Accessing research documents for free

I’ve read quite a bit of research while writing articles for this site. But accessing research documents for free can be an issue. I understand that the publications and authors deserve remuneration for their work, of course I do, but the simple fact is if you’re trying to research your birth and maternity care options, most individuals don’t have the budget to pay for journal access. Even if we did, every article that might be worth reading seems to be in a different journal!

A friendly librarian pointed me in the direction of an article she’d written with tips and tricks to access this information for free, so here is the benefit of her wisdom:

Get The Research.org

Get The Research owl logo

gettheresearch.org is a search engine that makes academic information both discoverable and easier to digest. You can use it instead of Google.

Get The Research flags each article with its “level of evidence” when they know it. Is the article just a report about a single incident (a “case study”) or a more trustworthy analysis combining the results of many studies (a “meta-analysis”)? Click on the tags above the article titles to learn more. They rank articles with higher levels of evidence higher in the search results to make them easier to find.

Advantages:

  • user friendly interface
  • evidence based quick overviews

Disadvantages:

  • new so there’s likely some bugs to iron out
  • it’s not clear what information is updated automatically

Open Knowledge Maps.org

Open Knowledge Maps logo

Open Knowledge Maps describes itself as “a charitable non-profit organisation dedicated to improving the visibility of scientific knowledge for science and society.”

It provides a visualisation tool, demonstrating topics and the relationships between them. Use it to get an overview of the most relevant areas of a topic and papers related to those concepts.

Advantages:

  • generates visualisations for your search terms
  • it has an option to visualise results of searches just from PubMed

Disadvantages:

  • still in development
  • it only analyses the first 100 papers based on relevance ranking

Open Access Button.org

Open Access Button logo - - accessing research documents for free

openaccessbutton.org allows you to search for an Open Access version of a paper using it’s URL (web address), DOI (permanent Digital Object Identifier) or title. It’s helpful with accessing research documents for free as you can use it when you’ve found a journal article you want to read, but the publisher tries to charge you to access it.

Advantages:

  • easy to use
  • no installing or configuring, unlike Unpaywall

Disadvantages:

  • it relies on academics submitting a copy of the article

Core.ac.uk

Core Logo

Core.ac.uk is a not-for-profit service delivered by The Open University and Jisc. Institutions store publications created by their academics and CORE allows these to be simultaneously searchable through a single interface. It can be used when you have a keyword search and want a more in-depth, systematic overview of a topic or problem.

Advantages:

  • search a lot of credible information, fast
  • there’s an API for text mining

Disadvantages:

  • you aren’t searching ALL the repositories that exist in the world. It’s possible you will miss a source

Directory of Open Access Journals

Directory of Open Access Journals logo

DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals. DOAJ is independent, and all DOAJ services are free of charge including being indexed in DOAJ. All data is freely available. It’s searchable by title or article. Can be used to follow a specific journal that consistently produces articles about a topic of interest.

Advantages:

  • all of the journals included are Open Access — no paywalls

Disadvantages:

  • there is a small chance of encountering a predatory (scam) journal – however, each journal does undergo over 40 checks before it is listed.

Directory of Open Access Books

Directory of Open Access Books Logo

All books listed in DOAB are freely accessible and therefore free to read, but this does not mean readers are free to do anything they like with these books. The usage rights of the books in DOAB are determined by the license. Please check the license if you want to re-use the contents of a book. Generally speaking, all books listed in DOAB are free to read and share for non-commercial use.

Advantages:

  • avoid annoying previews, this is the whole textbook, for free!

Disadvantages:

  • the idea of Open Access textbooks is still a fairly new movement, so there’s a limited selection.
  • you will have to buy the book if you want to own a complete physical copy of the material. Printing could infringe UK copyright law.

I’m sure this won’t always work to get you access to the article you want to read, but hopefully it will bring more research info easily within reach than before!

x Big Birtha

with thanks to Sheldon Korpet who wrote the article “How to access academic papers online, for free!” on which this post is based. Licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Research on Provision of Long Acting Contraceptives

Long-acting reversible contraception or ‘LARC’ describes contraceptive methods that you don’t need to use every day. This includes the copper intrauterine device (also known as the ‘coil’), progestogen-only intrauterine system (also known as the ‘hormonal coil’), progestogen-only injectable contraceptives (‘depo’) and subdermal implants (‘implant’). I recently mentioned another group conducting research on provision of long acting contraceptives. Looks like it’s a hot topic this year!

LARC is popular as it’s a highly effective method of preventing pregnancy. For some people it can be a positive option, but there are concerns that some may experience pressure to use LARC, or may find it difficult to get removed. Researchers from Lancaster University, working with the British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS), are studying LARC in the UK.

