Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Unstoppable Rise of Sci-Hub (2019) (lse.ac.uk)
646 points by apsec112 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 239 comments

I am part of a well-funded university, so I have access to all the papers without using Sci-Hub.

Nevertheless, I prefer this platform because I disagree with the publishing model of most publishers. Let's not get into the details here, but there is all kinds of shoddy editorship happening all over the place---I have seen at least one blatant case of plagiarism in an Elsevier journal: no one cares. I have experienced very strange 'reformatting' queries; my highlight being a journal that forces you to convert your lovingly-crafted vector graphs into JPG just 'because'.

On top of all that, add the fact that the interface of many publishers is egregiously bad to use. It takes a lot of clicks to download a single PDF, often opening multiple windows for that purpose or redirecting you a few times. Sci-Hub streamlined this process: you put in a DOI, and you get a PDF. Not an ePDF that is super laggy (looking at you, Wiley!), but a normal PDF that I can download, annotate, print, decorate my wall with.

Thus, I disagree with the article: the single minimalist interface is definitely something that contributes to Sci-Hub's popularity.

When I was a student in engineer school in France, I had access to a lot of paper through our school subscription. I was still using Sci-Hub all the time because just copy-pasting a DOI or a paper title and getting the PDF was so much better than all the other website which had all clunky and broken login procedure, and god awful UI/UX (understanding how to download the PDF was sometimes more of a challenge than understanding the paper itself...).

That's a well-known issue: legal channels usually are ess convenient to use. That's why it often makes sense to download and use a pirated copy of a game/movie/ebook/whatever after you buy it: you both fulfill your duty and enjoy nice UX then. In case of movies, games and software sticking with a legal channel often also means you can't get it in a language you want because a particular company has an exclusive license to distribute it in your country and it would only distribute a 100% localized version (AFAIK even Netflix would only give you a choice of a small number of languages relevant to your country rather than all the languages they have actually translated a particular movie to) or offer an English version at a price higher than that of a localized version. Many old (yet still copyrighted) books also are only available as pirate scans.

I wish there was a centralized database of e.g. movies where you could legally buy any movie ever filmed, with subtitles in any language and get a DRM-free copy in a common format you could play anywhere. Sadly this is hardly possible given today laws.

Curiously enough some (or many?) countries have implemented a law requiring blank CD-R disks and USB thumb drives sellers to pay fixed royalty to a local copyright association (an MPAA-like entity) for every blank disk they sell because people can potentially use the disks to pirate copyrighted works.

It seems to me this should logically make disk-based piracy legal as we are already paying for it and the same principle could be used to legalize pirate websites (just charge ISPs who would include a "pirate subscription fee" in the connection cost) as the most user-friendly distribution channels.

Nevertheless piracy still is illegal although we pay for it while paying for the disks.

Another fun fact about how wacky the actual intellectual property system is is you can get sued even for doing what you could never suspect might be wrong from any point of view. Even when it's about hardware, not software. A friend of mine once bought a new iPhone (from an official distributor) and mailed it to his daughter living in another country (where iPhones also are widely available officially and are sold at approximately the same price) as a birthday gift - as a result the customs sued him for Apple intellectual property infringement.

I am brazillian.

Here people BUY pirated stuff, sometimes more expensive than the original.

The reason is convenience and good service.

When you buy pirated software and games from the street dealer, you get:

often, better support than the publisher (specially for popular software, you ask him what is bothering you, he probably memorized the solution and tells you, while publisher support often is completely null, Google-style)

easier to install (custom installers are popular in pirated stuff).

sometimes have better patches, for example games with custom patches to run in older versions of Windows, or that fix popular issues (like Dark Souls at launch had tons of problems on PC, pirated versions fixed it, or Final Fantasy XV, the pirated version runs faster than the legitimate one, some people speculate that is because Denuvo, or because the lack of Denuvo allowed better optimization settings during compile time).

Translated to portuguese.

Has manual! Yes, sometimes the original software is lacking manual, while because during ancient times pirated software had no printed manual, people would add short manuals as a read-me file, some pirates still do that, even for software that has no manual at all.

Regarding games, Valve realized all that and Steam helped a lot, but before Steam it was common here to people buy even stuff that was free (many piracy dealers sold linux distros and other FOSS stuff) because of the convenience.

EDIT: forgot a big one... pirated stuff you can pay for it.

Yes... as weird it sounds, sometimes people wanted to buy a something, but it wasn't available here, often due to a stupid combination of region restrictions + exclusive publishing deals, since we are in South America, sometimes stuff would get into a legal limbo, whoever had "America" rights would focus in publishing in the US, and would block whoever had Europe or JP rights from publishing here.

This sadly is still common, specially with books, Barnes & Noble is a company that greatly aggravated me on that, I bought, legally, a lot of books that were only available in my country on the store "Fictionwise", BN bought them and demand me to be physically in USA to download the books I bought...

Or Electronic Arts, that only allowed officially USA players on Ultima Online, leading to a vibrant pirated server community in Brazil, since you couldn't play legally here.

Ok you might want to watch this short documentary. Your fun 'pirated' games and software with 'better support' might cost you dearly when your daughter or your girlfriend/wife gets filmed by a hacker, using your own webcam.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFS3p0emftw - "Security awareness: Filmmaker explores RAT malware, buys access to random PCs for just 15 cents a piece - made short film about his experience"

Movies and other media files that don't run any scripts are ok if you're careful and know what you're doing, but installing pirated software is an invitation to get blackmailed and extored by darknet hackers.

The Adwind Remote Access Trojan typically spreads by phishing e-mails.

Which is why you shouldn't believe everything you read.

By the way, this last sentence:

>Movies and other media files that don't run any scripts are ok if you're careful and know what you're doing, but installing pirated software is an invitation to get blackmailed and extored by darknet hackers.

Is entirely wrong. If you're worried about malware, you already know that it can come via video files as well as binary programs.

The rest of what you wrote is just spreading fear for notoriety's sake. Pirated software isn't an "invitation" to anything provided you have good anti-malware defenses and good security practices.

> provided you have good anti-malware defenses

There is no such thing as good anti-malware defenses. Most of the antiviruses are 80% bullshit + 20% obsolete, yet asking for money and full-time administrator privileges and unrestricted Internet connection (doesn't that sound suspicious?). Besides patching vulnerabilities regularly, being very careful of what files&websites do you open is the only real protection… as long as you don't come in contact with a fresh exploit which doesn't need you to let them.

>There is no such thing as good anti-malware defenses.

You prove my point for me. Good defenses doesn't consist of solely antimalware software. Defense in depth is needed, along with education and awareness of new vulnerabilities.

The sum total of things you do to keep your systems uninfected are your anti-malware defenses.

Dangerous for Windows maybe? Most cracked OS X apps make you disable Gatekeeper or System Integry Protection. Game over. So yes, to me that is an invititation.

Any examples of something that requires disabling SIP in cracked version and not original? Never heard of it, sounds implausible but then I'm hardly up to speed.

Like I get swapping dylibs, but not why that'd be best done by poking around in /System rather than the binary.

Both 'appked' and 'macbed' websites have guides for disabling both Gatekeepr and SIP (now they are derivative websites because the domains keep getting banned/confiscated):

macappdownload dot com slash fix-damaged-app-message

macappdownload dot com slash how-to-disable-system-integrity-protection-in-macos

These guides are all over their websites, especially at the download stage, where there is a short list of 'download instructions' with a link to these guides.

A while back I read someone saying that these websites are owned by a Russian hacker network. Touch at your own risk.

My question was "Any examples of something that requires disabling SIP in cracked version and not original?", this (while certainly possibly relevant) is not an answer to that.

To me this is an answer. I think somehow you're not understanding what I am implying.

These guides I linked to are there because when the software is being installed, it asks for these guides to be applied, to make the apps work. The modifications added to the cracked applications by the crackers take them off Apple's trusted developers list. So the only way to get some of them to work is to disable SIP and GateKeeper. This move then makes the user's computer vulnerable to all malware, because most forget to turn them back on. They also often don't know about the importance of these security features in the first place.

I am not concerned for your safety - I trust you will be safe. I am scared for the user I described above.

I hope this make it clearer.

I won't bother replying to more of your messages until you can show that you've actually tried this all out on a VM, because otherwise we just won't be talking about the same thing.

Off course gatekeeper needs to be off once something doesn't have a valid signature. But SIP protects /System, NVRAM, kext loading and some additional stuff. Not user app signatures. Hence my question.

Had a cracked copy of binding of isaac reborn that reuired disabling SIP once, dunno if that was a thing for the legal copy though

Even without disabling Gatekeeper and SIP it is possible to insert malicious code into the OS somewhere because of full read and write access to the home directory and what not.

You could run the application in a VM without networking capabilities.

Use LittleSnitch, Luke!

I do not pirate anything anymore, but I have covered my webcam with tape for many years.

