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Sci-Hub, spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz, angering publishers all over again (arstechnica.com)
308 points by Thriptic on Apr 3, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 165 comments



So many of these discussions take it for granted that publishers don't do anything of value. This blog post, by an open access advocate, was for me very illuminating on what value they actually add (http://cameronneylon.net/blog/polecon-of-oa-publishing-i-wha...)

Quoting from that link: "One of the big challenges is discussing the costs and value added in managing peer review is that researchers who engage in this conversation tend to be amongst the best editors and referees. Professional publishers on the other hand tend to focus on the (relatively small number of) contributors, who are, not to put too fine a point on it, awful. Good academic editors tend to select good referees who do good work, and when they encounter a bad referee they discount it and move on. Professional staff spend the majority of their time dealing with editors who have gone AWOL, referees who are late in responding, or who turn out to be inappropriate either in what they have written or their conflicts of interest, or increasingly who don’t even exist! .... Much of the irritation you see from publishers when talking about why managing peer review is more than “sending a few emails” relates to this gap in perception. The irony is that the problems are largely invisible to the broader community because publishers keep them under wraps, hidden away so that they don’t bother the community."

I'm sure there must be some way to achieve this and also make the content freely available. But whatever system replaces the current one has to deal with these issues too.


> I'm sure there must be some way to achieve this and also make the content freely available. But whatever system replaces the current one has to deal with these issues too.

Post-publication peer review could solve all of these (and the access issue too!). I'm still not convinced of the superiority of pre-publication review by only 3 (usually quite busy) people max.


I haven't had good experience with modern post-publication peer review so far.

My biggest complaint is that few know those comments exist. For example, I commented on one paper to highlight methodological problems that make it impossible to trust their results. (They developed a new algorithm for X. They compared it to the naive implementation. The naive implementation was poorly coded. Most of the speedup disappears by in comparison to a well-written implementation.)

I've talked to a few people about this exact paper. None noticed the link to the comment page.

I say "modern" because post-publication peer review isn't new. One of the older mechanisms was the letter to the editor. Those letters (at least in the ACS journal I'm thinking of) have a DOI and are searchable. A few of these letters have proved useful to my research.

But the modern post-publication peer reviews don't have a DOI and aren't indexed by Google Scholar or other systems, so they are less useful than a old Letter to the Editor.

(I once asked about sending a Letter to the Editor to an Open Access journal, concerning problems in one of their publications. They said they don't support those sorts of short communications, and my only option was the $1,500 to publish a full paper, which would have to go through the normal peer review process.)


I have been extremely unimpressed with my experiences post-publication peer-review. Limited to no feedback for many papers, and some clearly "How dare you stray onto my turf" related comments.


You mean Elsevier doesn't need to earn $2 billion for hustling free editors to do their work proper? You know, it's more than just pushing emails around. You have to deal with people.


Have you accounted the cost of the many work-hours that reviewers spend beautifying their journals? it's probably in the tens of billions, worldwide. Is it justifiable? It's certainly not what the public is paying for.


I think you missed an Office Space reference.


I don't understand. What is the difference between post-publication peer review and no peer review? What is a journal for if the papers are not peer reviewed?


The simplest workflow I can think of:

1) Publish with no review

2) Open for review

3) If review is passed, tag as reviewed and bundle all those into a special reviewed section (which can be cited)

4) Reserve the right to remove from reviewed (some later reviewer finds major flaws etc.)

You'd have to handle the dynamic nature of papers (git-like) but in essence I'm thinking of a website with "all submitted papers" and a checkbox for "reviewed papers only". I think that would be valuable and people would likely leave the checkbox on by default.

I'm also curious if the review has to be blind in this model. I think it would be more valuable if the reviewers actually signed with their names and the review feedback was open as well. Shifts the value from being in a prestigious journal to being successfully reviewed by a smart/reputable person. Ideally doing these reviews would then become reputation building as well.


It's not a journal, or it's a different kind of journal. I guess it would be like doing the whole review process in a very public way. Would that be worse? I don't know ... has anyone tried it?

I think we are heading that way anyway, the open access publishers are pushing the envelope here by making peer review more and more public (publishing reviewer names, or comments along with the paper).


Just saying -- perhaps "editors who have gone AWOL, referees who are late in responding, or who turn out to be inappropriate" would likely be less of a problem if they were properly paid for what they're doing. I haven't been in academia for a long time (and my stint was short), but I don't remember ever hearing of a reviewer who got anything more substantial than maybe a discount or a one month of free subscription to a journal from a publisher. Managing peer review is admittedly more than "sending a few e-mails", but not in a good way.


What is "properly paid"?

The last review I did (for an open access journal) took ~6 hours. At minimum wage that's about $50. There were two reviewers = $100. Reviewer must get paid even if the recommendation is "don't publish", otherwise reviewers will have an incentive to say "yes". The OA fee for that journal is about $1300. If 50% of the peer reviewed papers are published, then the average price for peer review would be $200, which would raise the price to publish by about 10%.

It is an open access journal, so everyone effectively has a free subscription to it.

One alternative is a credit model, where N reviews gives a discount on the price to publish. However, as the above points out, it may be more cost effective to mow lawns on the weekend than it is to plan for that discount.

Then there's the question of perceived fairness. If one reviewer says "great job. Publish" and another gives 10 pages of useful critique, is it proper to pay each the same?


My information may be out of date because, as I've said above, my dance with academia ended a long time ago. AFAIK most (all?) of Elsevier's journals aren't open access and reviewers aren't paid at all. They aren't improperly paid, they're not paid at all. The publisher gets a hefty amount of income out of their unpaid work, of which they share exactly nothing. This is well past the level where we can debate nuances of fairness.

I don't know enough about this field to be able to properly debate the proper mechanics of payment. I just wanted to point out that one of the pillars of these publishers' income -- the credibility brought by peer review, such as it is -- is effectively the unpaid labour of a lot of very, very clever people, who contribute enormously to human progress (not just to the publishers' pockets) pretty much for free (sure, some of them are also assholes, but that's besides the point). I can understand why sometimes they'd be less then collaborative. Over here, in the industry, if I were offered the (industrial) equivalent of that deal, my answer would be a warm and heartfelt fuck you; in fact, I don't think any serious company would want to compromise its image by offering such a deal.

Edit: at the risk of appearing to suffer of the anti-academic sentiment that is so plaguing our profession (which, I have to insist, I do not), I also think that some of this problem is self-inflicted and has to do with the way in which modern society treats higher education. I sometimes think that part of the solution could lay in discouraging the short-sighted, what-can-we-reliably-solve-in-no-longer-than-three-years, paper-focused approach to research activity that is self-feeding the publishing machine.


Referee wrangling is not unique to Elsevier. While you are correct about "one of the pillars of these publishers' income", I have heard very few argue that referee compensation would improve the situation.

To the best of my limited knowledge, the complaints about reviewers taking a long time or not responding at all are independent of the publisher, and equally true for open access journals. I've gotten my share of "the deadline is in two days" emails. No can I think of what compensation might entice me to respond in three days rather than three weeks.

The blanket statement "Over here, in the industry" does not universally apply. In my field of pharmaceutical chemistry, I believe most research papers are from industry, they participate in the free peer review model, and do not believe their image has been compromised.

Your industry may well be different; perhaps it doesn't have a large research component?


> I have heard very few argue that referee compensation would improve the situation.

Referee compensation alone? No, not at all. I think compensation would help to some degree, but it wouldn't bring an end to these problems.

What I argue is simply the point that managing editors is a very complex matter that is extremely expensive and somehow justifies what publishers are charging for it. It's certainly not as trivial as just sending e-mails (because of the, uh, human factors), but obviously the bulk of it is done by the reviewers -- and they basically do it for free. If this money, or at least part of it, were to go to the reviewers, the claim would at least be credible. As it stands now, it's simply not.