If you’ve been encouraged to use LARC, are over 13 and living in the UK, the researchers would love to talk to you!

Recruitment advertisement giving the details of the participant criteria - 13 yrs+, using contraception or have a need to use it, living in the UK.

For more information, please read the attached documents:

For further information, or to take part, please contact Taylor Burgess by email: taylor.burgess@bpas.org, or complete the form below with your details.

Lancaster University Faculty of Health & Medicine logo
British Pregnancy Advisory Service logo

Permission to Contact Form

Please read the project information sheet, then select yes or no to answer each question.

Pictures of 4 different Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives


Our PSG Research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019

The best thing about ParentingScienceGang was discovering all the other articulate people passionate about the issues of high BMI pregnancy. One such woman is Dr Mari Greenfield, who presented our research at the Medical Sociology Conference in York in September. Mari has written a guest post about the experience:

Dr Mari Greenfield, who presented our PSG research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019
Dr Mari Greenfield

Big Birthas: unpacking ‘choice’ for pregnant women with a high-BMI

I took part in the Big Birthas Parenting Science Gang as a Parent Scientist. I helped to decide the research question, design the methods we would use, and undertake some of the analysis.

When the project ended, we Parent Scientists had the data and the findings, but needed to decide what to do with them. My day job is a doula and researcher, and I’m passionate about choices in birth for all, regardless of BMI. Some of the stories women had shared with us were heartbreaking; stories of choice and power taken away, and of upset and trauma as a result.

Some of the stories were also uplifting, when women took power back; asserting their rights to make choices and decisions about themselves, their bodies, and their babies. Women had shared so much, giving time and investing themselves by telling their stories. I want to make sure we do justice to that. 

One way I can do that is to present our findings to a diverse range of audiences. In my day job, I frequently present research to conferences of academics, so I applied to the Medical Sociology Conference. Hosted by the British Sociological Association, it is a brilliant event which focuses not on what we do within health care, but how we do things, why we do things, and how we could do health care better.

our research at the Medical Sociology Conference 2019

Pecha Kucha!

My talk was accepted, in a format called Pecha Kucha. These presentations allow you to present 20 slides, and talk about each one for 20 seconds. It’s a challenging format because it makes you really focus on the key points you want to make. There is no room for waffle!

I wrote the both the initial application and the presentation collaboratively with Big Birthas and several of the other Parent Scientists, using the Facebook group to refine ideas and try things out, in the same way we had used it during the Parenting Science Gang project. It was lovely to have that very supportive and equal way of working. This is quite different from the creation of most other academic and medical presentations.

The high BMI ‘box’

I chose to focus on one of our findings, the idea of the ‘high BMI box’. Many women explained how, once in this category, BMI was the only thing anyone seemed interested in. They described having serious medical conditions ignored. One woman explained how the difference between her starting weight in her two pregnancies was objectively only 7 pounds, but in one this was ‘normal BMI’, while the other saw her put into the ‘high BMI box’. She eloquently described the differences this made to her care.

Programme excerpt about our research at the Medical Sociology Conference:

Big Birthas: unpacking ‘choice’ for pregnant women with a high-BMI

What does it mean to be labelled as having a high-BMI whilst pregnant? How does this label affect women’s experiences of navigating maternity services?

This presentation is based on a novel user-led Citizen Science collaboration between Big Birthas (peer information and support service) and Parenting Science Gang (Wellcome Trust funded user-led citizen science project).

The results described complex journeys, where interactions with healthcare professionals revolved around conversations of BMI-related risks to the exclusion of other factors, and ignored other events of the pregnancies.

Women also reported disrespectful and shaming language from healthcare professionals, and conflict if they asserted a decision that was not in line with the healthcare professional’s views.

This led some women to decline care that they actually wanted, or avoid attending appointments, to avoid conflict or denial of choice; a consequence which was particularly apparent when we examined how those women chose to approach their second pregnancies.

The presentation and our research at the Medical Sociology Conference was well received. Questions after the talk asked about both the Parenting Science Gang methodology, our methodology, and our findings. People spoke about how our research overlaps with work they are doing.

The Parenting Science Gang’s project is over, but the journey of the stories we collected is not. Next, I am hoping to work with some of the other Parent Scientists to turn our findings into a piece that can be published in a midwifery journal. Watch this space…

Dr Mari Greenfield

Academic researcher in maternity care, doula, birth activist. Special interests in traumatic birth and LGBTQ experiences.

Huge thanks to Mari for bringing our research to a wider audience, and for writing up the experience too!

