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To measure the prevalence of free-to-read papers in the scholarly literature as a whole, the authors used oa DOI to identify the publication statuses of 100,000 articles chosen randomly from the 67 million journal articles available on the DOI registry Crossref.

In this sample, 28% of articles were free-to-read, predicting a total of 19 million such articles in the literature.

The term “altmetrics” describes the practice of rating papers using “alternative metrics”, such as mentions on social media networking sites, rather than, for example, citations in other journals.

Other research that caught the public’s attention in 2016 includes an article on medical errors being the third leading cause of death in the US (second), a paper on mastering the board game Go (ninth), and a report finding that the ease with which we tell lies grows with repetition (18th).

Of papers published in 2015 — the most recent year examined — 45% were freely available, which suggests that newer articles are more likely to be open.

The study also investigated the claim that open-access articles are more cited than paywalled studies.

And that could have implications for academic libraries.

As tensions over the costs of institutional subscription packages grow between universities and publishers, the finding that roughly half of recently published research may be available to read for free could “tip the scales toward cancellation for some institutions”, the study says. “In the next few decades, we’re going to be seeing nearly all the literature available freely.” An earlier version of this story stated that free-to-read articles are cited 18% more than paywalled articles; in fact, the comparison is with the average for all articles for a given subject area and publication year.

Almost half of the scholarly papers that people attempt to access online are now freely and legally available, according to a huge study that tracked 100,000 online requests for journal papers in June.

The work, published on 2 August in Peer J Preprints, examined reader data from a web-browser extension called Unpaywall, which trawls the Internet to find free-to-read versions of paywalled papers.

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