It's as if I were running a paint shop, charged clients a thousand times the sum of the paint (claiming that I do more than just splat paint on cars -- which would be arguably true), but then paid zero wages to all employees except for a few supervisors (not to mention magically reusing every bucket of paint I ever bought, just to keep the analogy correct). Sure, I'd be doing more than just splattering paint on cars -- but a-thousand-times-the-price-of-the-paint-more, when I'd basically have an endless supply of paint that I'm given more or less for free, and only have to pay like 10% of my employees?

Maybe the scientific publishing business isn't profitable enough to allow for proper remuneration (and defining "proper" is also difficult). But, leaving aside the - possibly idealistic - observation that it's probably important enough that maybe it could be worth doing it for no profit at all (or at least for something somewhat more modest that 2 billion dollars!), that's certainly not an argument for keeping it unfair, too. Surely, some payment, even if meager, would at least provide some peace of mind for some of the reviewers, and is arguably better than no payment at all

> Your industry may well be different; perhaps it doesn't have a large research component?

Hm. I guess my claim about industry isn't entirely fair, seeing how the field in which I did academic work (briefly and at a very basic level) is not quite the same as the one I'm active in (tl;dr a niche in microelectronics back then vs. computer engineering now). In any case, indeed, I think neither of these fields have as large a research component as pharmaceutical chemistry (microelectronics as a whole probably does, but what I was doing wasn't as fancy as the name of the field would imply).


> but obviously the bulk of it is done by the reviewers -- and they basically do it for free

Agreed. 6 hours @ $200/hour for my consulting rates gives $1,200. I give that away for free. What remains is the non-bulk. That's still expensive. Who will do the typesetting and proof reading? In physics and math, this is often pushed into the TeX stylesheet. Not so for most other field.

One of the journals I've reviewed for has a box for "does this paper need to be reviewed by a professional statistician?" That costs money.

Journals also check for ethical problems, like plagiarism and attempts to game the system, like http://www.nature.com/news/publishing-the-peer-review-scam-1... .

http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1883 recently outlined the costs for PLOS One, an open access biology journal. It costs about $2,000 for them to publish a paper. By comparison, the for-profit journals make about $6,000 per paper. Hence the 40% profit for Elsevier and others. The physics preprint site arXiv costs about $10 per paper, so there's plenty of room, certainly. (There's an increasing growth in "overlay" journals, which build on top of preprint systems.)

If you start to pay reviewers actual money, then accountants get involved. Any idea of what it would cost to manage all that overhead, for residents in countries across the world?


People would be more sympathetic if peer reviewers were actually paid for what they do.


Sci-Hub has been discussed a great deal on HN:

https://hn.algolia.com/?query=sci-hub&sort=byPopularity&pref...

There were other major threads that don't come up in that search, e.g.:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11279903

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11074638

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11070192

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10424276

But the current article looks like it adds new information, so we won't treat it as a dupe.


You are going to make ColinWright very happy if you show up all the dupes like this :-)


It was but a small portion of all the dupes.


:-) Do you have an internal tool that helps you find dupe stories?

I personally don't mind duplicates because the conversation on most HN articles is usually very insightful and almost always interesting. In fact, I often go back to old stories just to read the comments. I'd love to go back to old duplicate stories just for that reason :-)


the parallels to swartz sound like overdramatization. she created the website for people (like me) who dont have access to all the libraries and dont want to spend a lifetime searching colleagues with access. there is just too much science nowadays to justify paywalling it. its a very practical matter for scientists to be well informed. i am split whether i like this publicity. on the one hand, it may lead to closing it down, on the other hand it might finally force the hand of regulators against the scientists who publish only behind paywalls.

To anyone who tries to defend elsevier here on the grounds of capitalist justice: hold your horses, you are defending a greedy corporation that offers nothing to science. think about this: the fee for making a paper 'open access' in , say, cell journals is $5000 per paper, even though elsevier does not pay the writer, does not write or format the paper, does not edit any images, does not review the content, does not correct the paper. i.e. you pay $5000 for hosting one pdf file, possibly 2 (it gets worse, some grants e.g. the erc grants require open access and high impact factor, hence shelling more money to elsevier). this is not an issue of copyright, its about an outright crazy system which forces scientists behind paywalls because funding sources explicitly require it.

if you think only commercial publishers have the gift of curating good science, look at elife, an open access journal with reasonable fees, a great website, and multiple high profile papers already. please dont defend businesses that are literally potentially harming your health.


Defend Elsevier? I think not.

I am currently working with a startup that has to do with prescription drug refilling. Obviously, interactions between drugs and such can have fatal consequences if not understood, so we responsibly are providing that information to our users.

Elsevier provides an API for that data, but wanted to charge around $40k/year for access. Our business model is of course free to users (we charge the pharmacies a modest monthly fee)

$40k/yr simply too damn high...so potentially life-and-health saving information is kept from the people whom need it the most.

Yes we did eventually find a lower cost provider, but as far as shedding tears for Elsevier?

Hell fucking no.


It's amazing the logic hoops their supporters go through. I can't find the site (it was linked from another journal article on HN) again right now, but I went to a journal trade site once and started reading the comments. The article was about open access, scihub, and how journals needs to be ready, but the comments I could only assume were paid shills.

There was one guy whose position was that journals needed to limit access because the layperson would not understand what they were reading. He was questioning a person employed in home care who admitted to use SciHub to read topics she was interested in because according to him she had no need for that knowledge. This is what open access to knowledge is up against.


You are probably talking about the comments for this article: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/03/02/sci-hub-and-th...

I agree, some of the opinions tossed around by incumbents in the industry are mind-blowing. My favorites: "A PDF is a weapons-grade tool for piracy." ...And on parents of sick kids looking up articles: "Do you really think a search and downloading of technical medical literature means anything?"


And they wonder why NaturalNews and other anti-vaccination sites get so many hits. The arguments they are using are utterly indefensible.

They now have a real problem. They were able to be gatekeepers in the U.S. and other Western nations, but the instant one nation doesn't play ball and publishes all the material as it doesn't recognise international copyright... well, this has parallels to when India refused to recognise pharmaceutical patents. They had to rapidly change their business model to more favourable terms, because it suddenly (!!!) became clear to the pharmaceutical industry that this could destroy the value of their patents.


That's the one. Thanks!


That's pretty much identical with the position of the Catholic Church for a very long time: laymen aren't able to understand the Bible so it should only be accessible to professionals.

I don't know if the Catholics changed their opinion, but I think it would be important for science to be more accessible :)


I'm pretty sure that all the insiders know how bad it is. but still some people see it as an affront to the free market.


Copyright laws are an affront to the free market, since they don't allow selling what one wants or what the customert wants. Instead one can only sell what the copyright holder allows.


Copyright laws are a finite duration social and legal grant to the creators of intellectual property with the intention of encouraging creation of work.

It is artificial relative to a particular vision of a "free" market, but the same could be said about any of the mechanisms that structure the market, thereby allowing it to function. In order to have a market you must have some rules. So what we do is try to figure out what rules work well and which ones impede things.

Copyright/Patent/Trademark isn't a priori bad. It has funded many musicians, writers, inventors, painters, etc. It has often been referred to as one of the great innovations of Enlightenment era free-market practice. It allowed generations of thinkers to have compensation when previously the only form of wealth was goods and land backed up by physical violence.

This is a nuanced topic, and I think it makes sense to treat it as such.


> Copyright/Patent/Trademark isn't a priori bad. It has funded many musicians, writers, inventors, painters, etc.

