Simplifying Access to Paywalled Literature with Mobile Vouchers

Increasingly I read new scientific papers on a mobile device, often at home in the evening when I’m not on my university’s network. Most of the articles I read come from scientists on Twitter, Twitterbots or RSS feeds, which I try to read directly from my Twitter or RSS clients (Tweetbot and Feedly for iOS, respectively). Virtually every day, I hit paywalls trying to read non-open access papers from these sources, which aggravate me, waste my time, and require a variety of workarounds to (legally) access papers that differ depending on the publisher/journal.

For publishers that expose an obvious “Institutional login” option, I will typically try to log in using the UK Federation Shibboleth authentication system, which uses my university credentials. But Tweetbot and Feedly don’t store my Shibboleth user/pass, so for each article I either have to manually enter my user/pass, or open the page in Safari where my Shibboleth user/pass are stored. This app switch breaks my flow and leads to tab proliferation, neither of which are optimal. Some journals that use an institutional login temporarily store my details for around a week so I don’t have to do this every time I read a paper, but I still find myself entering the my details for the same journals over and over.

For journals that don’t have an institutional login option or hide this option from plain view, I tend to switch from Twitter/RSS to my IPad Settings in order to log in to my university VPN. The VPN login on my iPad similarly does not store my password, requiring me to type in my university password over and over. This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but my university’s requirement of including one uppercase Egyptian hieroglyph and one lowercase Celtic rune makes entering my password with the iOS keyboard a hassle.

In going through this frustrating routine yet again today trying to access an article in Genetics, I stumbled on a nice feature that I hadn’t seen before called “Mobile Vouchers” that allows me to avoid this rigmarole in the future. As explained on the Genetics Mobile Voucher FAQ:

A voucher is a code that will tie your mobile device to your institution’s subscriptions. This voucher will grant you access to protected content while not on your institution’s network. Each mobile device must be vouched for individually and vouchers are only valid for the publisher for which it is issued.

Obtaining a voucher is super easy. If you are not on your university network, you first need to be logged into your VPN to obtain a voucher. Once on your university network, just visit, enter your name/email address and then submit. This will issue a voucher that you can use immediately to authenticate your device (it will also email you with this information). Voilà, no paywalls for Genetics on your iPad for the next six months or so. In addition to decreasing frustration and increasing flow for scientists, I can see this technology being really useful for PhD students, postdocs and visiting scientists to retain access to the literature for a few months after the end of their positions.

I was surprised I hadn’t seen this before, since it eliminates one of my chronic annoyances as a consumer of the digital scientific literature. Maybe others would disagree, but I would say that publishers haven’t done a very good job of advertising this very useful feature. Googling around, I didn’t find much on mobile vouchers other than a SlideShare presentation from Highwire press from 2011, which suggests the technology has been around for some time:


I also couldn’t find much information on which journals offer this service, but a few google searches led me to the following list of publishers/journals that offer mobile vouchers. It appears that most of these journals use HighWire press to serve their content, and that vouchers can operate at the publisher (e.g. Oxford University Press) or journal (e.g. Genetics, PNAS) scale. The OUP voucher is particularly useful since it covers Molecular Biology and Evolution and Bioinformatics, which (together with Genetics) are the journals I hit paywalls for most frequently. Since these vouchers do expire eventually, I thought it would be good to bookmark these links for future use and to highlight this very useful tech tip. Links to other publishers and any other information on mobile vouchers would be most welcome in the comments.

Oxford University Press

Royal Society

Rockefeller Press









J. Neuroscience


Economic Geology

Twitter Tips for Scientific Journals

The growing influence of social media in the lives of Scientists has come to the forefront again recently with a couple of new papers that provide An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists and a more focussed discussion of The Role of Twitter in the Life Cycle of a Scientific Publication. Bringing these discussions into traditional journal article format is important for spreading the word about social media in Science outside the echo chamber of social media itself. But perhaps more importantly, in my view, is that these motivating papers reflect a desire for Scientists to participate, and urge others to participate, in shaping a new space for scientific exchange in the 21st century.

