Liberating knowledge from the shackles of paywalls

or why I love Alberto Espay 

11th of June 2020

To pop a question

On the 8th of May 2020, I asked prof. dr. Alberto Espay whether I could bother him for a values-based experiment. A month later, he has opened up 32 of the closed access papers he co-authored in 2018 and 2019 as so-called green open access via the amazing tool

He did what exactly? 

He opened up 32 of the closed access papers he co-authored in 2018 and 2019.

Yes, I heard you, but how is that even possible? Isn’t it ‘once closed access, allways closed access’? Is he a magician for having the ability to undo the past?

A magician? I think not.
A remarkable person? Yes!

Today I am writing prof. dr. Alberto Espay a love declaration for truly listening to patients (this patient), for having the courage to do an experiment with no direct benefit for himself, for looking his access privilege in the eye, for putting in the hours, for encouraging other authors to follow this example, for walking the talk.

Make no mistake. He needn’t have done any of this. He could have ignored me without repercussions. I have no influence whatsoever. I only have my values to guide me.

I see you are wearing rose-colored glasses : -). Can we skip this part already and can you start explaining how values help in opening up access to literature that was once closed?

Yes, for sure. Just scroll down and let the story unfold.

When you publish an article in a traditional subscription journal (not open access), you can republish a version of this article – often the accepted manuscript which has undergone peer review but hasn’t been typeset into the format of the journal yet –  as green open access after a certain embargo which is set by the publisher. Such embargoes can be checked at Sherpa Romeo. This is also called ‘self-archiving’ because authors themselves upload their papers.

Green open access is open access delivered via an open access repository (an open publication database). This may be a university repository or a general purpose repository such as Zenodo. The articles which are deposited in such repositories will become discoverable through so-called open access aggregators such as Unpaywall crawling the database.

Another possible way to publish green open access is to publish a preprint that undergoes open peer review afterwards, e.g. through open peer review platforms.

Staying true to scientific values

In explaining how values could possibly help to open up science, let’s rewind for a moment

In recent years, scientists have contributed to a publishing system they are not entirely happy with. I am talking about a publishing system that limits access to scientific knowledge for the less privileged, such as patients, SMEs, ex-scientists, universities that cannot afford access, etc. This has led to a worldwide inequality in access (e.g. Boudry, 2019), limiting the interaction potential and making it hard for those without access to help healthcare reach its potential (deBronkart, 2019).

Now, what if scientists could go back in time and hit the ‘undo button’? Would they push it?

Even though the question seems rhetorical, it really isn’t. Scientists have always been allowed to republish their closed access papers as green open access after an embargo determined by the publisher. Nonetheless, most researchers haven’t tried to liberate their papers from paywalls. Two important reasons:

If you have access yourself, you simply may not be aware that others don’t. And even if you are aware, you cannot truly know what it feels like to be left out. If you could, you wouldn’t hesitate for one moment! Nor may you fully grasp the potential of including certain stakeholders into the innovation equation. E.g., I’ve heard many researchers undervalue a possible patient contribution. Last but not least, you may not realize that upon publication in closed access a phase transformation that doesn’t agree with the values underpinning science is taking place .. You were simply too busy doing the science to notice …

One of the obstacles between scientists and green open access – before shareyourpaper came along – was that they would have to go their librarian first. Any bureaucratic obstacle in the way between scientists and green open access, will impede progress. Now, to be able to upload your papers right from the desk you are sitting at, now that would be something ..

To make authors change their ways, we have to make the matter more urgent for them. I try to work on this by showing authors the values-based perspective. Also, it should be made as easy as possible to deposit as green open access. And this is where Shareyourpaper came along this spring .. a great tool for authors to undo closed access and self-archive the papers they contributed to.

In the image below I try to summarize how we can reverse the major loss of function which has taken place in recent years. Loss of function – LOF – is a well-known concept in research into neurodegenerative diseases too. The illustration below is based upon it.

Along came Shareyourpaper

To be able to undo closed access, Alberto Espay used Shareyourpaper.

