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:
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.