The Robin Hood of science

Should scientific articles be freely available on the Web? Science Hub thinks so. Elsevier does not.

In October 2015, the Science Hub website (scihub.org) was closed down by order of an US court at the request of Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers in the world. Elsevier had accused scihub.org of copyright infringement. But the site quickly reappeared under a new name — sci-hub.io — and this time, it is based outside the US, reports French daily Le Monde.

“We fight inequality in knowledge access across the world,” claims the website. “The scientific knowledge should be available for every person, regardless of their income, social status, geographical location and etc.”

The site was first launched in 2011 by Alexandra Elbakyan, a neuroscience researcher from Kazakhstan living in Russia. When she studied in Kazakhstan, she claims in a letter filed for the case, she didn’t have sufficient funds to access to research articles. She would have had to pay US$32 for each one, which she felt was outrageous given that she had to go through dozens, even hundreds, of articles.

To gain access to articles, she pirated them. She later found web forums where researchers made them available. She claims that Sci-hub simply formalizes this informal network.

Elbakyan has wide support in the scientific community, because prices are constantly increasing. In 2012, more than 15,000 researchers signed a petition, The Cost of Knowledge, which denounced the exorbitant prices charged by Elsevier (it publishes more than 2,000 scientific reviews a year). Even Harvard University joined the opposition, explaining that it pays US$3.75 million a year for its subscriptions to reviews.

Elsevier claims Elbakyan made money from her initiative because she asked her readers to make contributions. Elbakyan did not deny that she asked for support contributions. But she also noted that these are voluntary. Even if readers don’t contribute, they still have free access to the full article base.

About the Author

Yan Barcelo


Yan Barcelo is a journalist in Montreal.

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