I also don't have a daughter, but I am Brazilian. Just adding a data point.

It's not just about webcams or recording your microphone. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

I use a desktop nowadays. So no input whatsoever, unless I explicitly buy it and plug it.

Your keyboard is an input device. That is what I am talking about. I am saying that with a Remote Access Trojan, they can do much more than access your mic or webcam.

"What is a RAT (remote access Trojan)?

A remote access Trojan (RAT) is a malware program that includes a back door for administrative control over the target computer. RATs are usually downloaded invisibly with a user-requested program -- such as a game -- or sent as an email attachment. Once the host system is compromised, the intruder may use it to distribute RATs to other vulnerable computers and establish a botnet.

Because a RAT enables administrative control, it makes it possible for the intruder to do just about anything on the targeted computer, including:

- Deleting, downloading or altering files and file systems.

- Monitoring user behavior through keyloggers or other spyware.

- Accessing confidential information, such as credit card and social security numbers.

- Taking screenshots.

- Distributing viruses and other malware.

- Formatting drives."

Source: https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/RAT-remote-...

As long as I'm online, I'm sure any well-informed techie could, at any point, show me how my computer usage is insecure. At some point, I must stop securing stuff and start working. I'm just a regular user running Debian with firewall enabled on a desktop machine. That's enough for me. I won't use the internet via email like Richard Stallman.

"This video contains content from VPRO BROADCAST, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds."

The video is unpirated in The Netherlands (VPRO is Dutch too).

Yep. So if you're in the Netherlands, click here: https://www.vpro.nl/programmas/3lab/rats-en-slaves

For some reason they blocked it in the Netherlands. But if you're trying to watch it from outside of the Netherlands, it works great. I tried with a VPN.

You can watch the Dutch version on the VPRO's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGsw_l0tT10

Just for the record, for the most part, it should be legal to sell CD's of most Linux distributions, assuming you honor the GPL and any other licenses for any software that's physically on the disk.

I'm a bit familiar with the sorts of commerce that the parent mentioned.

Back when broadband was uncommon there were shops where you could just order anything that could be found on the Internet and they would burn a CD-R for you. They would keep the most popular files cached locally, and for the really popular stuff they would have pre-burned CDs in small kits with a xeroxed manual and maybe a colored cover and the like. Support was a big thing too, and community: it was a place where people would hang out a bit and talk to other people, share recommendations, meet people who could fix equipment, etc.

So if you ordered a Linux distro they would prepare it for you just like any software, VCD, disk full of MP3s, etc. I know of people who were introduced to Linux via these shops.

There used to be an earlier version of this sort of shop where you could bring floppy disks and they would copy them for you. As far as I know all of this has just about disappeared. Piracy exists but it is nowhere near as popular as it used to be.

What those shops basically sold was bandwidth: it was a physical version of pirate BBSs and w4r3z websites, from a time when phone and Internet access was harder to have.

The "copying fees" on storage (this includes harddrives/SSDs, phones, CD/DVD/BD or pretty much any storage medium in some countries) is actually a fee for "private copying" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_copying_levy) not pirate copying. Historically these fees were introduces with cassettes as it was possible to obtain private copies by recording radio broadcasts and by copying a cassette. I suppose it did make sense 40 year ago as private copies of e.g. songs wasn't usual before cassettes.

The fucked up part is that these fees still exist today when it is generally not possible to easily create private copies due to DRM. I can only assume that politicians who signed of and keep supporting on these laws are either bribed or brain dead.

E.g. CopySwede(https://www.copyswede.se/in-english/undersida-in-english/the...) is the Swedish lobbying organization which collects and lobbies for the fees in Sweden.

Nice explanation, thanks. Nevertheless some countries have just introduced these laws recently and there probably are more countries to follow.

> In case of movies, games and software sticking with a legal channel often also means you can't get it in a language you want because a particular company has an exclusive license to distribute it in your country

that is exactly what brought me back to piracy. I am not a heavy downloader, and I would welcome a legal way of accessing films paying a reasonable fee. I thought Netflix had (partially) fixed it, but I happen to live abroad and I can't access films in my native language. Not even subtitles, and sometimes not even in English. This is so stupid and frustrating, and it's entirely the fault of the film industry. Torrents here I come.

> Curiously enough some (or many?) countries have implemented a law requiring blank CD-R disks and USB thumb drives sellers to pay fixed royalty to a local copyright association (an MPAA-like entity) for every blank disk they sell because people can potentially use the disks to pirate copyrighted works.

We have that over here. Said taxes also apply to hard drives, iPhones internal storage, etc

BUT it isn't meant to compensate for illegal downloads (the music & film industry tried, but I believe it was the EU that told them that was illegal). It's supposed to compensate for the supposed loss occurred from people's right to make private copies of legally obtained copyrighted materials.

It's whacked and non-sensical, but still. We are after all the country where you have to pay artists copyright associations for playing copyleft music in your shop.

In France the tax on storage media (Including SSD, DVD-R, smartphones themselves, SD cards, everything) is officially a way to compensate rights holders for the legal right to make private copies (usable only with close family and relatives).

The idea is that the private copy exemption is lowering sales, and this tax balance these sales. Doesn’t make a lot of sense (who was buying several copies of the same vinyl or book?) but that’s the letter of the law.

Of course it’s at the same time illegal to break DRM so you are entitled to rip DVDs /bluray to your computer for convenience but it’s illegal to do it with most disc because you would need to break the DRM.

So, the tax officially doesn’t aim at compensating piracy. It’s a legal technicality because yes, the initial spirit was to levy a tax on illegal copying, but without encouraging it (“I already paid!”) or creating a global licence.

> In France the tax on storage media (Including SSD, DVD-R, smartphones themselves, SD cards, everything) is officially a way to compensate rights holders for the legal right to make private copies (usable only with close family and relatives).

Why are you meant to compensate anybody for your rights? Why not compensate potential robbers for outlawing robberies then? They could be more rich and happy if the law didn't acknowledge your right for physical safety and private property protection.

The way it works in Europe, is that copyright is implicit: you create something, you get copyright. With copyright you get to control who can copy your work. Copyright is more seen as a natural right then as a law that has an economic purpose.

Then there are a number of exceptions where blanket permission to copy is granted in return for some financial compensation for the creators.

Where all of this goes wrong is that there is not a clear legal framework how creators should receive money and especially how much they should get.

As somebody buying blank media, how the creators are compensated is not really an issue, but the total amount of money that gets collected is.

In particular, the money is meant to compensate for legal copies under the relavant section of the copyright law.

For example, essentially nobody makes legal copies of copyrighted material to DVD-R. You cannot legally copy DVDs, so the money should compensate for music files, analog video tapes, televsion, scans of paper books, etc. That happens so little that there should not be an additional tax in DVD-R

> Nevertheless piracy still is illegal although we pay for it while paying for the disks.

Depends on the country. In some places downloading is legal, only uploading is illegal. Also, the disk-based fee you mention does allow you to give away copies to friends and family for free in some countries.

On a related note, I haven't seen any publisher or content producer sell "licence only" i.e. I pay them for the right to be able to own/view the content. This could either be a "buy direct, acquire elsewhere" or "pirate first, pay later".

In theory this would be a major win for the content creator. 100% revenue going directly to them with no overhead for distribution, infinitely scalable (to stress: _in theory_, I am aware that this would play out differently in practice).

Microsoft (via a very respectable local retailer) used to sell Office keys which I could only use with Office OPK ISO I could only find available for download on ThePirateBay.

As for efficiency (no overhead for distribution etc) I don't really understand why do companies waste resources on technical measures of copyright protection in the first place. Almost every program which is even slightly popular has a crack/keygen anyway, almost every movie is ripped anyway, business users (pirating is more dangerous for them + they often need support) pay anyway (even if the activation form would accept any random string for serial), most of the users who download pirate copies would not buy a legal one (usually because it's hard for them to afford it) anyway (and that's how software like MS Windows and Office monopolize markets in developing countries where everybody just uses a pirate copy). So why to invest so much resources in DRMs, activation, genuine disks etc?

I'm under the impression that massive investment in DRM is more of a way to satisfy tech and (pirate) culture-illiterate humans while making deals for content. Even Steam needed to nominally do something and Gaben's position on piracy/drm is very well-known.

Why should such humans be satisfied?

Because they pay the bills.

>Almost every program which is even slightly popular has a crack/keygen anyway.

It's not about making sure its never cracked, it's about delaying the crack long enough to make money. Most video games and home movies make the majority of their profits in the weeks to months of release.

There are plenty of people who aren't opposed to paying for software, but they don't have any issues with using a cracked copy either. They just want to play the latest game in their favorite series as quickly and easily as possible. If you can delay the release of pirated copies and make using them inconvenient to use these people are more likely to buy a legit copy.

> That's why it often makes sense to download and use a pirated copy of a game/movie/ebook/whatever after you buy it: you both fulfill your duty and enjoy nice UX then.