Would you like to write a guest post for Big Birthas? Have you got experiences or a perspective that the Big Birthas audience might be interested in? Do you have a birth story you want to share? Please get in touch via the Contact Big Birtha page.

Why I’m Never Again Donating To Cancer Research UK

Well, this probably seems uncharitable, but here are my reasons why I will never again be donating to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a friend of mine, and you’re planning on running, swimming, knitting in a bath of custard etc in future and need sponsorship, I will happily donate to a charity in recognition of your efforts. But not to CRUK. You can pick another charity. You can choose one doing great work in cancer treatment or care or awareness or research; Macmillan, Marie Curie, Breast Cancer Now, there are hundreds! Just not Cancer Research UK/Race For Life/Stand Up To Cancer, which are many faces of the same charity.

Why? What’s wrong with Cancer Research UK?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d hope that a charity which puts research at the forefront of its identity (it’s in the name, for heavens’ sake!) would understand the need to not make wild claims. I’d hope they understood the difference between causation and correlation – it’s usually taught in secondary schools! Here’s a really useful TED talk explaining the danger of mixing correlation with causation:

So we can see from the example given in the video (if you’re reading this on mobile data and don’t want to watch it!) is that just because the incidence of drownings increases when the sales of ice creams increase (a correlation), does not mean that we can infer ice creams are responsible for drownings (causation). Or conversely, decide that drownings are responsible for ice-cream sales!

We can suspect one leads to the other. We can theorise what might cause this, but without further evidence it is merely a theory. It may be difficult to prove. That doesn’t mean you can ignore the lack of proof and state it as fact for the sake of convenience. Furthermore we must not forget to look for other influencing factors which might explain both results, like the weather, in the TED example.

So, where does Cancer Research UK come into this?

CRUKs 2018 OB_S__Y is a cause of cancer ad campaign.

When CRUK released their ad campaign last year stating, quite categorically, that obesity causes cancer, I was a bit concerned. I knew of the link between being of higher weight and increased risk of certain cancers (and decreased risk of others that we rarely hear about!), but there has never been proven causation. Yet CRUK were happy to state it.

Wait, obesity isn’t a cause of cancer?

No one (and there’s been plenty of research!) has yet proven that obesity causes cancer. It is possible that there is a causal link, of course. The theories may be spot on. I don’t deny that. But you’d hope a charity spending hard-won donations, and with ‘research’ in their name, would be a bit more responsible and careful not to overstate a theory as fact? It’s an important distinction.

As with the TED analogy, research has suggested that common factors could be responsible for the connection. Genetics are particularly suspect. Did you know tall people are more likely to get cancer than short people? Don’t see them putting that on a bus shelter, or claiming that height causes cancer. It’s an accepted correlation. Strangely CRUK don’t feel the need to make anyone feel crap about being tall…

But being fat’s not the same as being tall!

“But people can’t help their height!” I hear the virtue-signallers cry! “It’s not the same! Fat people can lose weight!” (with a in implied side-order of “they’re just lazy/stupid/lack willpower!”).

Except if you’re overweight, and have always been overweight, come from a line of people who are and have always been overweight, and have repeatedly watch them try and fail to lose weight, you know that while the maxims of ‘just lose weight’, ‘just eat less’, ‘just exercise more’ sound so deceptively simple in theory, they’re incredibly difficult in practice.

Of course, there’s always surgery, the one reliable intervention to lose weight – but if that’s so desirable, why wouldn’t we suggest tall people lop off a couple of inches to reduce their cancer risk? (I’m not suggesting that either!) There are significant risks associated with surgery, and significant downsides. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Yes. Pun intended. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s a lot more to being healthy than merely a BMI.

But obesity IS preventable! You just don’t want to hear the truth!

Many overweight people struggle with their weight their entire life. Many lose weight, only to put it all back on again and more, often over and over, getting bigger with every cycle. We know this, and we don’t fully understand why. But we’re beginning to understand that willpower and behaviour are probably only a small part of the puzzle, maybe as little as 5%, with many other factors coming into play .

If it was so easy, Slimming World and Weight Watchers would have gone out of business years ago. The fact of the matter is that their business model works precisely because most people don’t and can’t lose the weight and keep it off long term in our modern society. We know this. It’s a problem we’ve been trying to solve for years, and CRUK campaigning that obesity is a ‘preventable’ cause of cancer completely ignores this.

Every time I drove past one of the CRUK adverts last year it irritated me. I knew it was inaccurate, felt it was irresponsible, and I was frustrated that they were choosing to oversimplify a complex problem as a personal failing. I, and many others felt it insidiously feeds the narrative of blame and shame that is so common with obesity.

