Science is built upon previous knowledge—decades of it. Therefore, creating a strategy and further backing up claims in an upcoming scientific manuscript comes hands-in-hands with a thoughtful review and gathering of past published materials.

But science ain’t cheap.

Neither is how the science publishing industry operates.

While access to peer-reviewed publications remains a long-standing debate across the community, access to information is a day-to-day urgency. 

Surely, you’ve primarily looked on the publisher’s website if, by any chance, the requested document was either freely available in open access or through your institution’s licensing. 

But there are times when odds are against you. Times you’ll likely have to dive into pockets to obtain copyright clearance for and download interesting scientific publications. In that spirit, when putting together new scientific materials, you know for a fact that copyright clearance pricing might cost down to zero if you already have the document at hand as you only have to formally ask permission for use.

With a tight budget at disposal, alternative hacks exist—even if not all miraculous—to find that specific document.


ResearchGate’s mission is to connect the world of science and make research open to all. It started when two researchers discovered first-hand that collaborating with a friend or colleague on the other side of the world was no easy task. Founded in 2008 by physicians Dr Ijad Madisch and Dr Sören Hofmayer, and computer scientist Horst Fickenscher, ResearchGate today has more than 15 million members. 

In its copyright chart, ResearchGate lets users and authors upload public copies of full texts, store private copies that are also accessible to co-authors, and share private copies with others. While being a digital repository treasure trove for the scientific literature, users are—in essence—responsible for any uploaded and shared content, thereby, also should be checking in advance if they have all the necessary rights to do soin practice, doubtfully, not much so enforced. But the fact remains that interesting documents can eventually be found on this website.


#ICanHazPDF hashtag

#ICanHazPDF is a hashtag used to request access to peer-review academic journal articles which are neither accessible in open access on the publisher’s website nor easily downloadable elsewhere. Using DOI, title or any other useful linked information, the abovementioned tag and a method of return messaging, someone can be provided with specific scientific publications. It is important noticing that, due to the borderline copyright infringement of said practice, the end-user shall delete the original tweet after the initial request has been granted. 

<title> filetype:PDF

Anytime, Google will be your friend, probably having the document stocked somewhere—out there. And, for a narrow focus on a specific file format output, the so-called “filetype:” browser command allows advanced online search filtering according to a designated format. Therefore, to retrieve a scientific publication of interest, compose in the browser search bar the following: “Title” filetype:pdf (without spacing after colon punctuation). 

Emailing to first/last authors

After unsuccessful attempts of the aforementioned alternative ways to obtain a specific scientific reference, there is still a “Hail Mary” to throw: sending a short email to the first/last authors of the publication. They know first-hand how ruthless the scientific publishing industry can be. And, very quite often, they’ll gladly reply with the pdf. document in the email attachment.