How to: track down newspaper articles cited in the news (when not directly related)

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I admit it: I don’t read a lot of scholarly and scientific journal articles. I keep up to date with interesting science news via blogs, news articles and Twitter headlines. News stories can also be a great way for students to select topics for scientific research. Sometimes the news is so interesting that I want to know more. My first stop is sometimes the original newspaper article on which the blog post or news item was based – the original article may provide additional information and additional related sources. But first you have to find it.

Many blog posts will link directly to a version of the original article, but many news sources often have a policy of not linking to the original source. Even when a blog links directly to the original article, you may not be able to read it without paying. But there are steps you can take to find the original article and find a version you can read.

If no direct link is provided, the first step is to identify the journal in which the article was published and the date of publication. News articles usually report this information a few paragraphs into the article. For example, a recent press article from The New York Times identified the original source in this way:

Sifrhippus dropped from an average weight of about 12 pounds to about 8.5 pounds as the climate warmed for thousands of years, a team of researchers reported Thursday in the journal Science.

You need to find the issue of the journal Science published the same week as the report in The New York Times.

A quick Google search can usually locate the journal’s website (to find very short journal titles, it helps to add the word “journal”). There you can identify the exact article the news is about by finding the correct number.

News stories sometimes include the authors of the original source, but almost never include the titles of original articles, which makes things a bit trickier. The original title of the article may in fact be difficult to recognize: scientific articles are not known for having clear and easily readable titles. So, the goal when scanning the list of article titles is to select a few major concepts to lead you to the item you want. In the case of the article above, the authors discuss climate change and an ancient horse. The title of the article turns out to be “Evolution of Early Climate Change-Driven Horses in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.”

From there you can try to read the actual article. If the review is free access or if you are on campus at an institution that already subscribes to the journal through its website, you will be able to read it. However, if the website asks for money to read the article (often $30-40 per article), there are several other options available to you.

First, if you are affiliated with a college or university, the library may already have a subscription to this journal. Go to your library’s website and find where to search by journal title. Sometimes the library may subscribe through the journal’s website or through another source.

Second, even if the journal’s website asks for money, a copy of the article may be freely available online because the author has posted a copy on his website. Many publishers grant authors the right to do so, including Science. If there is, a quick Internet search for the title of the article must discover the article. In this case, the article received extensive media coverage, so a search for the title of the article brings up many news sites. But about halfway down the first page of results is a link from the University of Nebraska. Success! A PDF of one post print of this article is available on the University of Nebraska Lincoln Digital Commons. Look for .edu (colleges and universities) and .gov (PubMed and other government sites) in search results to find free access sites — these might be your best bets.

If that doesn’t work, you may still be able to access journals that your local college or university library subscribes to by visiting the library in person and applying for a guest borrower card.

Finally, although it may be a little delayed, many people have access to some sort of interlibrary loan service through their local library or the library of the college they are affiliated with. Public libraries may charge a fee for this service, but the fee will likely be lower than the fee charged by the journal’s website. College and university libraries rarely charge interlibrary loan fees to their students and staff and can often have the article delivered to your inbox within hours.

Of course, once you get your hands on the article, you’ll have plenty of avenues to explore. Careful reading of the review article may bring up some interesting new concepts, and the list of references at the end may be a great source of additional information – it just depends on how interested you are in the subject!


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