There is no reason why one can't pay money even when copyright laws wouldn't exist. I often do, for exampl for open source projects or for free ebooks where the author still asks for a donation if one can afford. The only difference is that the creator cannot force you, which I consider as a good thing.


You may make donations. Most people don't.

If you're trying to get paid for creative work, donations simply don't work as a model.

There's a fundamental problem for both the arts and sciences, which is that in general terms, knowledge and creativity do not have a market value.

You can't place a market value on a Mozart opera or the Theory of Relativity. You can't even place a market value on last week's most downloaded SoundCloud track. Or on the Linux kernel.

Copyright is an attempt to butt-join creativity with a market economy. As such, it almost works, and it's the least bad solution for the context.

But it's still the wrong answer. I'm not sure what a better answer would be, but it could be something like giving a person with unusual verifiable talent extra resources and time to pursue their interests.

Academia used to work like that, but academia is always highly politicised, both internally and externally, which adds friction and error bars.

If there was a way to create a similar system with less politics, that might work better.

Or not. It's a hard problem to solve. But the current marketisation of everything - and FOSS is still marketised in its own way, IMO - is making things worse, not better.


> If you're trying to get paid for creative work, donations simply don't work as a model.

Counterexample: Tarn and Zach Adams (Dwarf Fortress).

> You can't place a market value on [...] the Theory of Relativity.

Copyright does not help here.


That's the patronage or tip jar model. It has also funded many people. But not as many as the copyright model.

To flip your force model around, you cannot force people to create for you. But the hope of future money does provide incentive to many of them. Robert Heinlein, for example, started writing in order to pay of his mortgage.


> To flip your force model around, you cannot force people to create for you. But the hope of future money does provide incentive to many of them.

But who says that this future money has to be enforced by copyright laws? It is also possible by either asking for donations (from which for example Tarn and Zach Adams, the creators of Dwarf Fortress, live) or something similar to Kickstarter/Indiegogo (the product won't be created/released until some money is donated).

So in other words: Even this incentive wouldn't be killed if there were no copyright laws.


>who says that this future money has to be enforced by copyright laws

I certainly didn't. I don't think there's anyone who says that copyright laws make it illegal to commission an artist.

> Even this incentive wouldn't be killed if there were no copyright laws

Yes, there are at least three systems (patron, tip jar, and copyright monopoly) to make money as a writer or artist.


> I don't think there's anyone who says that copyright laws make it illegal to commission an artist.

But it makes it illegal not to give money to the copyright holder - quite a kind of (data) highway robbery.


No one is forcing you to read their works in the first place.

Nor is your example correct. The first sale doctrine still applies. If you own a legal copy then you do not need to give money to the copyright holder to sell the copy. If someone else has a copy, then you can buy it without sending any money to the copyright holder.

Granted, we appear to have collectively and foolishly decided to reflexively click on "I agree", and switch to on-line rentals instead of actual purchases, making this harder. But it is only illegal if you make a copy. So don't do that. Then there's no (data) highway robbery. Problem solved!


> But it is only illegal if you make a copy. So don't do that.

So in other words you argue against free speech (creating a copy) and pro censorship. Writing texts that obey the censorship laws (or in western countries copyright laws) is illegal about nowhere.


Wow. Really? Be sure to tell Stallman that the Free Software Foundation, based as it is on strong copyright, is really against free speech and is pro censorship.


First: The FSF just uses copyright as a means to an end. They would rather wish that their four freedoms were part of the law.

Second: I'm no advocate of the FSF way. For some reasons I think that the idea that one has to share the source code is dubious (among these reasons: what, for example, if I share the source code but obfuscate it; or if I change the source code so that it from now on is generated from some metacode: Do I have to share source code that is on the same level as the original one or do I have to share the metacode?). Instead in my opinion the community should develop much better methods of reverse engineering so that sharing the source code will not make much of a difference anymore. So in this sense the way to go is some kind of BSD-like license which also allows universal reverse engineering of built binaries. Such a license would also work if there were no/very weak copyright laws (since one can always do this, it just might be that the laws disallow it) in opposite the the GPL/AGPL.


Why do you continue to talk to me, a known censor and oppressor of free speech?

As for the FSF way, you aren't forced to share the code. That's one of the four freedoms you mentioned. It's only when you distribute something based on the code where you are forced (by the horrid anti-free speech Stallman) to also include the code through one of several mechanism.

If you do decide to distribute it, and your software incorporates someone else's work under the GPL, then there's already a clause which prohibits you from obfuscating the code. ("The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it".) It's in v2 and v3.

Disassemblers are a thing. They are quite good these days. Let's assume perfect reverse engineering. Even with source code it's hard to reverse-engineer how a large project works.

Though not perfect. No one had yet reverse engineered Skype.

> universal reverse engineering of built binaries

Your complaints seems to be with contract law, not copyright law. I believe US and EU copyright already allows you to reverse engineer built binaries, with some restriction.

The problem is that people voluntarily agree to licenses which restrict that right.


That seems vastly more defensible (liability, actual derivative work, etc.) than them charging for journals, tbh.


Why do you expect Elsevier to subsidize a for-profit enterprise?


On the other hand, why did DARPA subsidize a for-profit industry?


I guess the government's business is extracting and redistributing wealth. But I don't think Elsevier is in the redistribution business.


Quite a few for-profit industries, really.


Not to defend Elsevier, but 40k/year (entry level salary for one employee), doesn't sound high if it's life saving information...


40k/year sounds quite high for life-saving information. Life-saving information should be free (or, rather, whatever necessary costs it has should be socialized).


I think that's a great point--socialization is a solution that should be considered a realistic option. It seems like publishing would have a comparable bureaucratic load to that faced by science funding agencies.


it is, if you think that it's not their research, it's catalogued from public research that was given to them for free.


It's a complex topic though. The papers are distinct from the research (and public money), and the authors willfully give publishers the rights to their writing. This is also not "free" but in exchange for prestige for promotions, etc. I don't think this is a good system though, but it's legal. NIH does require open access after one year for publicly funded work, at least, but I think a better solution is to require summary reports submitted directly to NIH for every project.


Even better would be to do away with reports and journal articles that only report a tiny fraction experimental data, and focus more on "selling" the science rather than reporting it. I suspect there is a very large overlap in research, thousands of animals are being killed needlessly, simply because the data that is not published in articles is discarded, even though they could be useful for other studies.


Suppose you needed 40k/yr of AWS computing time and couldn't afford it. And suppose someone hacked into AWS and redistributed it for free.

As far as I can tell, if the argument you made is correct, you should support the same argument that says the AWS hacker is right.

(To address the two obvious rebuttals, viz 1. Marginal cost and 2. Sci hub is getting data from those who have a subscription, merely in violation of ToS:

1. Marginal cost for AWS is likely low, if there's any unused CPU time. 2. Change the scenario slightly to someone signing up for a bunch of free AWS accounts and handing those out. )


What? no. Elsevier does not make any science, they just put a stamp on it and sell it. They would be more likely to make you pay $40/y for using their linux in someone else's server. Because you have to have "elsevier linux" to get grants these days.


They bought the rights from the author (each side gets consideration: author gets free publication, Elsevier gets copyright signed over to them).

That publication costs them, they have expenses, etc. Why is it fundamentally different from buying servers?


> They bought the rights

No elsevier does not pay authors, in fact:

> author gets free publication

If author wants his paper to be open access (something that is often required by their funding grants), they have to pay a high publication fee. Other journals charge paper submission (for consideration) fees as well.

But the error in your argument is at the start. You assume that the market is free and scientists have an alternative to publishing in elsevier. If scientists want their work public, there are tons of free options, preprint archives etc. The problem is that funding sources require high impact (i.e. elsevier) publications to give you grants. There is a self-perpetuating cycle between funding sources <-> (elsevier, NPG etc.; talking about biology). This is a racket.