Are you really fulfilling your duty if you just buy content with a poor user experience without letting those who you pay know how bad it is? Would they know or have any incentive to fix the system if everybody bought things and still pirated them?

> even Netflix would only give you a choice of a small number of languages relevant to your country

This baffles me, especially for Netflix original content. Is it because they think the UI would get cluttered?

If that's their concern, maybe they could free up space by not constantly recommending to me things that I've already watched and rated on their platform.

I'm constantly turning my Netflix profile language to Korean so that I can get Korean subtitles for my wife. It's an annoying workaround, but it often works.

When I was a student in physics, the campus network didn't extend to the student housing or off-site students, meaning you had to be on campus or in the library to access the portals to get papers.

I used sci-hub during my last year in school, but it was only just starting. It was far easier to use, plus I didn't have to compile a list of papers to fetch and wait until the next day to retrieve them.

I love the DOI->PDF single search, it's how it should be. I'd prefer a better more responsive format, (PDFs are still hard to read on a phone or less than huge tablet) but nothing is quite as good for, "just give me the damn paper".

And editorship is highly variable, even at the highest end. I remember catching an article in Nature where two curves in separate panes were clearly copy-pasted yet claimed to be different conditions in the legend.

Fully agree here; whether PDF is best is really debatable, but I want the 'one click to get a useful format' rather than having to struggle with their badly-implemented readers (which, by the way, are lacking accessibility; I am your quintessential near-sighted nerd and I often have to 'manually zoom' because some dolt thought it might be a good idea to deactivate increasing the font size).

I too am part of a well funded university, arguably one of the richest in Europe, and we were recently informed that it's possible we won't have a Nature subscription this year. Of course the reasons are complex, and there'll no doubt be a workaround arranged, but it goes to show that even the most fortunate of us aren't necessarily immune to needing sci-hub to get work done.

Scihub would have been a godsend when I was doing my PhD. I would have to request via inter-library-loan all the low-exposure journal articles for which my library had no subscription. When the paper finally came in, via fax or scan, I may have already gone a different route. Or went to play ultimate frisbee.

> I am part of a well-funded university, so I have access to all the papers without using Sci-Hub.

I don't know how well funded your university is—some are so much so as to make the caveat I'm about to mention a bit silly—but, for many reasonably funded universities, a statement like yours has to be qualified with "I have access for now …". Publishers can, and do, up their prices unreasonably at any time, and, at my university, I always have to assume that the access I've got today might disappear with a greedy price grab by the publisher tomorrow.

Absolutely true! I just wanted to add this caveat because I am fully aware that Sci-Hub solves a _different_ problem for me than it solves for other people. The idea of being at the mercy of a publisher is quite problematic, though. One can but hope that the lawyers of our unis are negotiating with a severability clause to ensure that the access to _existing_ articles will not be impeded by future negotiations.

(I can sort of see the idea of making a price grab and then not having access to future articles, but having _no_ access even to past articles is a horror scenario)

even better, add this as a bookmark and you're only one click away from a PDF:


Thanks for this, it's really useful.

Better, I am almost always able to download the paper by prepending sci-hub [dot] tw [slash] to publisher's URL. It sometime asks captchas but not at all a problem.

> Thus, I disagree with the article: the single minimalist interface is definitely something that contributes to Sci-Hub's popularity.

I'm trying to understand what you disagree with in the article. If anything, it complements sci-hub's "alleged seamlessness."

I think the disagreement is with this claim from the article (2nd to last paragraph):

Sci-Hub, more so than RG, therefore seems to have a greater potential for disrupting the current order of things and poses a significant threat to publishers and librarians, who cling to the mistaken belief that the key to Sci-Hub’s success is its alleged seamlessness (a single sign-on), which if they can replicate will go away.

The author is arguing that seamlessness is not Sci-Hub's only advantage versus traditional channels, but that "Much of the growth of Sci-Hub is therefore ideological", "publishers are seen as the enemy, whose greediness erects unnecessary barriers, thereby obstructing the advancement of science" and that "Sci-Hub is seen as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure"

Ah, I see. However, I understood OP's primary reason for preferring Sci-Hub to be the one that he iterated in their first paragraph: "Nevertheless, I prefer this platform because I disagree with the publishing model of most publishers...."

That seemed to agree with the bulk of the article, even if they also liked the UX better. The article doesn't say it isn't better, it just says that the UX isn't the primary reason most researchers are using it. That seems to jive with OP.

Just for your reference: compliments

Complement means when two things go well together.

OP used “complement” correctly - as in, ease of use complements (goes well with) scihub being free.

OP was replying to someone who said they disagreed with the article, and argued that scihub was easy to use. OP said the article praised scihub’s ease of use, meaning complimented it.

I'm disappointed that the pinnacle of your search ended in a pdf, probably formatted in 2 columns to make it even worse to read on a screen. For everyone else one of the worst things they can get at the end of their search is a pdf.

What would you prefer to a PDF? HTML?

Yes, something that will reformat to the display I'm using, and is easy to copy and paste from/edit

The only feature I miss in sci-hub is going from a doi to a BibTex file for the citation.

To obtain a medium-quality BibTeX entry for your DOI:

  curl -LH "Accept: application/x-bibtex" https://doi.org/<doi>

sci-hub + zotero

I have a PhD in physics. I have zero problem with anyone downloading any of my papers from scihub. My publishers paid me nothing, and also paid the academics who peer reviewed my paper nothing. If I had stayed in academia (I didn't partially because of the toxic nature of publishing) I would also have been expected to peer review other journals for free. Information should be free access information general, but publishers are the least deserving key holders.

> My publishers paid me nothing, and also paid the academics who peer reviewed my paper nothing.

Why are these intermediaries still around? Peer review is the real value provided by a scientitic journal and the people who do that have no reason to be loyal to these companies since they don't get paid.

reputation. There are hundreds of publishers, but it takes time to build reputation. Unfortunately it's a chicken and egg problem, very hard to tackle, but some new publishers are slowly emerging. (Classic) scientific publishing is a giant monstrous stinking dinosaur. Everybody hates it and SciHub is doing its fair job of accelerating its death.

At this point their main purpose is providing artificial scarcity, in the hopes that this increases the quality of the papers that do get published.

It's a great question. Inertia/legacy is a big part. But you're seeing new journals pop up with heavy weight support (eLife, PLoS, etc.) that are getting cited more and becoming higher impact. You also now have pre-prints like Arxive and bioarxive. I guess the point is peer-review, modern science moves slow because it takes time to disrupt the trust people put in a Nature, Science, Cell, etc publication. Once higher impact papers start going to other journals, the pre-tenure profs will feel comfortable to follow.

> Why are these intermediaries still around?

Because publishing a decent journal - even online but certainly in the real world - involves a whole lot of work: Administrative, some technical, some networking, some advertizing, maintaining relations within the relevant fields etc. That's all when we ignore the peer review itself which requires domain expertise.

> Administrative, some technical, some networking, some advertizing, maintaining relations within the relevant fields etc.

Taking into account that they don't really do peer-review and don't pay for it either, and that their editing is close to nonexistent (and as likely to introduce errors as to improve anything), all the other costs seem to be a self-perpetuating loop - the work is being done just to support itself, with no actual surplus value being produced. It's a resource leak, a circular reference in the economy.

My understanding is that the real job of a publisher in academia is brand recognition.

That's part of it, sure.

It's not meaningless, either. If you have a hundred venues for publication - what should you choose to follow? What should a library subscribe to? What do you recommend to students? etc.

I have never been involved in running an academic journal. But I have been involved in a group which published a periodical. And from my experience I can tell you that you're dead wrong. Without all that work, there is no journal, no publication, no readership, and limited interest and exposure of people to the content.

This isn't really true. I work for a non profit scholarly society publisher, and we pay millions of dollars a year for copy-editing/formatting and also the work to find referees that do not have conflicts of interest/are not busy/actually respond and are qualified to assess the paper is indeed costly. If it were zero or negative sum there'd be loads of open platforms out there for peer-review and publishing.

I am also a big fan of open-access and hate paywalls myself. I also don't like big, for profit, predatory journals. There is value in curated and managed journals. Just not the value that these big corporations are reaping from them.

Some probably do those things some of the time.

The others require the appearance of having done so.

Personally I don’t see the quid pro quo nature of peer review (you review in return for your stuff being reviewed) as a problem. But I dislike the fact that the publishers limit access to something that others provided without compensation. Seriously their subscription models are outrageous, nothing they provide alongside the actual content makes it worth it.

You're still providing a valuable service for free. Why can't everyone get paid?

Reviewers are getting paid from the university, as are the paper authors. The problem is that the journals exploit the taxpayers and grant providers.

I would disagree for the first part: Review usually does not happen during paid hours or is even somehow formally accredited by universities.

At my university, reviewing is explicitly mentioned to be on your own time: we cannot write any hours for it.

