proquest is hijacking google scholar searches for open access journals

I’m a big fan of Open Access. Open Access (OA) works are, in one way or another, distributed without paywalls so anyone can access them. Promoting OA is why I’m proud to be part of the SocArXiv team (promoting the sharing of paywall-free working papers and preprints) and why I was so excited to publish in Sociological Science and to further support their publishing model. It’s also why I decided to test out a new browser extension called Unpaywall which automatically searches for OA versions of paywalled papers when you go to a publisher’s website. Right now, Unpaywall can’t find preprints on SocArXiv, but hopefully we can make that happen!

In any event, playing around with these tools, I noticed something strange and frustrating. I wanted to see what Unpaywall would do to a publication that was already Open Access, so I searched on Google Scholar for Devah Pager’s recent Sociological Science piece. When I clicked the top link, instead of being taken to the journal’s website, I was routed to a Proquest splash page that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 4.38.44 PM.png

The text at the right says: “This is a short preview of the document. Your library or institution may give you access to the complete full text for this document in ProQuest.” But of course, this is an OA publication in an OA journal. You shouldn’t and don’t need any institutional credentials to get access. What the hell, Proquest? And what the hell, Google Scholar?

If you do click the “Connect to Proquest” link (from a non-University computer), you’re asked to sign in with credentials. Exactly the sort of thing that OA publishing is supposed to prevent. There’s no acknowledgment whatsoever that this is an OA publication, and that Proquest has no claim to it beyond somehow managing to win the Google Scholar algorithm’s top spot. And there’s no way to actually get the paper. The search has been hijacked.

Does anyone have any idea how this happened? Why is Proquest showing up at all in a search of an OA, self-published journal? Why are they showing up top on the Google Scholar spot? And other than writing an angry blog post can I do about it? This feels like some variety of fraud or theft, in moral terms if not legal ones.

N.B. The .pdf link on the right of the first Google Scholar result correctly routes to the free, OA pdf from Sociological Science.

N.B.2 The problem has been multiply confirmed from different computers, in different states, in incognito mode and not.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

3 thoughts on “proquest is hijacking google scholar searches for open access journals”

  1. French national institution INIST did the same a few years back – trying to sell (printed copies of) preprints that had been initially released as open-access. There was a mini-revolt among scholars, and they stopped doing it.

    Google Scholar will cop out by saying that they are merely mirroring the links offered by ProQuest. It’s ProQuest that needs to be campaigned against. The OA licenses on e.g. Soc. Sci. articles should prohibit that kind of reuse.


  2. When you search in Google Scholar, there are two columns of hits. The left column is for all the items that match your searchstring, whether or not they’re OA. The right column is for copies that are either OA (free for all) or prepaid by your institution’s subscriptions (free for you). In the Google Scholar search to which you link above, there’s an entry in the right column. But apparently you clicked on the entry in the left column. Click on the right-column entry, and you’ll be taken to this OA version of the article.

    Click to access SocSci_v3_849to859.pdf

    How to use Google Scholar’s two-column interface is not well-known. Spread the word.


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