PS. How it is different from buying servers? It would be comparable if , say, the US army had a requirement that all soldiers must do a yearly internship in amazon (paid by the army), thus amazon didnt need to pay any salaries, yet could charge as much as the competitors. It would all be legal, but grossly immoral.


We're not talking about open access here. I don't see why you brought it in.

From what I understand, most journals that charge for access offer free publication. Even if fees are charged, they don't cover costs.

>This is a racket.

Maybe if they were bribing grant committees to require Elsevier publication. If those committees decide that of their own free will, then they think the benefits of Elsevier are worth the costs.

If they really were just extracting rent, I'd expect to see far higher margins, at least above 50%.


> If those committees decide that of their own free will, then they think the benefits of Elsevier are worth the costs.

We don't know what's happening here, but when elsevier holds the keys to funding scientists, they are not going to turn against them. Elsevier can "bribe" without money in this case. Counter example: the mathematicians' boycott of elsevier. They could pull it off because their career does not depend on it. A biologists' boycott? never happened.

Elsevier can ask for all the money in the world and i don't care, the problem is that it's an abuse of copyright law to give them exclusive access without an alternative method for the public to see the results of publicly funded work. Why this kind of provision does not exist is not clear to me, but i suspect lobbying from publishers has played a role.

While you can dismiss it as a 'greedy business', elsevier plays an institutional role here, and it holds that role purely by inertia.

p.s. Yes , 30% is exorbitant profit, academia has different standards, and most scientists would prefer a non-profit.


>A biologists' boycott? never happened.

There's PLOS biology.

>Elsevier can ask for all the money in the world and i don't care, the problem is that it's an abuse of copyright law to give them exclusive access without an alternative method for the public to see the results of publicly funded work.

As I've mentioned before, complaining about publically funded work misses the point. The funding only covered research, not publication. If you want it to be published, you need to pay the costs of that. CLaiming that you have rights to someone else's work (publication costs) because you paid for something else (research costs) is nonsense.

You can require the government to pay for publication costs as well (i.e. publish in open access), and then the natural consequence is that the cost of each study goes up, and therefore less get funded.

> most scientists would prefer a non-profit.

Then set one up. If they can outcompete Elsevier, more power to them. But that doesn't justify illegally stealing from them.


> The funding only covered research, not publication

Not true, many grants require publication. Any grant giving money to do research that doesnt require any results is fraud.

> Then set one up.

PLoS, frontiers, eLife, there are plenty and they are good, but until we can drag the critical mass of high-impact scientists into these open publishers, they will keep being underdogs. You need a systemic change here that will at once pull the good reviewers and good scientists to them, in other respects they are much better than elsevier in some technical respects. The problem is that academia is not the free market. The currency is 'prestige' and its proven very very hard to change attitudes without a) a generation dying or b) regulatory action or c) doing something illegal. It's regulations (specifically requiring high impact publications) that brought elsevier to become the arbiter of scientific importance after all. We either have to regulate paywalls out of academia completely, or find a way to replace the institutional role of publishing with something else.

In any case, your 'this is free market' approach is wrong here i think. Academia is not a free market.


I didn't say they don't require publication, only that they aren't paying for it.

Plenty of Elsevier titles offer open access for a fee now. And PLOS and co are putting pressure to reduce margins.

I don't think it's bad enough that something illegal needs to be done to force it to fix itself.

And I've asked before: if Elsevier slashed all their prices by 30%, would people be happy with it? If the answer is no, then they aren't only complaining about profit.


Grants typically include publishing costs, it's very rare the scientist will pay out of pocket. And because grant agencies encourage high impact publications it's not small amounts. Ironically, grants that require open access while encouraging high-impact publication end up paying more, as high-impact journals charge more for open access.

I agree that money is not the major issue, but the entrapment of useful information in closed systems and its decentralization. We have machine learning systems that could consume the vast amounts of data and come up with potentially life-saving results, but we don't have access to the data, because for 50+ years its been more and more locked in.


My understanding is that the publisher subsidizes publishing costs and makes it up on access charges. So if the grant didn't pay the cost to publish, the publisher will.

I agree that it's a nice ideal to have everything open, but people need to realize that there are costs to doing so, and merely saying "I paid for it, therefore I have a right to read it" doesn't do much.


>I agree that it's a nice ideal to have everything open, but people need to realize that there are costs to doing so, and merely saying "I paid for it, therefore I have a right to read it" doesn't do much.

You're right, that's why places like sci-hub exist, and Elsevier et al dont seem to be winning this fight…


> Grants typically include publishing costs, it's very rare the scientist will pay out of pocket.

Though for small labs just starting out, two or three open access publications written into a grant definitely could have gone to salary for someone. Even if it's written into a grant, it's not a trivial expense.


As a minor objection to your analysis, some of the papers they distribute are by employees of the US government. There is no copyright for those papers, therefore Elsevier could not get anything signed over to time.

Elsevier and all other journals charge the same price for access to these papers as they do for papers where the publisher controls the copyright. To a first approximation, that means the value of the copyright is not significant.

It's a minor objection because there are few papers which are in the public domain. The publishers use contracts to prevent or limit redistribution.

(I have wondered if a SciHub variant with only papers which are out of copyright or not under copyright would be viable, even on a US server. I invite someone else with money and lawyers to try it out.)

Anyway, to get back to your AWS server scenerio, the parallelism doesn't work that way. In the print publication era, multiple organizations functioned as an archive for the material, including the institution library, various university libraries, and state libraries. I have gone to the local(ish) chemistry library and read publications from the 1960s without paying extra costs to read the article or make copies. I can just walk in as a member of the public and do that.

However, it's more cost effective to centralize things at Elsevier (that savings to the library get passed along as profit to the publisher), Elsevier moved towards an electronic-only publication system mediated through user agreements instead of copyright, so the library cannot act as an archive, and that user agreement must extend to all users, including members of the public. (I have signed a paper to that effect, which lets me as a member of the public to access online publications but without the right to print them out or make copies.)

In your AWS analogy, Elsevier/Amazon once distributed their software to anyone, and there were dozens of places willing to provide $5K/year to host those services for users of the local cloud, including anonymous hackers. Elsevier/Amazon decided to centralize, by only hosting new services on their machines rather than distribute the software. They also decided to require verified logins. So now our anonymous hacker is forced to either give up doing science, pay potentially $1,000s for legit access, or use subterfuge to do what was once inexpensive or even free, as part of a library's mission to support the public.

But in real life AWS never distributed all of its code, so that others could provide AWS services, which is why your analogy doesn't really work as a metaphor for this issue.


"some of the papers they distribute are by employees of the US government. There is no copyright for those papers, therefore Elsevier could not get anything signed over to time.

Elsevier and all other journals charge the same price for access to these papers as they do for papers where the publisher controls the copyright. To a first approximation, that means the value of the copyright is not significant."

It also could mean that the market is broken. In a 'normal' free market, somebody would take the set of copy-right free publications, start selling access to it for half what the big players ask, and grab that part of the market. Part of the reason that doesn't happen is that the big publishers only sell bundles. You have to go there for some stuff, and to get that stuff, you get access to the rest, too. That decreases the portential value customers put on having access to only the copyright-free stuff.

Nevertheless, you should still be able to get those copyright-free texts cheaper elsewhere, for example from their authors, if they wish to provide that service.


"It also could mean that the market is broken"

There are four barriers to entry: 1) acquire the possible publications, 2) determine if it's in the public domain, and 3) face likely legal action design to suck away time and money, 4) come up with a good revenue model.