That honestly seems like a bigger problem, if researchers are not paid for reviewing who will do it?

My experience is that reviewers do this as part of their duties and takes place during work hours.

Universities pay you for teaching and researching. Reviewing is part of the researching.

Not all reviewers even work for universities. Some of us are in industry, and our companies certainly don't pay us to anonymously review scientific papers.

> I have a PhD in physics. I have zero problem with anyone downloading any of my papers from scihub.

Out of curiosity: why don't you just host your papers on your website then - or, if you do, why don't you think it's enough?

> why don't you just host your papers on your website then - or, if you do, why don't you think it's enough?

Most publishers prevented you from doing this as of a few years ago (I left academic research around that time). You were not allowed to post any content that contains any work by the publisher (even formatting/editing changes after first round of reviews). Thus you could only publish a "preprint" which no-one can rely on to cite because they don't know what's in the final peer-reviewed version. Some publishers are more lenient than others but there's definitely friction induced.

The norm at least in parts of physics is to update the arxiv version once the paper is accepted, with a note saying "v3: matches version to appear in XXX", with a DOI link. Where "matches" means the content, but not the journal's formatting, spelling & comma preferences, etc.

(And ideally this note would also mention any substantial changes, like "new section 4 explaining..." or "derivation in 3.2 re-written, but no change to conclusions", for the benefit of those who already read v2.)

I do the same (over in comp sci.) - usually the journals will let you put pre-print articles up on arxiv, researchgate, and web pages, and then the final article - sometimes with added spelling mistakes - many of the journals have off shored the editorial process - is on their site.

I'm curious what would happen if a new paper tried to reference previous papers published in ArXiv instead of the traditional publishers. From a strictly academic perspective, I can't think of any reason why this would be a problem, apart from the existential problem it causes for traditional publishers.

Citing papers which aren't yet published by their arxiv numbers is routine. (And, before 1991, people did the same using the author's institute's preprint numbers.) If they have appeared in a journal by the time yours is accepted by a journal, then you should add the journal info too. (Although many journals now allow you to leave the arxiv numbers as an additional part of each reference.)

I (not OP) do, https://jan.hermann.name/publications/ (note the copyright notices, required by the journals, which pop up when you hover of the pdf link [didn't figure out a good alternative on mobile]). In rare cases, the journals don't allow this at all, in some cases they allow you to self-publish only the submitted manuscript, before any modifications based on peer review.

As for why it's not enough—because hiring committees and funding agencies almost never take unpublished (that is, in a proper journal) manuscripts into account when evaluating you and your funding proposals. This is what needs to change in the first place to break the loop.

Many (most?) do, that's where Google Scholar took its PDFs from pre-scihub.

Google Scholar still gets its PDFs from preprint servers and author's websites. I suppose you meant to say that Google Scholar's web indexing is how many people got their PDFs pre-scihub?

Yes, you managed to unmangle my pre-coffee reply attempt correctly :)

Im not sure if it's legally flawless to upload the published journal article to your Website and open it up to the public. As far as i know, you're only allowed to pass it on a personal, per-request basis. This explicitly refers to the final peer reviewed article and not to the manuscript, which can make a great difference.

It’s granted individually on a personal, per http request.

Many publishers explicitly allow you to post your own articles on your personal/professional website. Some only allow "preprint" form and not the published version.

Most journals explicitly allow preprints or postprints (the final article, but without the layout of the publisher) to be posted on personal webpages.

>If I had stayed in academia (I didn't partially because of the toxic nature of publishing)

Which country are you from? Where are you now, in industry? Is there less toxic environment than in academia?

Are you planning to publish all of your own papers in open access journals? That would be putting your money where your mouth is.

I’ve seen plenty of researchers say “information should be free” and then later publish everything in closed journals because the open access ones have low impact factor.

Seems hypocritical to me.

When you say "low impact factor", you're referring to a combination of lack of prestige and lack of readership that leads to few citations and subsequently little influence on the field, right?

If so, why is the prestigious curation of the journal that leads academics to reading your paper and taking it seriously inextricably tied to whether or not it's behind a paywall at all?

What's stopping someone from building an alternative curation pipeline on top of open access journals that gives academics equal or better signal/noise to the journals they read, and a similar socially accepted prestige for getting into that curation pipeline?

I get that there's not a clear path to monetization, but maybe it's possible, particularly if you could execute more targeted curation for academic subfields that are too small to have their own journals, that you could find some donors and lean on academics supporting the curation process themselves out of their seeming discontent with publishing to drive down costs.

Yes, many (but not all) of the top journals are closed.

A lot of scientists talk big when it comes to open access, but when it comes time for them to publish their own work, they published in closed journals since they have a bigger impact factor.

They basically put their own careers ahead of their belief in supporting open access.

The publishers want to have some financial income from your papers. So if you want a paper to be openly accessible, so preventing them from a future income from that paper, as an author you will have to pay their potential incomes, and this can cost up to 3000$ per publication.

That is a substantial sum even for professors from wealthy countries.

I understand that completely. Feeling good about yourself for sticking it to the man doesn't support a family.

I personally adore Sci-Hub and Libgen but that's because such is my personal alignment - I believe no such concept as "intellectual property" should exist and right (which, from my point of view, is unlimited sharing of what is usually copyrighted in this case) is more important than legal.

To support my stance I can cite the German phenomenon (many attribute it's 19th century industrial growth to unconstrained knowledge distribution made possible by lack of copyright laws) and the biblical "miracle of the five loaves and two fishes" where Jesus replicated five loaves and two fishes to feed a lot of people (today copyright advocates would say replicating bread this way meant "stealing" from the baker). And the fact I then buy a legal paper copy whenever I read a pirated ebook if I liked it while the lack of a pirated copy availability would never cause me to buy a legal copy (countrary to the concept of lost profit copyright advocates use).

At the same time I was initially surprised about the fact the scientific society is openly speaking pro-SciHub and pro-LibGen: most of the same people would generally say piracy is bad both because it's "stealing" from the copyright holders and because it means breaking a law. They would condemn using cracked apps, sharing movies and ignoring licenses, I have met quite a number of professors who would surely expel me from the university if I had scanned an expensive textbook and shared it with other students, yet they magically support SciHub. I find this phenomenon curious.

While I'm quite close to your opinion and I'm not much of a believer in intellectual property either, I don't think it's incoherent to support the two stances you mention.

There is an important difference between the paper publishing market and the others, which is that scientific publishing is 100% extortive. It provides no value at all.

Let's leave aside for a moment the argument that so-called piracy not necessarily decreases sales - remember I'm not really advocating for copyright laws, just defending the coherence of the opinions of the people you are mentioning, who probably think that it does. From that standpoint, if everyone stopped paying for movies, Hollywood would close and no movies (except for hobbyist movies) would be made. If everyone stopped paying for music, music would still be made but no one would make a living from it. The same with books, etc. So in those fields, there is a causal relationship between not paying and the field itself being impacted, as well as the income of people that are doing honest work.

On the other hand, if everyone stopped paying for papers, nothing relevant would happen - in fact, mainly only good things would happen! The people who actually do the work of publishing and reviewing the papers aren't being paid anyway. We would post them to public repositories and move on. The quality of science wouldn't suffer at all. The accessibility of science would improve (everyone would be able to access papers without paying). The only ones that would suffer would be publishers that are doing largely an evil thing (restricting the access to scientific knowledge - it's hard to actually argue that they are providing access, as publis repositories already do that for free) and if they closed, it would be a net positive for science. Thus, and to sum up, it's really hard to defend paying scientific publishers, even if you generally believe in IP and copyright, because the whole market is a huge net negative for society, which is not true (or at least, not commonly believed to be true) of most other IP markets.

> On the other hand, if everyone stopped paying for papers, nothing relevant would happen - in fact, mainly only good things would happen! The people who actually do the work of publishing and reviewing the papers aren't being paid anyway. We would post them to public repositories and move on. The quality of science wouldn't suffer at all.

Why don't people just do this then? The majority of credible papers still gets submitted to Elsevier and alike publishers (and the fact a paper is published there itself boosts a paper perceived credibility even though many papers they publish happen to be bullshit) and papers published on people's personal websites only are not taken serious. It seems like people still need Elsevier for some reason.

Because it is required for promotion, tenure, grant requests, etc.

For example, why can't I (tenured professor) stop submitting journal papers? In Spain we have a research assessment every six years where basically only indexed journal papers count (even in CS where actually journals are quite irrelevant compared to conferences, but that's a different war of mine...). If you have enough indexed journal papers, you get a pay rise. If you don't, you not only don't get the rise, but you have to teach a punishingly high amount of class hours, basically leaving no time for further research. So for any professor that wants to do research, passing this assessment is pretty much needed. And the overwhelming majority of indexed journal papers are in Elsevier and the like, and it's highly likely that it will be the only thematic fit for a given paper.

