Scientific journals and Robin Hood ethics.

CC BY flickr.com/photos/holmesjr
CC BY flickr.com/photos/holmesjr

Setting aside the probably unethical basis of scientific publication structure, which is sometimes more interested in protecting the status quo than improving mankind’s living conditions — an old-fashioned legitimation of science — let’s focus on the inequality it promotes. A clear research divide is created between those with access to these journals and those without, between those paying abusive subscription fees and those who are not able. Or, in some other cases, even between those who are able to pay to have their work published in predatory journals and those with no money enough.

So.

What if a researcher in Russia makes 48 million journal articles freely available online?

“For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it’s since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily..” [sciencealert]

Is this is a pirate act, or a Robin Hood action?

At the end of last year, the site was ordered closed by a judge in New York, so it seems the verdict is it’s piracy.

But this triggered a debate about science. Or, more exactly, about scientific journals. Let me copy here some parts of the open letter the Sci-hub.org operator addressed to the New York court [You can take a look at it here]:

“When I was a student in Kazakhstan university, I did not have access to any research papers. These papers I needed for my research project. Payment of 32 dollars is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research.”

“Authors of these papers do not receive money. Why would they send their work to Elsevier then? They feel pressured to do this, because Elsevier is an owner of so-called “high-impact” journals. If a researcher wants to be recognized, make a career – he or she needs to have publications in such journals.”

“we never received any complaints from authors or researchers, only Elsevier [the editor] is complaining about free distribution of knowledge”

So, again the question. Is Sci-hub.org created by an evil stealer-hacker, or by a RobinHoodsonian prominent philanthropist?

Raúl Antón Cuadrado

       

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