1) isn't easy because access to the the newest publications require a user agreement. I think it can be done by starting with SciHub since SciHub hasn't signed an agreement in the first place. For older publications, paper scans are possible, but also expensive.

2) is easiest in those rare cases where the paper says "this paper was authored by an employee of the United States and is not subject to copyright", or something similar. Otherwise, it might be inferred from the author's institutional affiliation ("William J. Wiswesser, US. Department of Agriculture, Frederick, Maryland 21701" to pull an example from one paper in my collection). This is labor intensive and therefore expensive.

3) While the US doesn't recognize a "sweat of the brow" doctrine, other place might. Even if a public domain archive were legal, it could be sued for, say, knowingly trying to subvert the policies in #1. (Also, will these documents have the same DOI as what the publisher uses? Might they sue for copying that in violation of some user agreement on their web site?)

4) Yeah, I've no clue how to make money off of this. Especially if SciHub is part of the competition.

"for example from their authors"

Wiswesser, above, died in 1989. I'm going through a lot of historical papers these days.


You can still go to a university and access papers for free. In fact, you can log on to their wifi anonymously, and often get access to those papers.

I'm not sure why the past actions of a company as you describe would matter for current ethical questions? If Amazon had previously allowed anyone to use it for free as you describe, then upgraded and stopped allowing it, would it then be morally permissible to use hacked accounts or similar to do your computing with?


"You can still go to a university and access papers for free"

Yes. I don't understand why you mentioned that. I even pointed out that I could do that.

"In fact, you can log on to their wifi anonymously"

No, I cannot. The local college and the 1-hour-away university do not have anonymous wifi. I have signed up for a library card for non-anonymous access to the local college. It does not carry postgraduate journals in chemistry. The university does, but I am only allowed to read them from dedicated terminals. I am not allowed to copy the articles and I do not have wifi access.

(Why do you think you know more about my local academic library policies than I do?)

BTW, I can make InterLibrary Loan requests if I really want a copy. I believe it's about US$10/copy.

"... would matter for current ethical questions"

I was attempting to demonstrate how your scenario was not a good metaphor for describing the situation with scientific publications, so could not be used to clarify the ethical issues. You can stretch the metaphor to try to compensate, as you did, but there are several other factor which are also not captured:

1) people get jobs and tenure based in part on the significance of their work. Part of that is often based on where one publishes, eg, "Cell", which is an Elsevier journal, is considered to be a prestigious place to publish. Thus, short-term personal goals of advertising one's work may be at odds with long-term community goals of easy access to scientific data. 2) peer review is almost entirely done on a volunteer basis.

Thus, to be useful, we would also have to posit that people's jobs depend in part on running their code on the Amazon cloud and no other cloud provider, and that most people are expected to volunteer their time to support AWS. Perhaps this is something that Bezos dreams about, but it is not the current reality.

This, your AWS metaphor concerns only a part of one facet of the issue. Ethics is very clear cut when there is tunnel vision.


It sounded like you were complaining that there's less access than there used to be. I seem to have misunderstood you, then.

Re your other points: AWS relies in part on open source software, which arguably corresponds to free peer review.

There's no direct analogue to prestige, but that's something the publisher arguably deserves payment for. Prestige doesn't come out of nowhere, it takes a long time to build up a reputation, etc.


"which arguably corresponds to free peer review"

No, it doesn't. They are remarkably different. If I distribute free package X, which Amazon uses, then there's nothing to prevent anyone else from using X. Both can benefit the same way.

If I spend 6 hours to do a peer review on paper X, which is then accepted, then Elsevier benefits financially, because they have a new paper to sell, but no other archive can benefit that way. There is also a gain in prestige to Elsevier from having published a higher quality paper.

If the paper is not accepted, then the reviewer gets feedback from my review, but no one else does. (I am supposed to benefit in the future from a favor-in-kind by peer reviewers.)

While it's true that much open source software is at no cost, I sell free software, exactly as described at https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html . While AWS might purchase said software from me, Elsevier/ACS/etc. will never purchase my peer review.


You can still go to a university and access papers for free.

Maybe you can, I certainly can't. Neither of the two universities near me allow the general public access to their journal database. Nor are the IP numbers used by for the public anonymous wifi white-listed for accessing journal databases.


Are either of those ones you'd have gone to back when they had physical libraries?

My point was only that if a university funded public access in the past, there's nothing preventing them from allowing it now as well, as long as you go there.


Sure they both have physical libraries and both let me go there and read books. But their licencing agreement with the journal database owners forbid them from giving out access to anyone who isn't a student or faculty.


My "argument", if I was even making one, was that the cost to Elsevier to provide an API, is a tiny fraction of $40k/yr, and thus their business practices and model is all about rent-seeking and not about saving peoples lives, which I personally find disgusting.


You realize that an API fronting service like Mashery alone would cost them several hundred thousand dollars ?

It's not something you hacked up in a weekend in your basement. It's something that requires project managers, business analysts, engineers, sales people, etc. These people require salaries, pensions, healthcare, etc.

You can of course build a competitor if you think you can build something for a fraction of the cost.


If hypothetically, Amazon was making 80% margins on AWS, would that make them disgusting?

Edit: note that Elsevier's margins are around 30-40%; I don't know if the particular API you wanted has higher margins.


Fundamentally Elsevier's content is not funded or created by them. But they have a monopoly on it because most studies cannot be published in multiple places.

In the case of AWS market forces could undercut their margins.

That sort of copyright monopoly was granted by our legal system to encourage people to create intellectual property, but it is being twisted in this situation, as the creators are being funded by a mechanism completely irrelevant to Elsevier's costs.

In this case what they are doing is more similar in a sense to patent trolls.


>Fundamentally Elsevier's content is not funded or created by them.

They pay publication and editing costs, and in return get copyright signed over to them.

>market forces could undercut their margins.

And market forces can open new open access journals as well. To date, this hasn't solved it, perhaps because their margins weren't so high to begin with.

>patent trolls

Generally this refers to patents that should not have been issued, or that don't apply to the defending companies' product. It's not applicable here.


In general, no, unless of course they were using that margin in a way that endangered low-income people's health.

I mean really...I can't believe I have to defend this position.

There is obviously certain types of data that should be provided as a public service to all of society...is this even to be debated?


This.

It is part of the fabric of scientific research that findings are shared. Science is overtly collaborative. Every scientists specifically builds on the knowledge of others, and shares what they discover with the world.

Governments and a variety of organizations fund research with the express purpose of discovering new knowledge that ultimately benefits everyone.

That's the WHOLE POINT of publishing a paper. At a fundamental level, scientific publishing is about trying to share the results of your research with the scientific community.

The funding is tied to the act of publishing, having nothing to do with how people consume the papers. Charging people above cost to read the published research is antithetical to the whole idea of how the world does science.


The example I gave above was where you needed the processing power to run your medical startup.

>There is obviously certain types of data that should be provided as a public service to all of society

"Should" what's meant by that? If you want data to be open, you need to fund that, or develop your own and release that freely. Statements of the kind "everyone deserves scarce resource X" really mean "we should tax rich people in order to subsidize X for poor people". Which is a fine thing to argue for, but don't present it as a universal right.


AWS time is rivalrous.

PDF redistribution is not.

Strawman / false analogy.


I addressed this specifically. If AWS is not running at full capacity, additional computing power has little marginal cost.

We can change the scenario to only use AWS when they aren't at full capacity (e.g. check when spot market prices are at a low).


> the parallels to swartz sound like overdramatization.

I don't think so. Read Swartz' Guerilla Open Access Manifesto for details:

  > https://archive.org/details/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto
  > https://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt
  > https://archive.org/download/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008.pdf


Sure but the origins of this are much older.


> you are defending a greedy corporation that offers nothing to science

Several journals I publish in published by commercial companies also support scientific societies.


