Breaking the academic paywall maffia. How to free some (> 47,000,000) primary scientific publications (research papers)

Last modified: 
18/2/2016
Are 47 million scientific publication a lot? Yes, in that it is vitally important in regards to the fundamental right to information; being more substantial information than any person can ever read. No, in that it is estimated that well over 1 million scientific articles were published in 2006 alone.1

I greatly welcome these developments against the scientific journal "maffia", and wish them a prosperous life and exponential growth.

Sci-Hub (> 47 million papers)

Sci-Hub Wikipedia | Twitter | Facebook | VK is a project running since 5 September 2011,2 and by the female neuro-scientist Alexandra Elbakyan LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook, who was then still a student.3 She was born in Kazakhstan, where she also graduated,4 and calls herself the main operator of the website.5

Sci-Hub can currently (17 February 2016) be accessed via: When on its website, feel free to try and see if a publication of your interest is available to be read for free. One does this by pasting either the URL (a web address which might change; which is visible in your browser's address bar) of a scientific article you would like to read; or alternatively by pasting the DOI (a permanent identification of web content) of such an article.

Another way to freely use the service of the website is to insert the string "sci-hub.io" (or "sci-hub.cc", which should work equally fine) after ".com" in the URL of an article which you would like to access. E.g., if you would like to read a paper published in the journal Nature, the URL of an article might start with "nature.com/nature/journal ...et cetera...". Therefor, one simply insert "sci-hub.io" after ".com" to end up with a new URL which looks like "nature.com.sci-hub.io/nature/journal/ ...et cetera...". Then, try to visit that URL to see if the article can be accessed for free.

If you have successfully been enabled to access the article for free (I think you have more chance when interested in articles from famous journals), one can download the .PDF of that article. One does this by either clicking the Russian text "⇣ сохранить статью" (which means: "⇣ save paper"); or alternatively by using a browser (or a browser plug-in) which enables you to download .PDF's.

The old Sci-Hub website (at least from 1/7/20156 to 10/8/20157) included the following information: SCI-HUB
a world with free access to knowledge
a world without ©opyright


The Sci-Hub project works to fight inequality in information access across the world. The goal is to dismantle all barriers to knowledge distribution. Our vision is the world without paywalls, where any piece of knowledge can be accessed freely by any person.7
At times when the old website was not available (e.g. on 29/1/2014), it referred to Library Genesis (LibGen) Wikipedia instead: Temporarily closed. Download archived papers at libgen.org [now available at LibGen.io or Gen.Lib.rus.ec].8 Its current website (17 February 2016) calls itself: The first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.2 Further more, it now shows the following brief information: At this time the widest possible distribution of research papers, as well as of other scientific or educational sources, is artificially restricted by copyright laws. Such laws effectively slow down the development of science in human society. The Sci-Hub project, running from 5th September 2011, is challenging the status quo. At the moment, Sci-Hub provides access to hundreds of thousands research papers every day, effectively bypassing any paywalls and restrictions.2 By 4 December 2015, Sci-Hub already freely offered more than 46 million scientific papers for free.9 Currently (17 February 2016), its website claims to offer over 47,000,000 research papers available for free.2

Together with this, it presents 3 "ideas":2


We fight inequality in knowledge access across the world. The scientific knowledge should be available for every person regardless of their income, social status, geographical location and etc. Our mission is to remove any barrier which impeding the widest possible distribution of knowledge in human society!

The Sci-Hub project supports Open Access movement in science. Research should be published in open access, i.e. be free to read. The Open Access is a new and advanced form of scientific communication, which is going to replace outdated subscription models. We stand against unfair gain that publishers collect by creating limits to knowledge distribution.
To follow its developments (especially if you have an account on VK Wikipedia), one perhaps could try to catch up by logging in with a VK-account through the project's VK-page. It seems to be handy to know Russian.