It allows those who don’t have a high BMI to feel just that bit more smug, just that bit more superior; safe in the knowledge that their predominantly genetic disposition to not be overweight is saving them from cancer, with the added implication that us fat people should really do something about it for the sake of our health…

Maybe they didn’t realise…?

Not everyone reacted as mildly as I did, of course…

But those ads didn’t quite push me to the point of saying never again will I be donating to Cancer Research UK. That only happened this week…

I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt last year. Maybe they didn’t realise? Perhaps they felt the shock factor they wanted to use outweighed the risks of that approach and misjudged it? Maybe in wanting to keep the message simple they went further than they should have in overstating the point, but have learned from it?

So, what happened next?

Firstly, don’t be tempted to read the responses Sofie Hagen received on Twitter. Let’s just say plenty of people decided to tell her she was wrong. Haters gonna hate and all that… We don’t need that kind of negativity!

The campaign garnered lots of attention, was widely accused of fat-shaming and stigmatising obesity, and lauded by others for ‘telling it like it is’ (or as we know, isn’t, but hey-ho). These comments mainly came from smug-thins who think it’s simple to solve the ‘obesity problem’; just regularly tell fat people how crap they are and they’re sure to take it on board…

It also prompted amusing but entirely predictable responses implying the only reason people are overweight is because they eat fast food… yawn. Never saw that one coming. Oh, wait. Yes we did. It’s exactly these kinds of lazy tropes and attitudes that such a campaign fuels and that we’re entirely sick of.

Didn’t anyone explain to CRUK where they’d gone wrong?

Of course! Aside from the discussions on Twitter and in the media, various organisations and experts connected to the study of obesity contacted CRUK to offer their services.

They told CRUK how the adverts were stigmatising and misleading. They explained how simply telling people with obesity that they’re at increased risk of cancer does nothing to help, but does everything to make people feel more marginalised. Experts met with CRUK to explain how a more useful and sensitive campaign could be launched in future…

So, what happened this week?

Cancer Research UK's latest ad campaign - comparing obesity to smoking.

This week, CRUK went one further with this ad campaign.

Cigarette packets branded with “Obesity is a cause of cancer too”. Eyecatching and emotive, certainly. Accurate and helpful? Not so much.

Marvellous. They’ve taken on board precisely …erm… nothing at all from last year’s campaign feedback!?

Or perhaps they enjoyed the publicity last time?

Good grief, I feel sorry for the people who gave up smoking and gained weight as a result. They must feel like they can’t do right for doing wrong! They’re probably having their nicotine addiction triggered by the enormous images of cigarette packets, all while wanting a cigarette to deal with the stress of finding out that they’re doomed to get cancer…

Of course, the media reported the release like this:

Google News search for 'cancer obesity' showing misleading headlines and the standard 'headless fat body' image

With the word ’cause’ prominently repeated, with images of fast food and headless fat bodies galore – despite organisations such as the European Association for the Study of Obesity and The World Obesity Federation campaigning widely against such reporting and providing and free usable non-stigmatising images… Here we go again. Entirely predictable. Blame and shame. Emotive stuff.

There was a swift backlash. The National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care West (what a title!) wrote this great article:

Only this time there’s no room for the benefit of doubt; CRUK know these campaigns are hurtful, and they clearly don’t care.

And then, despite the complaints, CRUK continued the narrative this morning by tweeting this:

What, are we just pointing out random statistics we observe now? No. Clearly CRUK has decided this is the hill they want to die on; might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. If you don’t like it, go chew some obesity gum or puff on your obesity inhaler… Oh, wait…

Cancer Research UK Budget

Here’s how much CRUK spends in a year.

Caner Research UK's 2017/18 Budget spend by sector (total £652m)

It’s a lot. A sizeable amount is spent on research. So far so good. But when £43 million pounds in 2017/18 was spent on ‘information and policy’ (admittedly, it’s only half of what they spend on raising the cash in the first place…), and when that information and policy is based around misrepresenting that research, enough is enough.

What does CRUKs CEO have to say?

Luckily not all media outlets have responded to CRUKs latest campaign by parroting it blindly… Sky News at least have responded by reporting some of the criticisms the new campaign has received:

https://news.sky.com/story/cancer-research-advert-criticised-for-comparing-smoking-to-obesity

They even quote CRUK chief executive Michelle Mitchell:

“We have a responsibility to tell people about what might increase the risk of cancer.”

Yes, Michelle. Might. So why are you so ready to be certain that it does cause cancer when you’re plastering it on a poster?

I might never again donate to Cancer Research UK. Oh, actually sorry, no. I’m never again donating to Cancer Research UK. Put that on a poster, Michelle.