So what about scientific textbooks? Not undergraduate ones, but the really narrow topic ones that are used in graduate classes as reference materials for professionals. They're frequently written by author(s) who are partly to fully funded on government grants, and they too are very expensive, as some journal articles are. Are these fair game for distribution on Sci-Hub too?


http://gen.lib.rus.ec/ is a pretty good source (also Russia-based). I'm not sure whether it covers all textbooks of the more obscure kind, e.g., the ones typically referred to as "monographs," but it has worked for graduate classes in the past.


Or just http://libgen.io/ for a more friendly URL.


I don't think anyone who has written such a book has ever made a significant profit from it. The attitude among researchers in my field, at least, is that all such books are a labor of love.

With this in mind, it sounds like a perfect use case for sci-hub.


Among the academics I work with there is general disgust with the likes of Elsevier. Uni pays them to do research. Then has to pay again to Elsevier et al to use it for teaching.

Swartz created the push for open access (and bad reporting that this ars article doesn't mention the mass resignations at Elsevier over that issue as far as I can see)

So this site is only a good thing in my opinion.



You see. Right there: ... The article publishing charge at Lingua for open access articles is $1,800 USD. The editors had requested a price of 400 euros, an APC that is not sustainable.

.. Morons are as good as claiming Wikipedia is not sustainable because they don't charge editors 1800$ to edit an article...


There are several textbook writers who have made significant profits from their books. James Stewart of Stewart's calculus fame, for example: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/02/04/the_house_that_ma...


The qualifier "such a book" referred to the original description "Not undergraduate ones, but the really narrow topic ones that are used in graduate classes as reference materials for professionals".

That excludes Stewart's calculus, and many others.


> I don't think anyone who has written such a book has ever made a significant profit from it. The attitude among researchers in my field, at least, is that all such books are a labor of love.

I don't think it's necessarily so altruistic - there are a number of benefits to writing a book that go beyond the monetary incentive.

That said, yes, these authors almost never even cover their own expenses (opportunity cost) when writing these books, let alone turn a profit. The "real" profits[0] go to the publishers.

[0] if any! Publishers operate like venture firms in this regard - they make most of their money off of the blockbuster hits, and there's a long tail of books that are unprofitable or very close to unprofitable.


> Publishers operate like venture firms in this regard - they make most of their money off of the blockbuster hits, and there's a long tail of books that are unprofitable or very close to unprofitable.

Not really true for specialist academic work publishers, they don't (and shouldn't) expect books to become hits, rather they operate a volume game. A specialist book might sell 200-500 copies so to make profit they essentially have to publish a large volume of books at a high-price point. A typical editor at such a firm will typically have to publish 1-2 books a week to make the economics work out.

It doesn't really apply for journal publishing either although at most publishers more establish journals will typically subsidize the the newer ones (a new journal can easily take 5-10 years to reach break-even point).


> Not really true for specialist academic work publishers, they don't (and shouldn't) expect books to become hits

It is true for academic publishers as well; the difference is that 'hit' is qualified differently (something that becomes a standard textbook for undergraduates, even in a specialty niche - or at a higher level, something that becomes commonly cited enough that it is used by a large (relatively) number of academics, libraries, etc.)


The market for undergraduate textbooks is completely different from that of post-grad level specialist texts. The economics are very different due to the fact that the people making purchase decisions (i.e course directors, etc.) are different from the people who pay (students).


> The market for undergraduate textbooks is completely different from that of post-grad level specialist texts. The economics are very different due to the fact that the people making purchase decisions (i.e course directors, etc.) are different from the people who pay (students).

Yes, I am aware of that.


Ostensibly, these publications are written in addition to the services rendered for grants.

If an author received a grant specifically to write a book on a topic, then I'd say yes. This is rarely, if ever, the case.

With research, however, it is the norm not the exception that they are paid for or subsidized through some form of public funding.


That's more in the realm of LibGen, which is related but not exactly the same site.


Perhaps controversially, I'd say this is one of the biggest problems facing the world today (ie. inaccessible research papers).

Where is the real money and influence that we need in order to change this?


> Where is the real money and influence that we need in order to change this?

Civil disobedience


It's a political issue really. Universities should require publication ONLY to non-profit publishers. Requiring "Open access" doesn't really cut it, because the publishers just charge more for open access. And at the very least, there should be a large initiative to change from publishing papers to a more sane , modern and orderly cataloguing of scientific data.


I typed in a doi to a paper I co-authored, and I was proud to see my work pop up. So it works.


Interesting, time to research Robert K. Merton to understand deeper: "The world is broken, and money always wins. [...] I would like to reference Robert K. Merton, the founder of sociology of science. He studied ethos of research communities. And what he found is that communism is one of the four important ethical norms (along with universalism, disinterested, and organized skepticism) that makes science work. By communism, he meant the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property in exchange for recognition. I think that his work is very relevant to what is happening in science now."


BTW, here's Merton's explanation [pdf]: (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/students/envs_5110/merton_...)


This is like an mp3 search engine for academic research.

Is there a Soundcloud for academic research? Sounds like a no-brainer idea to me.. with comments and annotation possible against the actual text. Also, users could also upload audio (eg podcasts) and video (eg lectures and presentations).

You could build up really powerful communities as well that could peer-review on demand (for a fee.)

Quora has shown that experts can gain a following on a single site.

Maybe some type of open-source site for different areas-of-study that is unified in a single mega-site (like Jobberbase was at one point.)


> comments and annotation possible against the actual text

fermats library does this and allows users to suggest papers for discussion. Most papers listed are high profile, though community participation seems low, not the best ux. Highest commented story has 62 comments on 'Ideal Money' by John Nash. http://fermatslibrary.com/


Thanks for link.

I think comments do add value, especially for the author looking for feedback, moreso than perhaps the reader. Soundcloud has time-based comments on tracks and also general comments. Both are important. Amazon's book reviews also work well.

Another important aspect of research is references/bibliography and it would be great to have an in-text access to a reference. eg a popup that can reveal the exact quote or piece of text that a paper is referring to. Doing reference cross-checks is something that can be very tedious but could be great at locating additional and interesting material for the reader.

Surely this use-case has been addressed in current journal UX..


I would like to reiterate my points that I've made in a different HN submission on the topic [1]: Alexandra isn't in any way similar to Aaron Swartz, she's an opportunistic supporter of an oppressive regime. She is playing an "activist hero" card now, but in reality she's not even close to an "activist" in a common Western sense.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11180762


I agree that there are no parallels with Swarz, but it's true that inadvertedly her site has caused more stir and more impact than 15+ years of pushing for open access publishing. The ad hominem does not change that.


I totally agree with you on serendipity of scihub. However, it's the "Robin Hood" attitude (it's ad hominem right from the start) that disgusts me, and the linked article has a lot of it.


Thank you for translating those quotes.

I would suggest, however, that supporting open access isn't necessary a fascist or liberal position, so while her political views in your linked comment seem repugnant, that doesn't necessarily change the good she's doing here.


A person can't be an activist for all causes. If you require that all of your allies share all of your viewpoints, you're going to be awfully short of support.

Pick what matters to you and what doesn't.


So you are saying the ends justify the means?


To play devil's advocate, how is this kind of "civil disobedience" going to change the system? Why not pursue ways to legally change the system, e.g. new regulation on academic publishing?


Sci-Hub's sort of "civil disobedience" avoids the need to change the system at all, and so it doesn't matter if Sci-Hub changes the system. Hoping that over the next decade we can implement legal changes to lower the costs to the system doesn't help the researchers who need access - for their careers and for their (presumably useful) research - right now. :-) good devil's advocate question


It demonstrates a compelling interest and need in fixing the existing system.