In this section, I will share some of my own observations of the attributes of this self-archiving tool. Also, Alberto Espay – the first follower – and Carlo Alberto Artusi – the second follower – will share their personal opinion. Review
Embargoes are checked Most articles that have been published in closed access can be self-archived. But just not right away. Publishers apply an embargo period before you can deposit an article as green open access via e.g. a university repository or Zenodo (in which articles deposited via are archived). The good news is that when authors deposit their paper via Shareyourpaper, they don’t need to worry about this embargo. It will be checked for you. If it isn’t time yet, the article will be kept embargoed and once the embargo expires, the articles deposited will be released on Zenodo.
A License is given A big advantage of depositing via Shareyourpaper is that a (machine-readable) license will be applied. Licenses state what you are and aren’t allowed to do with a paper will increase the reuse potential. At some repositories, licenses aren’t applied.
All articles are equal An author can republish all closed access articles, even when he/she has switched from university/research institution. An institutional repository often only allows uploads that have resulted from the current employment.
Uploads straight from your desk  No middle man between the author and the upload. Just a clean interface.
Time between upload and indexing There is a time lag between upload and the harvesting of the records by so-called open access aggregators such as Unpaywall. In the visualization of the papers uploaded by Alberto Espay, for example, you see that there are still some ‘red dots’ which are in fact open access now. It takes some time to find all articles. The success of the Shareyourpaper tool will greatly depend on the cooperation between e.g. Unpaywall and Shareyourpaper. In the open conversations, you can see the swift responses by both Joe from Shareyourpaper as from Unpaywall. Both enterprises are values-based enterprises with values that reflect those of the scientific enterprise itself: transparency and openness to name a few.

I am participating in a patient-driven effort at “liberating” knowledge from the shackles of paywalls, as you can see from my exchange below.

I wonder if you would have the PDF of the article accepted by the journal upon submission of the last review cycle that you could send to me. This is not the PDF available online nor the proofs that have already been copyedited and formatted by the journal but the PDF created from the final Word document of the paper that contains the figures and tables, and which usually is generated on the last submission.

I am uploading as many of my papers as possible through as a way to have these papers openly available and their results disseminated. This has been spearheaded by a PD patient from the Netherlands, Marina Noordegraaf. This is legal only with the non-typeset version rather than the final, attractively formatted one that the journals create

Alberto Espay in his mails to his co-authors 

In this visualization you see the 32 accepted manuscripts (author versions) Alberto has deposited at Zenodo via

Not only has he uploaded the accepted manuscripts he was the first author of himself, but he also asked his co-authors to send him the accepted manuscripts when he wasn’t the first author himself. Some of Alberto’s experiences are stated below:

I am realizing I am not often saving the final versions if I am not the first author so I have to do a detective job to trace them… The two that I sent took me some time to find and then adapt (adding figures, converting from Word to PDF). I would have sent a third but it is only in the hand of the first author, who I sent a message to request this from.

It has been quite a bit of work to find the correct versions. I am reaching out to people, taking the liberty of leaving our correspondence at the bottom to inspire everyone😊

So far the self-archiving a paper is time consuming if one doesn’t have the copies. I may end up with a lousy record on this front end of ~1 hour per paper… I’d like to lower that to 10 minutes to a paper but it may be unrealistic. From now on out, I will keep every final PDF of all articles accepted and deposit them as soon as they are published!

Shareyourpaper’s Joe is amazing, Marina. I received a “We’ll double-check your paper” notification but Joe has been prompt at clearing a couple of such queries within a short period of time.

I have uploaded 2 PDF so far by My experience was excellent: Clear, easy, and quick!

The only time-consuming part is that we need to convert the submitted version of the final paper to PDF after a bit of editing (in particular, adding figures, and sometimes tables, because most journals ask authors to upload them separately and not embedded into the main text). Obviously, this can be an issue when you have a lot of paper to share. If an author adds the paper to the repository once it is accepted, this will cost no more than 3 mins of time.

Carlo Alberto Artusi

The great undoing

A month ago, before this experiment started, all articles in the illustration above were red: closed access. Now we have three tastes:

  • Green These papers can be found by everyone without access. See the DIY for patients below.
  • Yellow These papers are still on embargo. Most publishers don’t allow green OA until after a certain period of time, often one year. In the yellow round, you see the date at which they will be released to the public. Automatically. Because Alberto has already positioned these papers to be ready when the time comes.
  • Red These dots will be turning green in the coming weeks. Metaphorically, these packages are all sent to the distribution center but some just still have to be picked up to be delivered where they are requested. (That’s the time which passes between uploading the paper and being harvested by an open access aggregator). If you go to the distribution center – Zenodo – directly, you will already be able to download the PDFs Alberto deposited).

While the machinery is working for the values I care for, each and every one of us can take steps to reverse closed access too. Below you will find two DIYs (or undo-it-yourselves actually ; -)). One for patients and for scientists.

PS Update 13th of June: All dots are now green!  

DIY for patients

  1. Install the Unpaywall plugin.
  2. Every time you bump into a paywall, the plugin will tell you whether it has found a legal green open access version of the paper in question. If this is the case, it will become .. green : -) If not, it will stay gray.
  3. If you find an article that has been published in closed access, ask the author(s) to republish it in green open access. You can use the image below on social media and use the hashtag #shareyourpaper

You can download this image here.

In the screenshot below you can see what an Unpaywalled paper looks like. In this case it’s a paper which was personally unpaywalled by Alberto Espay. If the icon is green, you simply click the green icon and your download will start. That simple. Completely legal.