Similar mechanisms are in place for tenure requirements, recruiting, grant calls, etc. Changing them is difficult. I do try to fight for it as much as I can, but it won't happen in the short or medium term.

Out of curiosity, how does that research assessment treat papers with multiple authors? Does it only give credit to the first author, or does it divide credit by the number of authors?

Depends. But usually being first author counts for more in most fields. However, e.g. in particle physics papers with hundreds of authors are common, alphabetically sorted. Sucks to be Z. Zymmer, nice to be A. Aaronson. People from the field of course know about this. Sometimes they might even act accordingly. But politicians and administrators far too often don't.

And then there is bibliometrics, the art of lying with publication statistics. Everything humans get wrong is even worse there. A. Aaronson is different from Al. Aaronson, right? No paper has more than 3 authors, right? Journals always count for something, conferences don't, right? etc.

Turkish higher education committee ignores multi-author papers completely and only counts single-author or advisor-student papers, in the first appointment of professors; and severely discourages multi-author papers in reassessments.

... which is another silly approach. So a pair of researchers who always work together on projects supposedly never publish :-(

They do anyway, because there is no negative consequences for publishing multi-author papers, just not rewarded at first appointment (this is mainly because they failed to figure out which fields have their authors ordered and which have it unordered).

I'd support dividing by number of authors, but it doesn't. A paper counts the same regardless of number of authors (and regardless or whether you're first author or not), unless it has "an atypically high number of authors for its field" (or something like that), in that case the committee can decide not to count it at all.

In Spain, gift authorship (adding authors that didn't do anything, typically in a mutual arrangement) is not uncommon. Not predominant, but definitely not uncommon.

So it turns out publishers like Elsevier do provide a value of an "indexed journal" status? Why can't the same be done for free?

It can indeed be done for free, and in fact there are some totally free journals that are indexed (actually I am using "indexed" as shorthand for clarity/simplicity, because it's a bit more complex than that: it needs to be indexed on a certain database -proprietary, by the way- and ranked with a high enough impact factor - a crude metric based on citations per paper). The problem is that they are still a minority, and often if you are working on subject X, it turns out that no indexed journal on that subject is free. Or maybe there is one, but your paper gets rejected from it so you then need to resubmit to a non-free one.

And why do publishers like Elsevier hold most of the indexed journals? Pure inertia. We keep sending papers there because we need to for reasons like the ones explained above, then our papers get citations, so those journals keep their impact factor high. And it is extremely difficult for new entrants to break into the rankings, because sending a paper to a new journal that is not indexed yet has a huge opportunity cost (months of work that you aren't going to get recognition out of for tenure, promotion, grants, etc.) so unless they start with really great momentum (support from a powerful scientific society, an open letter by big shots in the field, etc.) they never get the needed papers and citations to climb the rankings. So it's not that publishers do a better job so their journals have higher impact factors, it's that they have a captive market.

>I have met quite a number of professors who would surely expel me from net university if I had scanned an expensive textbook and shared it with other students, yet they magically support SciHub

With textbooks a reasonable amount of the money goes to the authors. Those professors write the textbooks and will lose out if you pirate them.

It is not so with papers though. The professors who write them lose little if anything when you pirate their research - those who lose money (elsevier and co) in that case are (rightly) perceived as not deserving anyway.

> Those professors write the textbooks and will lose out if you pirate them.

I don’t know how it works in other countries but here in the Netherlands most professors write those textbooks during time they are already paid for by their employer, but pocket the revenue of the textbooks themselves. In the meanwhile they actively discourage the use of second-hand textbooks by requiring students to buy the latest edition each year.

Here in the UK we don't seem to have this problem for some reason (possibly strong student unions?). I have studied at 3 different universities, and none of them required me to spend more than £100 total in course materials for a year.

For mathematics, all of my course materials were available in PDF format for free (which I could then print myself if I wished to). For Philosophy, the majority of readings were available through the library system. Some courses did require a textbook, but use of older editions was encouraged, and often a photocopied "pack" of the relevant chapters would be made available for a small fee (<£15) by the faculty office.

At least at the university I studied at, lecturers requiring their own textbooks for a course was explicitly barred as a conflict of interest. The only time it was allowed was when copies of the relevant chapters were provided free to all students in the class (in PDF or printed form).

Source - I was in a class where a lecturer broke this rule. It was a £100 book with only two copies in the library for a class of 30-40. We (students) queried it and the lecturer was ordered to bring a printed copy (as in laser-printed) of the relevant chapters for each student.

> for some reason (possibly strong student unions?)

In fact, in my experience the student union actually took advantage of that situation instead.

When I started studying at TU Delft in 1991 the student union had a deal with the local bookstore to give 10% discount to their members. So in your first week as a freshman you were told to become a member of the student union because you would get a discount on all those books written by professors.

The student union said they represented 95% of the students, but 90% of them were only a member of the union because of the discount.

Oh. I see they still have the discount, and the student union actually has their OWN (commercial) publishing house nowadays. https://www.delftacademicpress.nl/index_en.php

"Members of the VSSD get a considerable discount on the books of Delft Academic Press because the publishing company is part of the student union VSSD."

At most UK universities, membership of the student union is automatic as part of joining the university (there's no fee associated with being part of the union, so there's no real reason not to join), and the university funds and coordinates with the student union to provide several university services, especially anything to do with social life or student well-being.

It does depend a bit on the university though. I've heard that some have a more oppositional relationship. And there are still issues with some students not feeling represented by the union. They are usually democratic institutions though, with every student getting a vote if they want it, which helps alleviate the worst of those issues.

At my University in Germany maybe 10% of professors required a textbook (usually their own), and they were always reasonably priced (20€-40€, depending on size). Also the university library always stocked a healthy amount of those books, enough for maybe 10-20% of the students taking that course. Usually the library either didn't run out of books, or you could still get a copy at a more distant library.

Maybe could be related to the tuition as well? In most of Europe universities are free for the students

It could be, but I believe this has been the case in the UK since well before tuition fees were introduced. In the past, I think it was mostly a non-issue there were far fewer students, so university libraries generally had enough copies of books to go around.

There's a steep discount, but they're certainly not free in the Netherlands (nor in many other European countries).

Actually they are writing them during that time and use their staff (paid by public money), too. Whether it's copywriting, news checking for the next edition or, in fact, writing passages.

> I have met quite a number of professors who would surely expel me from the university if I had scanned an expensive textbook and shared it with other students, yet they magically support SciHub.

That's because textbooks is a scam the professors are in on and profit off.

You are not the first to logically argue that the IP concept should not exist. The problem is the people behind IP laws benefit tremendously from the lie and don’t have incentive to examine the system more closely. It would be like if tobacco makers called cigarettes “health sticks” and successfully convinced the world of the lie.

If we ever hope to change things we need to go on the offensive, and that starts with speaking the truth and never using the false terms put forward by the industry. So say Intellectual Monopoly laws instead of IP. If someone is insistent on making the property analogy, agree with them and tell them there is a term that actually is more truthful than IP: intellectual slavery.

Pharma industry in Switzerland also grew rapidly after start due to the fact that it didn't have patents, unlike neighboring countries.

It's not really that curious. Textbook publishers pay professors significantly more than Journal publishers. Hard to get a group of people on your side when you're exploiting their work for profit and giving them jack in return.

One of the big problems with disrupting journal publishing has been that there is no way to get access to the massive archive of papers that have already been published. Sci-Hub took care of that before the publishers even really understood what was happening. It is now much easier to just bid adieu to Elsevier and the rest.

I predict that the preprint servers will take over, killing most of the journals which are barely read anyway, and a few top tier journals will survive because academics need to signal status. I personally find https://www.biorxiv.org/ the most useful place to browse for papers at the moment, and stopped browsing actual journals some time ago. If something important gets published in an actual journal, I'll hear about it on twitter.

Sci-hub has been critical to me as I developed the idea for my current startup. If it didn't exist, I could have gotten most of the papers from friends in academia, but it would have been dramatically harder and slower. I use it, I support the concept.

I'll make a slight counterpoint however. It costs between $1-$5k (very rough numbers) to publish in open access journals usually. That's not nothing, but it defrays the management costs that come with a run-of-the-mill journal operation. For more flashy/fancy journals those costs are claimed to be higher (Nature asserts $40k).

Maybe that's inflated, Nature certainly has some incentive to fudge the numbers. Still, I don't think it's that far off considering the volume of submissions (hence # editors), the general press coverage work they do and just putting out a magazine every week with usually about a dozen publications and two dozen original articles.

If we take it at 1/2 that cost, clearly the average lab can't afford $20K to publish. How do we solve that particular issue? Seems we're back to the "how do you finance good journalism/short-turnaround publications?" question. Don't have answers, but want to get opinions.

EDIT: To clarify, I think most publications would be fine under a fairly small contribution, I'm more curious about the very select, super expensive marquee journals.