I think Sci-Hub is amazing. I use it myself, I've written a brief "I am a Book Thief" essay (I need to brush that up) and had some discussions. I exchanged a few emails with a reporter from Nature on my own use of Sci-Hub, though I suspect I won't appear in his piece -- I'm apparently "quite unique" as a user. Unaffiliated, doing independent research on my own.

But I've got access to material I couldn't possibly otherwise obtain without phenomenally more time and cost. The ability to see a footnote and call up in a few seconds the article in question and read it to confirm understanding is simply amazing.

And the amount of published information that's still not available freely online, from the 1920s onward, is, frankly, criminal.

Sci-Hub doesn't change everything. Most especially, it doesn't change the current "publish-or-perish" regime in academia, nor the stranglehold "high-prestige" journals have over career advancement.

For-profit journals don't just play gatekeeper over readers of papers, but over the authors. If you cannot get your work into a prestige journal, your career languishes. And those journals are almost all proprietary, commercial, closed-access. This is a key roadblock to replacing them with open-access.

But Sci-Hub does but a sizeable crack in the dike. We can hope.


The deck is stacked against those who want to change the system in such a way. Those who make massive profits from the existing system will fight tooth and nail to keep regulations from changing the system, and so any litigant or lobbyist for open academic publishing will be at a significant disadvantage from the very start.

Basically, civil disobedience on a grand scale that changes the entire market for academic publishing is the only real way to effectively change the system for the better.

Ironic really. If companies like Elsevier had charged reasonable prices for academic papers from the very start, then this would never have been as big an impact - certainly it wouldn't have been an existential threat to them.

I for one won't be crying any tears when such companies are rubbed out of existence.


The deck is stacked both ways it seems, just look to how Aaron Swartz was treated...

Another thing to consider is what market forces are at play in academic publishing. For authors, the currency is prestige and career advancement, and it's not clear how scihub could change that part of the market.


Typically, radicals & reformists work in concert. The problem is, when the reformists sell out the radicals (as with progressive Democrats and Occupy.)


it reduces what publishers have to lose and weakens their negotiating position


My understanding is that the publishers make most of their profit through licensing to universities and libraries. Scihub doesn't seem like a viable (legal) alternative for institutions though. It probably cuts out income from one-off purchases, I guess, but I wonder how much of the pie that is...


It allows an institution to drop small journals and cut back on licensing for bigger ones without their users feeling any pain. Nearly everyone who reads journals knows about this; institutions don't have to bring it up in contract negotiations for it to help them.


I applaud this woman. What she does is brave and constructive. Sci-hub is a fantastic tool, easy to use and pleasant.


It'd be great if it were implemented as a peer-to-peer protocol as it'd make taking the service down much more difficult.

EDIT:

Although making the service completely peer-to-peer might be impossible, it is possible to distribute articles in a peer-to-peer way. I'm considering an architecture which consists of a peer-to-peer network to share articles, and servers to download articles and put them on the network. In this architecture, even if all the servers got taken down at least the articles which have been shared would be accessible provided that the peer-to-peer network is alive.


Sci-Hub and other open access advocacy things are practically the ideal use case for IPFS. One and done. Whoever implements it, you're welcome for the idea.

Especially with Internet Archive involvement, IPFS should be quite compelling these days, even in its infancy.


it can't as there must be proxies inside university networks that have (legal) access to the journals.


I hope they can also make this into a common platform for commenting and asking questions about scientific papers.

Yes, there have been efforts that try to accomplish this, but something like this only works well if everybody is using it.

Perhaps wishful thinking, but I believe it would be fantastic if every scientific paper had a "home" on Sci-Hub.


She already has enough in her hands keeping this up. Someone will have to lend a hand (her being in russia seems to be deterring some).

P.s. now that you mentioned it, i had started building something like that: https://sciboards.com/


It seems you could be the perfect person to help her out :)


How about open access but curation is the paid service?

Wouldn't that satisfy the publishers? If they are as good at curation as they say then they should be very happy


Wouldn't it be much safer for her to put all the content on bittorrent? Or would there be a lack of seeders?


Library Genesis has torrent & edonkey URL's.

Yes, lack of seeders is a problem.


While there are plenty of problems with academic publishing, and the notion of making articles free and easily accessible is one I can certainly support, I do not see the rending such articles as free as a grand step in the general increase of knowledge as so many seem to think.

Making the articles available to all is not the same as educating all. You are only opening the gates to the niche crowd that already has some level of access to at least some of the articles via institutions. The level of background competence required to read academic work is what keeps the world ignorant and ensures the success and increasing erudition of the few. Unless you can devise a means of not only making academic material accessible but also eminently readable you are only, in mass archiving papers, preaching to the choir, so to speak.

You are making it easier for what is already a niche crowd to remain a niche crowd. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I'm not implying that this is something that shouldn't be done, nor am I saying it's not commendable to a degree, but I am suggesting the glorification that's heaped on this sort of thing, "free information from its chains—to give it to the masses free of charge." and "research Robin Hood" is a little gross when there are astounding issues with education at the ground level which prevent masses of people from getting into academic circles in the first place.

Furthermore, many people see: Big bad useless publisher. while that's true to some degree, far too many people ignore the complexities involved in publication proceeders. Sometimes careful and well-considered revision of existing systems is a better approach than outright anarchy and noble liberation of information.

When you dismantle one mechanism of publication you must implement another. The sheer volume of research that is published prevents any completely unguided system from being that effective. We could go back to old ways, wherein some journals were edited by an executive editor so to speak, but that doesn't seem so great either. Peer review has a lot of flaws, but to simply hope that publication will just work itself out when our current infrastructures are bypassed is far too naive in my view.

Even with peer review systems, gatekeeping, and money grubbing publishers academic dishonesty and turning over of papers, snuffing of other's works, and popularity contests all occur. Do we really expect such problems to disappear and not get potentially 10x worse in a completely open system? I'm not trying to advocate anything in particular here; not conservation of current, admittedly broken practice, nor radical upheaval and dissolution of all systematic forms of publishing. I am only trying to point out that publishing is a complex issue that is too frequently under-analyzed and, furthermore, it is assumed far too frequently that complete and unrestricted access to information, and complete freedom to publish anything whatsoever sans constricting publication or review procedure is automatically a good ting.


This argument doesn't make any sense. How is making publications that costs lots of money available to everyone "making it easier for what is already a niche crowd to remain a niche crowd"?

Your issue seems to be that there are problems with teaching people properly, but that's not making things worse for those who work outside academia - if anything, it's making it easier!


This is all about violating a license/copyright law. If we were talking about a large company using GNU/copyleft code and not sharing their changes back to the community, many people in the community would be demanding the law get involved (the Thesis Wordpress theme is a great example of this..which caused anger and outright hatred about 5 years ago in the HN community).

It's really difficult for me to stand behind any community that doesn't put all licenses on an equal footing. If you want the government to stop going after you for copyright infringement, you shouldn't be then using those same tactics to go after people violating the terms of your license.

This girl, Like Aaron Swartz, is nothing but a petty thief. It's pretty easy to put up a website with stolen papers/content.

The other issue is that it takes millions of dollars to fund the research for many of these papers. With no incentive to make money on the research, companies will either stop the research, or it will go completely private and there will be no access for anyone.

Many of these online revolutionaries really seem to understand how the world actually works. If you want to change it, start a research company and actually do the research yourself.


Scientific journals don't necessarily fund research, and groups who fund research don't necessarily benefit from proceeds from journal subscriptions. Funding scientific research isn't as simple as, say, funding startups. A vast majority of scientific research, especially basic research, yields no returns on investment.