Just as Scientists themselves are adopting social media, many scientific journals/magazines are as well. However, most discussions about the role of social media in scientific exchange overlook the issue of how we Scientists believe traditional media outlets, like scientific journals, should engage in this new forum. For example in the Darling et al. paper on the The Role of Twitter in the Life Cycle of a Scientific Publication, little is said about the role of journal Twitter accounts in the life cycle of publications beyond noting:

…to encourage fruitful post-publication critique and interactions, scientific journals could appoint dedicated online tweet editors who can storify and post tweets related to their papers.

This oversight is particularly noteworthy for several reasons. First, it is fact that many journals, and journal staff, play active roles in engaging with the scientific debate on social media and are not simply passive players in the new scientific landscape.  Second, Scientists need to be aware that journals extensively monitor our discussions and activity on social media in ways that were not previously possible, and we need to consider how this affects the future of scientific publishing. Third, Scientists should see social media represents an opportunity to establish new working relationships with journals that break down the old models that increasingly seem to harm both Science and Scientists.

In the same way that we Scientists are offering tips/advice to each other for how to participate in the new media, I feel that this conversation should also be extended to what we feel are best practices for journals to engage in the scientific process through social media. To kick this off, I’d like to list some do’s and don’ts for how I think journals should handle their presence on Twitter, based on my experiences following, watching and interacting with journals on Twitter over the last couple of years.

  • Do engage with (and have a presence on) social media. Twitter is rapidly on the uptake with scientists, and is the perfect forum to quickly transmit/receive information to/from your author pool/readership. I find it a little strange in fact if a journal doesn’t have a Twitter account these days.
  • Do establish a social media policy for your official Twitter account. Better yet, make it public, so Scientists know the scope of what we should expect from your account.
  • Don’t use information from Twitter to influence editorial or production processes, such as the acceptance/rejection of papers or choice of reviewers.  This should be an explicit part of your social media policy. Information on social media could be incorrect and by using unverified information from Twitter you could allow competitors/allies to block/promote each other’s work.
  • Don’t use a journal Twitter account as a table of contents for your journal. Email TOCs or RSS feeds exist for this purpose already.
  • Do tweet highlights from your journal or other journals. This is actually what I am looking for in a journal Twitter account, just as I am from the accounts of other Scientists.
  • Do use journal accounts to retweet unmodified comments from Scientists or other media outlets about papers in your journal. This is a good way for Scientists to find other researchers interested in a topic and know what is being said about work in your journal. But leave the original tweet intact, so we can trace it to the originator and so it doesn’t look like you have edited the sentiment to suit your interests.
  • Don’t use journal account to express personal opinions. I find it totally inappropriate that individuals at some journals hide behind the journal name and avatar to use journal twitter accounts as a soapbox to express their personal opinions. This is a really dangerous thing for a journal to do since it reinforces stereotypes about the fickleness of editors that love to wield the power that their journal provides them. It’s also a bad idea since the opinions of one or a few people may unintentionally affect a journal or publisher.
  • Do encourage your staff to create personal accounts and be active on social media. Editors and other journal staff should be encouraged to express personal opinions about science, tweet their own highlights, etc. This is a great way for Scientists to get to know your staff (for better or worse) and build an opinion about who is handling our work at your journal. But it should go without saying that personal opinions should be made through personal accounts, so we can follow/unfollow these people like any other member of the community and so their opinions do not leverage the imprimatur of your journal.
  • Do use journal Twitter accounts to respond to feedback/complaints/queries. Directly replying to comments from the community on Twitter is a great way to build trust in your journal.  If you can’t or don’t want to reply to a query in the open, just reply by asking the person to email your helpdesk. Either way shows good faith that you are listening to our concerns and want to engage. Ignoring comments from Scientists is bad PR and can allow issues to amplify beyond your control, with possible negative impacts on your journal (image) in the long run.
  • Don’t use journal Twitter accounts to tweet from meetings. To me this is a form of expressing personal opinion that looks like you are endorsing certain Scientists/fields/meetings or, worse yet, that you are looking to solicit them to submit their work to your journal, which smacks of desperation and favoritism. Use personal accounts instead to tweet from meetings, since after all what is reported is a personal assessment.

These are just my first thoughts on this issue (anonymised to protect the guilty), which I hope will act as a springboard for others to comment below on how they think journals should manage their presence on Twitter for the benefit of the Scientific community.