Academics write the paper for free, academics review the paper for free. I've published quite a bit and never had worthwhile input from a non-academic editor. A journal's only real cost would be in hosting costs, which I'm sure would be minimal for static content.

While the big-ticket journals have a value from being so picky, often this is at the expense of some things. For instance, it is hard to get replication studies published, as journals like Nature want every article to be "front-page news" if they can. I'd like to see some weighted reputation system used instead, where academics can give their "vote" to papers they like, giving it a total weight, however such systems have been proposed in the past and haven't got much traction.

I don't think there is an answer in the above, but I'm not sure that the substantial costs are justified.

> I'd like to see some weighted reputation system used instead, where academics can give their "vote" to papers they like, giving it a total weight, however such systems have been proposed in the past and haven't got much traction.

A reddit-clone with strong verification/validation of user accounts seems like it would fit the bill. I can imagine a system with a small monthly fee to participate, subreddits with paid moderators (read: reviewers), voting system that would float good papers to the top, and of course comments. The pay-to-participate barrier would hopefully keep the quality high but at a minimum cover the hosting costs. And run by a non-profit foundation.

I feel like quora could have gone this route

”where academics can give their "vote" to papers they like”

That would be gamed, just as there are “citation rings” (I cite you if you cite me) and “peer review rings” now.

So, you’ll need an authority to decide on what votes are unbiased.

That’s the role publishers have now. Are they doing it perfectly? No. Could others do it better or cheaper? Who knows?

Yeah, that's sort of what I was trying to say. It will be gamed like the current system, but reputation networks are a studied problem with lots of options of things like this. just nothing thats taken off.

The research institutions would of course save money on the journal descriptions that could then be used to pay for open access submissions.

Fair. I guess there could be a different model too: I pay a "subscription" which means I get x submissions per year for the institution or something along those lines.

Editor and former professor here.

Pay to publish imho always seemed to have a perverse incentive structure to me. Reminds me of the "advertisement" journals you used to see.

The way I see this headed is academic nonprofit orgs self publishing using open source software etc. and recouping costs through membership fees. Journals are already often closely affiliated with orgs, and the members do all the work except copyediting and editorial portals. Academics are also used to paying academic org membership fees for other reasons.

I've already had conversations in this direction with colleagues.

It's either this or eventually things like the preprint services, maybe with sugar on top.

The killer app in this area would be an open source service / server software for running a journal imho. If it were done well it would be hard to beat.

That said, I think traditional publication models are going to be around for awhile, maybe with much more open access or lower pub charges, just because the publishers do provide a service, even if access and price are distorted, and there isn't a uniformly better model at the moment (maybe too big a conversation for typing on my phone).

> If it didn't exist, I could have gotten most of the papers from friends in academia, but it would have been dramatically harder and slower.

r/scholar (on Reddit) was the precursor to sci-hub, and made most things available.

What is your startup and what research are you relying on? It sounds interesting.

We're combining a technology called DNA encoded libraries (DEL) with machine learning. DELs let you make very large numbers of compounds without losing track of each in a large mixture (1 million to 1 billion compounds in one tube). This means you can run a whole lot of experiments in parallel (basically 1e6-1e9 per tube).

We believe this is a very promising way to generate large volumes of labelled data, which we know is what ML loves. The trick is to structure both the biochemistry and the ML properly so as to avoid artifacts and generate useful molecules reliably.

Happy to talk about it in more detail, give me a shout at ntilmans at anagenex.com!

He's not going to reveal the name of his startup after admitting to copyright violations...

I guess I'm wrong.

It's easy to say piracy is wrong when artists put in a lot of effort, and you're not paying them for that work, as is the case with books, movies, TV, etc.

It's much harder to say piracy is wrong when content creators receive next to nothing of the publication profits, and publishers are withholding information that pushes humanity forward on many fronts, including ones that save lives. The role of academic publishers is as gatekeepers and rent-seekers, and it's hard to argue that they deserve income simply because they hold this position.

not only that, most of those studies are paid using public funding just to see private companies profit from them.

That's totally unacceptable and unethical

A few people are active trying to modernize the database code for Sci-Hub's sister project. PHP and SQL experts needed, it seems.


Sci-Hub and Library Genesis are indispensable.

What Alexandra has basically done is start a revolution. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

I would like to donate towards their efforts, too sad they accept only bitcoins.

I don't understand. There are plenty of trivially easy and user-friendly ways to purchase Bitcoin (Coinbase for example). What is the issue with only accepting Bitcoin?

Alexandra Elbakyan is very brave especially considering all the US based lawsuits that are thrown at her. Aaron Swartz was trying to do something similar at around the same time, and he got the book thrown at him and he didn't even launch anything.

Brave, or smart. She lives in Kazakhstan, which doesn't have an extradition agreement with the US. All she has to do is stay there, which is harder that it sounds. We've nabbed a number of people from former USSR countries when they've gone on vacation someplace warm.

I've just read the wikipedia page about her, that's halfway awesome and fucking crazy.

> Sci-Hub ... an out and out copyright pirate

Arrr! Shiver me timbers.

> papers harvested (illegally)

illegaly? Maybe, in some world states; but not in others.

Also, the illegality is temporary. Think of Marijuana in the US (and many other places). A significant fraction of the population uses it. It took them a good number of decades, but they're gradually legalizing it. With scientific publications - Sci-Hub and Lib-gen are are making copyright law unenforceable for scientific material; and I'm pretty certain this will erode that part of copyright law to decriminalization and legalization eventually.

> in China Sci-Hub is banned

(Jaw drops.) This is really surprising! I wonder why it's banned there.

I couldn't find any reference to it being blocked except in that article.

A test seems to show it's not blocked though:


Closest mention outside of original article is this The Verge article (2018), saying that they blocked China and Iran for a while because of too many requests from users; but this is sci-hub blocking not China banning


>> in China Sci-Hub is banned

> (Jaw drops.) This is really surprising! I wonder why it's banned there.

Political science papers criticizing China?

> I wonder why it's banned there.

Any superficial explanation you may get, it's really because central governments are stupid. Absolutely powerful central governments are absolutely stupid.

But, well, it's their loss.

That's a valid point, but it might be the case that it's not actually banned.

There is only one reason for me to use it: as a historical reenactor, I strive to make my equipment as accurately as possible, and I read various articles regarding roman military food, how widespread were certain metal alloys, how they used to do soldered joints, and so on. I wouldn't make an account to JSTOR just for a hobby - I use their search to find DOI's, and get them via Sci-Hub. I do buy books and stuff as part of my documentation, but there are really specific articles, usually a few pages long, that I can't find in both a convenient and legal way.

For all the tech wizards out there who want to meaningfully science from the comfort of your own laptop - help Sci-Hub scale. Your experience with helping build massively extensible web systems is completely and wonderfully needed in the existential fight for researchers to get information.

From where I live Sci-Hub is often slow, breaking down, etc. Help them!

Why does everyone talk about sci-hub and no one about library genesis? The latter is a way more comprehensive repository.

Is it really more comprehensive? SciHub lets you get literally every paper that is available even if they haven't already obtained it. That's why it's so popular - you can put in some super-obscure paper from your niche field that only 1000 people in the world care about and it will still spit out a PDF.

I did once encounter a paper it didn't have - in those cases, you can try ICanHazPDF on Twitter:


Because (shh) it's a secret. Survival through camouflage.

Yeah, its not like they overcharge for badly written books and also use a scheme with teachers where you have to buy books to pass in tests

Did you mean to respond somewhere else?

It's kind of complementary. I use sci-hub for everything with a DOI, and for books I use genesis.

Check out /scimag on your favorite libgen mirror.

Do you have a tor link? Also for scihub for that matter?

My go-to source for links to piracy websites that sometimes change URLs is Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_Genesis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Hub

Posting links publicly to resources that (allegedly) infringe on copyrights potentially gets users and/or HN in trouble. However, the article itself mentions at least one address you can access and, of course, there's is always the googling option.

This is like a semiotics game where we play with the signifier and the signified: http://changingminds.org/explanations/critical_theory/concep...

Rule #1 about [REDACTED]: You don't talk about [REDACTED]


Why not a low cost subscription app like Spotify that rewards the publishers (and I hope, by conseguence Authors and Reviewers)? This would be appetible to more general academy world (even low grade schools) and even small business that do research and development. And could create a more virtuose author/reviewers gratification.

University of California terminated a $10 million / year subscription to Elsevier [1] but $10 million per year divided between 21k academics and 280k students [2] is only $2.76 per person per month.

Of course, how you square that with the journals that charge $30+ for a single paper and $600+ a year for an individual subscription is, perhaps, your point...

[1] https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/3/1/18245235/uni... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California

Is there a single commercial source with the same or more coverage as sci-hub for $600/yr or less?

I’ve got a half dozen subs in a kind of Venn diagram and still am missing things. I’m in a position to pay for convenience, but while paying, am constantly annoyed it’s worse for the user. Same story in film/tv.

