a different question, but I don't think there's any reason why we shouldn't have the link to the DOI of the best article (which I take to be the best standard for permanence ala this meta), and then follow it with a link to an open access source if we can find one. This could be a less-permanent URL which has the same article for free (say, a journal club page or an author's page), or it could be a less perfect / less primary but open access source with similar information.

Something along the lines this, if you can find a free version of the article:

I recommend Lanner and Connor 2001 [free pdf] in order to find out more about this topic.

Or this, if you can't:

In addition, these floral parts have been shown to be more effective at UV filtering than green floral parts (Tsukaya 2002) [behind paywall, but Wikipedia page Rheum nobile contains similar information].

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  • $\begingroup$ I realize that most of the things I said are already in that meta I linked to, which summarises the issue very nicely. $\endgroup$ Jul 10 '13 at 0:15
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I don't think it is something the person answering the question should worry about too much for several reasons.

  1. If someone wants highly specialized information from a paper or wants to read the whole paper they are likely to be academics and therefore likely to be able access the paper through their institute.
  2. If they can't access the journal and don't want to pay... During my undergrad I encountered a journal which my university did not have access to, but contained a number of papers I wanted to read. I emailed the authors who all mailed me pdfs - something I still do occasionally - and I am yet to have someone say no! At the end of the day, the authors want their papers read and cited, they won't stand in the way of that to protect the profits of a publisher.
  3. Answers are better if they contain a summary of the work rather than just saying "Read paper X, paper Y and paper Z." regardless of whether the article is open access or paid, this summary simplifies the findings and means people can get answers from this website - which is the aim of the site (to be a Q&A site rather than a stepping stone to places with answers).
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  • $\begingroup$ I certainly agree with this, and I don't mean to imply that "Read Paper X" is a good answer--especially since reading paper X might require a good deal of education. If you look at my answers, I don't think I've done that. But there will often be more context available/a fuller answer in a paper than I properly belongs in a good SE answer. Or am I off on that? $\endgroup$
    – Atl LED
    Jul 11 '13 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ I agree too! I see the accessible links and citations as an ideal, not something to worry or dissuade a potential answerer. However, it seems to me that being a stepping stone to other answers is a fundamental character both of good science publishing and of good internet publishing, and doesn't detract from being a go-to resource yourself (e.g. EOL). $\endgroup$ Jul 14 '13 at 6:00

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