The real issue people have with the way journals work is that they seemingly don't provide a great deal of value. Imagine if GitHub worked like a science journal: You would submit your code to GitHub. They might have someone do a code review or run some tests to assure a baseline level of quality. Then they would lock your repository and charge anyone who wanted to see more than just the readme file $30 - $50. All of the proceeds from that go directly to GitHub. You, the author of the repository, get nothing.

A software developer simply would not tolerate this model, but it's the norm in science.


> The other issue is that it takes millions of dollars to fund the research for many of these papers. With no incentive to make money on the research, companies will either stop the research, or it will go completely private and there will be no access for anyone.

Most of the basic research being published is government funded and is conducted by universities or other academic entities, not companies. The publishing companies (Elsevier) aren't conducting any of the research; for the most part they are simply hosting manuscripts.


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> Even so, it will not change the system. It will only make it more difficult to conduct research in the future.

I don't see why. If anything it is in the academics' best interest to have their papers show up on this service as it increases access and probability of citation. Also please explain how more ready access to information hinders research. You are aware that academics make 0 dollars off of content submitted to journals right? 100% of the profits go to the publishers.


> If anything it is in the academics' best interest to have their papers show up on this service as it increases access and probability of citation.

Most people I know (myself included) are very happy to see most of their papers on sci-hub. We couldn't care less about how people find them, as long as they're cited.

> You are aware that academics make 0 dollars off of content submitted to journals right?

And yes, in fact, in my field, publishing costs ~$2500 per paper. More if it's open-access.


> You can't tell me all of them are government funded.

The majority are. A minority (<<1% to ~30% depending on field) were (also) funded by private grants and industry. In all three cases, the institution funding the research will receive 0 compensation from the journal if you pay $30+ for a paper. It all goes to the journal and its 40%+ profit margin.

"But why don't competing journals steal their business?"

Because the top few journals are the de-facto clearinghouses and ratings-providers for academics. If you are an academic who values his career, you will pay what they ask.


The researchers generally pay money, often thousands of dollars, to the journals in order to publish their work there. I have literally never heard of a situation where a researcher makes money by charging for access to their research.


You seem to legitimately misunderstand this, so let's make this very very clear: of all the thousands of papers on that website, the publisher aka Elsevier and others had no part in the actual research, they have not funded the research, they have in fact very likely taken money from the very researchers.


>The other issue is that it takes millions of dollars to fund the research for many of these papers. With no incentive to make money on the research, companies will either stop the research, or it will go completely private and there will be no access for anyone.

You seem to be basically misunderstanding the whole thing. This isn't about research funding, it's about publisher fees. The issue with the papers is not that they take money to produce and so the researchers then charge money for others to see the results, and that therefore bypassing these fees would deprive the researchers of their hard-earned money they need to keep funding their million dollar research.

That is not at all what this is about. The fees being charged are publisher fees, absolutely ridiculous fees for a minimal service that is completely obsolete in the internet age, hampers collaboration and the flow of information, slows down science, prevents underprivileged persons from accessing the research that is in the vast majority of cases publicly funded, and serves only to give money to these publishers, of which absolutely 0% goes to the researchers themselves.


"The fees being charged are publisher fees, absolutely ridiculous fees for a minimal service that is completely obsolete in the internet age, hampers collaboration and the flow of information, slows down science, prevents underprivileged persons from accessing the research that is in the vast majority of cases publicly funded"

So we should be able to do whatever we want when we don't agree with a law? this is between publishers and researchers.

"and serves only to give money to these publishers, of which absolutely 0% goes to the researchers themselves."

This sounds like the 'all music should be shared and free' argument all over again. The last decade of Napster and Torrents have pretty much destroyed any chances of an Indy musician to make a living without the sponsorship of a big corporation.

It essentially pushed all of the Indy artists out. They actually had a chance to make a living with music before file sharing became part of our culture (and the belief that bits on a computer should somehow be free since it takes nothing to copy them).

The irony is that the exact same thing is happening with job outsourcing and now those same people are clamoring for government intervention. We somehow need to stop the free flow of information when it directly affects your job.

I worked in academia in a different life and nearly all research is conducted in some part by private entities pumping money into the University.

This won't have the desired effect and will essentially make research even more private.

I don't believe the GNU is a truly free license. If I decided to take software, use it in a proprietary app, and then sell it with no source, I would be taken to court (and people here on HN would want me sued out of existence (I've seen it many times already)).

Should I have a right to do this? Because this is exactly what is going on here. A copyright license is being broken and you believe it's justified.


Nobody is arguing what she is doing is legal in U.S. What people feel is that what she is doing is morally right despite it being illegal, regarding how publishers operate.


Having participated in the publishing process, I firmly believe the actions of this girl are justified. When what is legal no longer aligns with what is right, the law must change, or else it becomes a joke.


> This is all about violating a license/copyright law. If we were talking about a large company using GNU/copyleft code and not sharing their changes back to the community, many people in the community would be demanding the law get involved

Companies: not sharing their changes back to the community

Publishers: not sharing the papers with everyone willing to do research

I see a parallel...


Calling Aaron Swartz "nothing but a petty thief" is a bit too dismissive. This is not a black-and-white issue. For example, many times the millions of dollars used to fund the research were given by governments and grant organizations: public entities.


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>Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states. A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples. A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: "I, the state, am the people."

The rule of law is generally good for humanity. Defending it is fine. But you need to remember that the law is a messy human undertaking that is subject to change, not an unassailable universal truth. People can break the law, and still be in the right.

What people like Swartz and the folks at Sci-Hub are doing is making the judgement call that free access to scientific information provides a benefit to humanity that outweighs the cost of breaking the laws keeping the information restricted. Scientists-the people generating the content in question-tend to agree. There is no doubt that the publishers will have the lawyers on their side, but I've always thought that to be the weakest of endorsements.

>There, where the state ceaseth—there only commenceth the man who is not superfluous: there commenceth the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.

http://4umi.com/nietzsche/zarathustra/11


The handle "Pink Dinner" was created 15-days ago; about the time Alexandra Elbakyan hit the news hard. If you view the comments posted by this user one might consider them agenda driven toward this sort of topic? ... YMMV


Let's assume good faith.

Unless the profile's deleted a bunch of prior pro-Elsevier pieces and filled in a bunch of others, primary evidence doesn't look exceedingly shill-like.


To quote the Big Lebowski, "Donny, you're out of your element."

Publishers like Elsevier and Taylor & Francis pay nothing to acquire research papers, or for the volunteer peer reviews and edits. These companies have 30% profit margins. They are basically flipping a product back to the people who created it and need it, with literally almost no value add. They claim to be curators of content, but at the point we're at with the internet that role can be distributed.

Our tax dollars also paid for a lot of the research locked up behind these paywalls. I'm sure you knew your comment about Alexandra Elbakayan being a "petty thief" was going to be contentious. We went through this with Aaron Swartz already. Try looking at the depths of her position before you start supporting a position that drove a young man to suicide.

Edited for rhetorical stylings


> "Shut the fuck up Donny, you're out of your element."

> really fucking pissed me off

Please don't do this here. If you're "really fucking pissed off" by a bad or unfair comment, wait until you can post something civil. Otherwise the signal/noise ratio gets worse and we end up with a flamewar.


Got it mate. It's just my style, but I will keep your suggestion in mind in the future.


Thanks, we appreciate it. It's a style that works fine in many contexts (I always think of rugby players who beat the crap out of each other and then go out drinking together), but on large internet forums it acts the way salt does on a slug.


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We've asked you before to stop posting political rants to HN. You've continued to do that, and here you've added a personal attack. We ban people for doing these things, so please don't keep doing them.


oh it's an attack to call someone a troll who attacked the subject in the story?? And how is my "rant" here political? Do you want discourse or not?




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