Deep Dyve?

I think the ability to pay a monthly fee, as an individual, to sponsor research would be great. But if you allow the publishers to continue to be the middleman, they will continue to be in power and will take most of the cut. I would not buy such a product, on principle. The authors and reviewers are the ones that provide the vast majority of the value. So the monetary (and social) reward structure should be centered on them. The platform facilitating this would need funding too, but their cut should be more akin to a payment processor, say 2-5%. So more like Patreon than Spotify.

I think publishers are important in the review system giving authorities to publications. Without publishers (with the platform being the only publisher) we loose the "authority system". Without publishers we will be in a system more like wikipedia. We can base it on peer reviewer authority, but the platform and scientific comunity will need to fix rules to when recognize a pubblication as "reviewed and accepted". Thinking more about it, we are in the field of blockchains tecnologies. Every university or similar institution can be a node, when more then ...% of nodes acccept the reviewed pubblication (manual work of check the paper and the peer review) it can be considered "officially approved" and added to the blockchain.

“Publishers” really should be “journal”. In the past many journals were run and published by professional societies. They had to deal with printing costs. The reviewing and editing is largely volunteer work still. Nowadays a professional society could easily handle the costs of a couple of staff editors and provide only digital copies. But it seems many/most professional societies sold out their journals to Elsevier. The idea of a traceable blockchain scoring and journal would be great. Journals and professional societies are largely about informal relationships in a research community for better or worse. Being able to track this in a blockchain could be helpful in bringing scrutiny and transparency in cases like the “Alzheimer’s Plaque Cabal” which is currently hidden from scrutiny.

The publishers are a fake authority, any legitimacy comes from the peer review. To underline and accentuate this I think one should make the review process public (with anonymous reviewers). And at publication time, also publish the name of the reviewers (possibly just a list, unconnected to the review comments). This way reviewers actually have a personal stake in the quality of a paper. Don't want your name associated with the recommendation of a bad/flawed paper. And on good papers, its nice to get actually some credit for doing the tedious review work.

Spotify uses DRM. Scientific papers should not be encumbered by DRM.

why they should earn more from those papers when they are already paid to research them?

It's knowledge, it should be free and open to help the humanity to advance and push new boundaries.

One way publishers could get me, a Millennial, back into their good graces is to actually put some effort into their publishing. As in, if you're not even going to publish a paper copy of this article, but still going to charge >$1000 for "open access" rights, then at least go the extra mile and start making eReader versions of them.

I would LOVE to use my kindle to read journal papers. Many books have well formatted text with figures interspersed. It would benefit the scientific community so much to be able to use them regularly.

(Note that PMC does this, and while I wish the figures were placed correctly rather than at the end, it's a great start!)

We will probably never be able to quantify the effects of scihub on global science and implicitly on the well-being of everyone. Still I wonder how substantial it is, how many budding researchers and truthseekers were helped by it.

The scientific paper industry is now in a similar state to where the music, tv and film industry were 10-15 years ago. People pirate what they offer not because of being cheap, but because their prices are highly exaggerated and their service is highly inferior to the one piracy offers.

Normally, those services would have had to adopt, and we would have ended with Spotify for papers. However, since the clients of those services are mostly public institutes, adoption is stalled and may never happen.

Personally I think that in the age of the internet academics and self-organize their own peer-to-peer reviewed journals with hardly any costs. Those self-organized journals should be free, as they're paid by the public tax. Old style journals are not really needed anymore in theory in the age of internet.

Hardly. It's, in fact, booming right now. You know who are the biggest benefactors? Top journals like Nature and all of IEEE. They are paywalled like nobody's business. In fact, they are much worse than Elsevier. But community only hypes about the later while lusting over publishing in Nature and much of the IEEE.

Another use case for Sci-Hub is bulk downloads. This is especially important for machine learning. Building a dataset of academic papers across domains would be a insurmountable task, even with APIs like PubMed and using "interal" university networks with good journal access.

Rather than paste all the details here, take a look at the opendata stackexchange site were we share details about bulk downloads from sci-hub, including torrents: https://opendata.stackexchange.com/questions/7084/bulk-downl...

Note that some other publishing platforms have bulk access, such as arxiv.org: https://arxiv.org/help/bulk_data

And platforms like https://unpaywall.org try to link open access papers.


And if you are a researcher sitting on your PDFs, consider self-hosting, and making an archive.org backup. These will get indexed by Google Scholar. I did so for my papers, and they were indexed in a couple weeks: https://smalldata.dev/posts/open-access-research/

Since the valuable service provided by publishers is, more or less, predicting future citations of a research work for funding purposes, what do people think of using a PageRank-like system for that instead? That way, instead of trying to publish in a high-impact journal, people will just put their papers online and try to get them approved by high-impact researchers. I think that could be just as reliable signal of quality as the current system, while costing less money, because high-impact researchers would find it in their interest to approve only the best work sent to them.

I've never understood why a wikipedia or github style publishing platform doesn't exist for research papers yet. Why do we ascribe reputation to the journals themselves? Is it the journals or is it the academics who participate in the journal who matter? Also why does reputation even matter really? Wouldn't an open source model make more sense where anyone can offer feedback and comments would be public? Wouldn't it make more sense to have all academics and even non-academics from around the world offer review? Generally speaking there's a right answer, whether it's a hard science where equations are likely involved and can be validated, or a soft science where you can mostly focus on validating the process and analysis. Even in the arts where it might be a bit more subjective. If anything given the reproducibility crisis in modern science, I would say the current model as failed and deserves no reputation at all. This reminds me of this:


If anything such a platform would be incredibly valuable in that academics can also create profiles on them and have an additional CV of their activity in contributing back to their field. This can be used as a real additional metric towards providing someone tenure or getting lab positions.

"He raises the question, will Sci-Hub prove the ultimate disruptor and bring down the existing status quo in scholarly communications?"

I don't think so as, judging by the way things are going, OpenAccess will see to that.

Disclaimer: I work for a large "not-for-profit publisher" (make of that what you will) in the UK, and they're scrambling to protect their revenue stream - but not fast enough...

I use sci-hub regularly to look up medical papers in my work as a hospitalist. My community (US) hospital can’t afford to pay for subscriptions. Often, I need a case report or small journal article to better diagnose or treat a patient. Sci-hub has directly benefitted those people and I love it for its simple interface and ability to get you directly to the pdf with one click.

Perhaps my perspective is ignorant, but in my sub-field of computer science, most people put their papers/pre-prints openly accessible on arXiv, ResearchGate, or personal web pages (if the publisher is not open access). I've never used Sci-Hub because I never had to, and when at home or traveling, I rarely have to use my university's VPN, because I cannot read a paper "for free". This is probably a good cultural indicator of my domain.

Sometimes you want to read some seminal paper from the 70s (somehow, most of the seminal papers are from the seventies), and half of the time it's re-hosted by someone or some university and is freely available, but another half of the time, all you have is an acm.org or citeseer page without the "Download PDF" link. Now what? This stuff is 40 years old, by all rights it should be public domain by now.

One thing that is often overlooked is method that Scihub uses to obtain articles, and the impact that method has on the very researchers who use it.

Phishing scams are used to obtain the credentials of university accounts which are then used via a proxy on Scihub to obtain the requested article (it's quite clever..they seem to often silently proxy institution's Ezproxy with the phished credentials) . The same credentials given to Scihub are often not just used by Scihub, and are then used for further phishing or hacking by other third parties, causing harm to the phishing victim.

Having said that, library software providers and journal platforms should be looking at Scihub and learning from it. Users want an easy to use platform with minimal fuss or hoops to jump through.

Of course, this is just a tiny piece of the much larger problem of the rotten unsustainable commercial journal publishing ecosystem..

Do you have any evidence for this ? Because otherwise it's just a piece of FUD to poison public perception of scihub.

Especially the gratuitously cruel "credentials given to Scihub are often not just used by Scihub, and are then used for further phishing or hacking by other third parties".

Sorry I didn't respond earlier, think account was rate limited due to being new.

Not sure what sort of proof you want? "Gratuitously cruel" is quite an emotive description! The simplest example is the same phished accounts used by Scihub were also used to send more phishing emails to university and non-university email addresses.

Hopefully you'll see below from my other responses, I'm not here to turn people against SH (I admire it and what they did technically with creating their own proxy on too of other University proxies is really clever stuff!), but the access to articles need to come from somewhere, and I'm just pointing out my experience from working at a university (who I'm sure is sick of paying millions PA for resource access!).

Is this FUD or do you have anything to back this up with?

20 years of working in HE IT.

Random unaffiliated Scihub users in China contacting our University IT helpdesk after the phished accounts Scihub was using to proxy an article had reached it's EZproxy download limit and the 'you have been blocked' message they receive instructed them to contact our helpdesk!