Click to enlarge

DIY for scientists

Finding the papers you can self-archive via goes as follows:

If you have remembered which papers you have published in closed access, you can just enter the DOIs in directly, and see what feedback you get.
You could also follow the approach I personally take, inspired by all the tips I myself receive from @MsPhelps:

  1. Run a PubMed search for yourself as an author and export all results as .csv.
  2. Import the .csv into Excel in a comma-separated tab, copy and paste all DOI’s and run them through the Simple Query Tool made by Unpaywall
  3. Select the closed access articles and run their DOI’s through the bulkchecker of the tool
  4. See whether you are allowed to self-archive the papers and which versions
  5. Find yourself the archivable versions and archive them via 

The screencast below gives you an impression of my personal approach. If you’d prefer, feel free to ask me for a list of papers that you could set free instead.

Concluding remarks

Dear scientists,

If you care for the unprivileged, including a possible ‘future you’ without access, or for the values which hopefully made you become a scientist in the first place, you can follow the excellent example of prof. dr. Alberto Espay. Not because it’s the easy thing to do. But because it’s the right thing to do.

I quote Alberto:

Most things that are easy are not worth much. So the effort here will be worth our while. I think I can devote 5 papers every 5 days or so. Perhaps this can be my daily ritual until all papers are submitted: one paper before I get too distracted with other matters. I am too delighted by your courage. It would be much easier to go along what is being done. You are taking the hard route. And we should do it precisely because it is hard | Alberto Espay 

You can see why I have no other choice than to love Alberto.



Hi Alberto,

May I bother you?

You say you love me (or @Sparks4PD at least; -)) but I’d have to put this to a test off course!
Would that still be the case if I confront you with something?

What that might be? 

First: An introduction to my line of thinking: 

I replied to your tweet about how you thought it would be genius to get paid for peer review. As I wrote, my main problem with this solution is that it reinforces the business model we oppose. I feel that we’d better embed the values we care for in our short term solutions too because it’s the collection of short term solutions that will make the long term change.

The ultimate question for me is: Are we, are you, am I and everyone we know open to the question that we ourselves contribute to a system we don’t like? If we say the problem is ‘out there’ we will wait for the world to change as if we aren’t part of it.

I feel that in the interactions between the scientific enterprise and the publishing industry a pathogenic phase transformation has taken place. In my most recent blog I write:

 “Today I’m sad that some authors don’t see how the values underpinning science (equity, openness, honesty, not for profit, transparency, accountability, reproducibility, etc.) – which help advance the research enterprise – are completely lost upon a phase transformation from free, soluble, knowledge to rigid (amyloid) publishing sheets”.  

In my humble opinion, we shouldn’t keep on playing ball on the amyloid court. We have to prevent a loss of function from happening.

We can do so by:

  • Publishing preprints.
  • Translating science into different forms (e.g. posters, drawings, movies) with new possibilities for interacting with the knowledge, for new audiences.
  • Sharing research data, protocols, etc.
  • Publishing open access with not for profit or transparent publishers only (who can show how much it really costs to open up the knowledge).
  • Republishing closed access articles as green open access (the self-archiving route OR the reversible amyloid approach ; -) which I will be highlighting in this mail)
  • In short #openscience 🙂

If we come up with a new solution, we just have to run it against our scientific values. Does that sound like a line of thinking you could agree with at all?

If so, …… continue 🙂

Second: making it personal

have visualized your articles here. The data come from PubMed and I fed the DOIs into the Unpaywall tool. It’s possible that not all data points are correct, but the general impression is that I am not allowed to read half of the articles you wrote. That is a loss of function, a loss of interaction potential.

Now, to start with, I’d like to know whether you’d be willing to republish one of your articles from 2019 in open access at Zenodo or for free (That would be the repository of your university, right?). Just to see how that works.

Let’s take one article as an example:

Marsili L, Bologna M, Kojovic M, Berardelli A, Espay AJ, Colosimo C. Dystonia in atypical parkinsonian disorders. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2019;66:25‐33.

I’ve checked at and you are legally allowed to share this paper (The accepted manuscript that is, not the publisher’s PDF). Now you can ask your library to upload it to the university repository. Or upload it to Zenodo through directly from your desk.

Then, if I do the viz again some time later on, one red ball should be gone : )! But most of all you’d free your knowledge to a broader audience and I hope this might encourage you to self-archive more papers of course.

Third: And now for the ultimate question:

Do you see any value in my wish to open up past papers to all audiences out there?
If so, are you willing to participate in this experiment? Or suggest an alternative values-based experiment?

In all cases, I would be blogging/tweeting about how I love you in return of course 😉

I’m curious to find out!

Best wishes,

Marina (@Sparks4PD)

Showing 2 comments
  • Sue Buff

    Wonderful post! Great story with beautiful explanations, graphics, and real-world examples. Thank you for helping make open access a reality!

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