Alternatives

I will merely list websites (other than Sci-Hub) listed under "academic paywall circumvention" at the English Wikipedia's File Sharing-series (as of 17 February 2016):

Library Genesis (LibGen)

Library Genesis (LibGen) Wikipedia can be accessed via:

ICanHazPDF

ICanHazPDF (read Wikipedia if you do not know how it works) can be used via:
  • The hashtag #ICanHazPDF Twitter
One can create an anonymous twitter account to use it, or even delete the account after use. It is discouraged to thank a user who fulfills a request, not to expose the helper unwantedly.10

It seems that the operator of Sci-Hub has called this alternative outdated: Today many researchers use the #ICanHazPDF hashtag on Twitter to ask other benevolent researchers to download paywalled papers for them, a practice Elbakyan describes as "very archaic," pointing out that "especially in Russia, the Sci-Hub project started a new era in how research work is done. Now, the requests for information are solved by machines, not the hands of other researchers. Automation made the process of solving requests very effective. Before, hundreds of requests were solved per day; Sci-Hub turned these numbers into hundreds of thousands."11 She adds to this that other old alternatives to bypass the paperwall "problem" are equally unpractical compared to the Sci-Hub project: Elbakyan explains, "Before Sci-Hub, this problem was solved manually for years! For example, students would go to an online forum where other researchers communicate, and request papers there; other people would respond to the request." This practice is widespread even today, with researchers even at rich Western institutions now routinely forced to email the authors of papers directly, asking for a copy by email, wasting the time of everyone involved and holding back the progress of research in the process.11

Precedents

An interesting read about (the destroying of) a predecessor (Library.nu) Wikipedia is the 2014 article "The Burning of Library.nu".12

Academics stand up

Already in 2003, Cornell University was "set to cancel its subscriptions to several hundred scientific journals published by Elsevier", due to the academic paywall.13

Of particular interest can be the "Guerilla Open Access Manifest", which was published by Aaron Swartz Wikipedia in July 2008.14. The German newspaper ZEIT ONLINE, reports about him as follows: He copied 4,8 million papers via the Intranet of MIT from the journal-archive JSTOR. In 2011, he was charged because of this, although he didn't factually published any article. Two years later, he committed suicide. In the [open access] scene, he today counts as a martyr.15 On 21 January 2012, the mathematician Tim Gowers uttered criticism in his article "Elsevier — my part in its downfall".16 Hundreds of people "left supportive comments" and within a day, a website was set up for academics to notify their support.17 In the mean time, that website (entitled The Cost of Knowledge) has collected more than 15,000 academic signatures.18

The library of Harvard University uttered criticism in 2012 themselves, and advised their members to submit in open access journals,19 which is now (I think) a frequent advice given by universities.

A response to the marketing aspect of journals by the statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb WikipediaFacebook | Personal website | Twitter | NYU Tandon School of Engineering gave me considerable pleasure reading. It is perhaps not-academic in its language, but it is perhaps 'academic' nevertheless in its striving for scientific relevance in its contents and in its criticism on ways of distribution:

HOW TO MAXIMIZE SUBSTANCE. Academic production is now up to 99% housekeeping, chickens**t, dealing with referees and...

Posted by Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Friday, July 26, 2013


Homolog.us also presents us with the following idea: High-energy physicists gave us the internet. Therefore, it is worth checking how they solved the publishing problem.20 This to mention an article entitled "Citing and Reading Behaviours in High-Energy Physics" (subtitled "How a Community Stopped Worrying about Journals and Learned to Love Repositories"), by presenting that article's abstract: Contemporary scholarly discourse follows many alternative routes in addition to the three-century old tradition of publication in peer-reviewed journals. The field of High-Energy Physics (HEP) has explored alternative communication strategies for decades, initially via the mass mailing of paper copies of preliminary manuscripts, then via the inception of the first online repositories and digital libraries.

This field is uniquely placed to answer recurrent questions raised by the current trends in scholarly communication: is there an advantage for scientists to make their work available through repositories, often in preliminary form? Is there an advantage to publishing in Open Access journals? Do scientists still read journals or do they use digital repositories?

The analysis of citation data demonstrates that free and immediate online dissemination of preprints creates an immense citation advantage in HEP, whereas publication in Open Access journals presents no discernible advantage. In addition, the analysis of clickstreams in the leading digital library of the field shows that HEP scientists seldom read journals, preferring preprints instead.21
In a file submitted under the case "Elsevier Inc. et al v. Sci-Hub et al", Alexandra Elbakyan claims that academics do not oppose the Sci-Hub project: I would like to also mention that we never received any complaints from authors or researchers, only Elsevier is complaining about free distribution of knowledge on Sci-Hub.org [now accessible via Sci-Hub.cc or Sci-Hub.io] website.5 That file (Document 50) has also been translated to French.

Footnotes

  • 1.http://www.informati... / https://helda.helsin..., Bo-Christer Björk & Annikki Roos & Mari Lauri, Scientific journal publishing: yearly volume and open access availability, Information Research 14 (1), 3/2009, at 17/2/2016
  • 2. a. b. c. d. e.http://www.sci-hub.io/ / http://www.sci-hub.cc/, Sci-Hub, at 17/2/2016
  • 3.http://www.zeit.de/d..., Eike Kühl, Sci-Hub, ZEIT ONLINE, 16/2/2016, at 17/2/2016
  • 4.https://torrentfreak..., Ernesto Van der Sar [Founder and Editor-in-Chief of TorrentFreak], Sci-Hub Tears Down Academia’s “Illegal” Copyright Paywalls, TorrentFreak, 27/6/2015, at 18/2/2016
  • 5. a. b.www.plainsite.org/do... / https://torrentfreak..., [District Judge Robert Sweet | For Plaintiff: Attorneys for the Plaintiffs by: Joseph DeMarco, Esq., David Hirschberg, Esq., Urvashi Sen, Esq., Devore & Demarco LLP, New York, NY | For Defendant: Pro Se: Alexandra Elbakyan, Almaty, Kazakhstan], [Elsevier Inc. et al v. Sci-Hub et al], Case 1:15-cv-04282-RWS [15 Civ. 4282], Document 50, Filed 09/15/16, [U.S. District Court, Southern District | New York Southern District Court]
  • 6.https://web.archive...., Sci-Hub. A world with free access to knowledge. A world without ©opyright, [archived at 1/7/2015], at 17/2/2016
  • 7. a. b.https://web.archive...., Sci-Hub. A world with free access to knowledge. A world without ©opyright, [archived at 10/8/2015], at 17/2/2016
  • 8.https://web.archive...., Sci-Hub. A world with free access to knowledge. A world without ©opyright, [archived at 29/1/2014], at 17/2/2016
  • 9.http://www.nature.co..., Quirin Schiermeier, Pirate research-paper sites play hide-and-seek with publishers, Nature | News, 4/12/2015
  • 10.http://www.ala.org/a..., Carolyn Caffrey Gardner & Gabriel J. Gardner, Bypassing Interlibrary Loan Via Twitter: An Exploration of #icanhazpdf Requests, ACRL (Association of College & Research Libraries), Portland, Oregon, 25-28/3/2015, at 18/2/2016
  • 11. a. b.http://bigthink.com/..., Simon Oxenham [a.k.a. Neurobonkers], Meet the Robin Hood of Science, Big Think, 11/2/2016, at 18/2/2016
  • 12. ▸ Pierre Estienne, The Burning of Library.nu, Knowledge Utopia, 22/1/2014, at 17/2/2016
  • 13.http://www.nature.co..., Jonathan Knight, Cornell axes Elsevier journals as prices rise, Nature 426 (217) | News, 20/11/2003
  • 14.https://archive.org/..., Aaron Swartz, Guerilla Open Access Manifest, 7/2008, at 17/2/2016
  • 15. Translated from German. Originally: Er kopierte über das Intranet des MIT 4,8 Millionen Paper aus dem Zeitschriftenarchiv JSTOR. 2011 wurde er deshalb angeklagt, obwohl er keine Artikel tatsächlich veröffentlicht hatte. Zwei Jahre später nahm Swartz sich das Leben, in der Szene gilt er heute als Märtyrer.

    http://www.zeit.de/d..., Eike Kühl, Sci-Hub, ZEIT ONLINE, p. 2, 16/2/2016, at 17/2/2016
  • 16.https://gowers.wordp..., Tim Gowers, Elsevier — my part in its downfall, Gowers's Weblog. Mathematics related discussions, published 21/1/2012, modified 31/8/2013, at 17/2/2016
  • 17.https://www.theguard..., Alok Jha, Academic spring: how an angry maths blog sparked a scientific revolution, The Guardian, 9/4/2012, at 17/2/2016
  • 18.http://thecostofknow..., The Cost of Knowledge, at 17/2/2016
  • 19.https://www.theguard..., Ian Sample, Harvard University says it can't afford journal publishers' prices, The Guardian, 24/4/2012, at 17/2/2016
  • 20.http://www.homolog.u..., [Heroes and Heroines of New Media], How Much Should a Poor Scientist Pay to Access Old Research Papers?, Homolog.us – Bioinformatics, 29/6/2015
  • 21.http://arxiv.org/ftp..., Anne Gentil-Beccot & Salvatore Mele, Citing and Reading Behaviours in High-Energy Physics. How a Community Stopped Worrying about Journals and Learned to Love Repositories, arXiv: 0906.5418, CERN-OPEN-2009-012, SLAC-PUB-13693

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