You might be making quite the assumption that those account credentials were phished, rather than voluntarily donated to Scihub. Support for the project is pretty wide (probably well above 50% of academics), so I'd expect credentials from almost every university to be donated to them.

It is definitely a possibility. Our Security team have a quite rigourous follow-up process and that's never been raised but absolutely not out the realms of possibility. However some accounts for users in non academic departments have been used previously too. I can guarantee Sandra in HR has no interest in open science :-D

I should note that I am a huge advocate for OA and thinks the who journal ecosystem is a rotten house of cards waiting to tumble. I just see the direct impact of phished accounts at my institution..

I think you should have indicated that you weren't certain in the original accusation.

I'm not sure if you caught the above comment but I can be certain that professonal services staff (HR, admin etc) who's accounts have been used by Scihub definitely did not give their credentials voluntarily. They have zero interest in Scihub or access to material.

are u sure they were really "phished"? scihub would have no problems finding volunteers who would 'phish themselves'

And after donating credentials, the donor and IT are better off just claiming the password was "phished" (winkwink) when caught.


Proof required. You may work for Elsevier and just be spreading FUD.

I think pretty much any university could provide proof that Scihub uses phished credentials to proxy articles for their users. It's no secret in HE.

Here's the first Google link. It's far too alarmist but should at least give the gist. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/09/18/guest-post-th...

One other point I missed that we have to often deal with : when phished accounts are used to mass-download PDFs, many publisher sites auto-block the IP of the requester, which in this case is the University's Ezproxy server. This then means no user at the university can access the resource till the block is lifted (or they could just use Scihub in the meantime :~D ).

Have you seen this statement straight from the owner of sci-hub: https://engineuring.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/some-facts-on-s...

Interesting link thanks! I guess the pertinent part is :

I did not tell Science how credentials were donated: either voluntarily or not. I only told that I cannot disclose the source of the credentials. I assume that some credentials coming to Sci-Hub could have been obtained by phishing.

Here's what I think possibily happens : credentials are phished, with Scihub as one of the main "customers", alongside other groups or they are put into the (semi)public domain. They are then used for other nefarious purposes by non-scihub third parties (more phishing, network access etc).

Would university accounts still be phished without Scihub? Absolutely! Would the volume be so high? I'm not so sure. Plus it still causes headaches for fellow university users of the phished account if the proxy gets blocked... especially as publisher customer services are utterly terrible and institutions could be weeks without proxy access to one of the "biggie" publishers!

Having said that, library software providers and journal platforms should be looking at Scihub and learning from it. Users want an easy to use platform with minimal fuss or hoops to jump through.

If you bothered to read TFA, you'd have realized this statement was already addressed by TFA's point on publishers mistaking Sci-Hub's appeal as "simple to use" like single sign-on. Which makes me question your credibility.

Err I read TFA...Just read the top comments on this HN post to see ease of use is absolutely key to why folk use it.

My perspective is from the University side of things so can only speak for that rather than from the perspective of users who do not have access to the content at all.

I've spoken to users who workflow consists of googling the article title to get the DOI, then putting that DOI into Scihub to get the PDF, without even going near the University's library system. Most of the time the Library actually has an electronic copy, but the process to get them, even with SSO, is laborious and confusing. Just look at the SSO login screens for different publishers sites : some say 'sign in with single sign on', others say 'institutional login', or 'Shibboleth login' etc. How are University users expected to jump through these hoops when the can search for the title or DOI and get the PDF instantly?

And my perspective is from someone who does research on small-world networks in their spare time.

For me it's a matter of having access. I can easily find seminal papers like Kleinberg or Watts-Strogatz. Anything that is more recent and builds off of these papers tends to be locked up and I'm not able to afford buying these papers one-off, since I don't even know for sure they'll be in a direction useful to my research.

Libgen is another noble attempt to bypass the unreasonable prices and restrictions that publishers put on Textbooks.

i consider scihub to be the greatest democratization of information since the www. it will open up hitherto closed paths for people with nontraditional educational circumstances, and should generally accelerate the rate of progress.

Curiously, even if the quality is lower the open platform would presumably still win. There are a huge number of people in the category "desperately need to know, but don't realise that their need justifies paying to know". The sort of person who is comfortable reading an academic paper and will cheerfully implement something from arxiv, but their employer considers them a boring coder and isn't about to pay for access to a paywalled journal. Such people turn up in every discipline.

And academics have an incentive to get their ideas out there so have a tension present when they want to be published in a journal. It is easy to imagine unpaywalled research dominating paywalled. Who cares what people write if it can't be easily read? There are a lot of smart people out there...

Taxpayers pay for lots of research, and lots of other research is legally free in other websites, so why get ripped off by profiteering 3rd parties?

At least in my case, Sci-Hub was the difference between getting access to research and not -- and I'm based in the UK.

I've requested papers through public library inter-library loan services on a number of occasions, and on nearly every occasion was told "that paper/journal doesn't exist". Every single time, the article was sat online behind a paywall.

I don't have access to my alma mater's library and even if I did, I couldn't request research papers through them as a graduate (which is why I didn't pay the yearly alumni society membership and access fee).

So when the option is to pay £20 per page for a short summary article or get nothing -- you can bet I'll be hitting up Scihub.

>Sci-Hub does not have the opportunity to sell its platform, there is no advertising, or ‘social networking’ to obtain vital user data that it can monetise; it is a pure and unashamed ‘pirate’.

Black is white and white is black. They are not pirates and they have no connection with the 'pirates' political movement AFAIK. Feel free to contradict me, I'll learn something new.

When any platform really makes difference, their rise is only factor of time. Piracy of books/document/magazines is much easier than multimedia, also tons of cheap readers/tablets available(thanks, Amazon).

Also, there's a moral dilemma: piracy or pay (sometime) big money for education resources which can change the world - not a movie or cheap TV Show.

I don't see a moral dilemma. The journals don't pay anything for the research that they publish. In fact, they paywall research that is often funded by the public.

I understand why people like Sci-Hub, but basically it will not exist without work of journals that they scrape. If it will consist of unvalidated papers that everyone can submit it will be far less usable, it will be bloated with false research and non-science papers. I don't think that this format of work is vitable in a long term. As far as I see it should be converted to format like Apple Music, when new big player will come with some nominal subscription fee, like 10$/month and will open everything it has, or to Wikipedia format, when there is some comunity that can moderate open source articles and publish them.

I would love to see Apple Music for papers. I refuse to use Sci-Hub for its blatant piracy, but the basic idea really is what academia needs! We just need to figure out how to make it legal - like the music and movie industries did.

If I were a foreign government looking to get insight into classified research, Sci-Hub plus a targeted PDF exploit on a small set of domain-specific papers would definitely be high on my list of targets. Cycling through so many different domain names and TLDs makes it easy to spin up a clone that _largely_ forwards to the real one but gives you the ability to return some compromised papers.

I love sci-hub and have often used it, but the above idea has always been rattling around in my head and gives me pause.

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier. There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's outrageous and unacceptable.

"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly legal — there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can, something that's already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't immoral — it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we'll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz

July 2008, Eremo, Italy


Note that the article bends over backwards to underline the fact that Sci-Hub operates illegally. Although copyright infringement does occur, this is not true for all cases, i.e. Sci-Hub is not comparable to the Napster of old or lib-gen.

This is because some of the research (actually I would wager that at least >half, but don't have any figures to back this claim), is supported by public funds and hence should, by definition, not be copyrightable

Does it has C++ ISO standard pdf's.

Anyone who unironically thinks that the obviously positive effects of free and open science are even comparable to piracy is a lunatic.

Piracy also has obviously positive effects, and you'd be a fool to argue otherwise.

But it's worth being reminded that it's "piracy" that led to the modern forms of consuming art.

Before Napster the music industry would never move to the Spotify/Youtube model.

Before movie torrents the movie industry would never move to the Netflix model.

Ditto for books, games, what have you.

The exposure to other paradigms, other cultures, other forms of art have vastly improved the quality of life and even educated the masses (especially on less rich places of the world) on such a grand scale.

I think it would be a fools errand to try and prove that the benefits of one outweigh the other.

But it's fine, because, thankfully, we can have both.

Filmmakers fled the east coast to Los Angeles, where it was easier to evade motion-pictures patents held by Edison. This is how Hollywood was born. Piracy definitely helped create the biggest movie industry.

> positive effects of free and open science are even comparable to piracy

Could you elaborate on that one?

Also, this phrase suggests that you are of the opinion that piracy is unequivocally bad. Why not think about it as a two-sided coin, with a positive and a negative side?

if most experiments can’t be replicated how important are these papers on sci hub?

The knowledge or ability to test which ones are or are not seems pretty good...? Instead of them being locked away?

If anything, it's better to be able to read the actual paper than someone else's reporting on it. Far too often mainstream news prints "Eat X to cure Y". Having access to the paper one can better see if the claims are even worth considering.

Non replication is valuable on its own. You know what other people tried and it didn't work.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact