Accessing Published Scientific Papers

I’ve avoided referring to Sci-Hub before as I, like hundred of thousands of other researchers, have time and time again run up against publishing pay walls in reviewing literature for research on projects. Sure you can pay amounts from a few dollars to $40 or more to download the PDF or access the article for a limited period of time, contact the author for a PDF copy or ask a colleague at a university or research institution which can afford to have on-line access (JSTOR, Springer etc) to download it for you, the legalities of the latter two being questionable. But this is a time consuming frustration when all you are wanting to do is to check part of the paper that was referenced elsewhere, which often turns out to be irrelevant.

Enter, circa 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan, a Kazakhstan researcher based in Russia, instigated quite a simple and ingenious, crowd sourced workaround to access publications and then make it available for free on LibGen. Access to scientific publications has always been an issue and there has been huge debate over the years, particularly over access to articles from publicly funded research. This has been, in part, resolved and a quick review of the background and free access publications by doing a quick search will give some relevance. However, the central issue of access and how much access remains and court action, it seems, will continue. Many publications, including Nature, liken Sci-Hub to popular media pirates which is, at least I feel, a little too far. But the principles are similar, except the publishers didn’t produce the product, and popular media owners/copyright holders tend not to think outside of the litigation box when it comes to dealing with the issues. I support scientific publishers and the service they provide in both peer reviewing publications (filtering out “fake facts” – sounds better than fake news) and offering a forum for scientific debate and often support for the community as a whole, particularly in terms of funding and righting the wrongs of creationists and the “Cruising scientologists”. But what has always been a bit of a sore point to me, and many colleagues, is that when you submit an article for publication, and in some cases pay to do so, you sign over all copyright to the publisher who then sells access to your article, is still not fully resolved. (Not as bad as signing over all patent rights of your invention to your institute or company though!!).

Where there is an apparent injustice there will always be an under-swell of solutions!!