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Subscription Journals Are Doomed Because of Sci-Hub's Big Cache of Pirated Papers, Suggests Data Analyst (sciencemag.org) 100

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: There is no doubt that Sci-Hub, the infamous -- and, according to a U.S. court, illegal -- online repository of pirated research papers, is enormously popular. But just how enormous is its repository? That is the question biodata scientist Daniel Himmelstein at the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues recently set out to answer, after an assist from Sci-Hub. Their findings, published in a preprint on the PeerJ journal site on July 20, indicate that Sci-Hub can instantly provide access to more than two-thirds of all scholarly articles, an amount that Himmelstein says is "even higher" than he anticipated. For research papers protected by a paywall, the study found Sci-Hub's reach is greater still, with instant access to 85% of all papers published in subscription journals. For some major publishers, such as Elsevier, more than 97% of their catalog of journal articles is being stored on Sci-Hub's servers -- meaning they can be accessed there for free. In a chat with ScienceInsider, Himmelstein concludes that the results of his study could mark "the beginning of the end" for paywalled research.
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Subscription Journals Are Doomed Because of Sci-Hub's Big Cache of Pirated Papers, Suggests Data Analyst

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  • Opportunity cost (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 27, 2017 @07:31PM (#54895483)

    I have access to pretty well every journal I need through my university's library. I still use Sci-Hub. One DOI entry and I can have my paper. 5 minutes of bullshit and jumping through menus to get a preview and abstract, then still need to hunt around on the individual page for download link (if it exists - if its offered as a PDF, not some protected web reader nonsense).

    I'll stick with the pirate way.

    • Re:Opportunity cost (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 27, 2017 @07:43PM (#54895557)

      Different AC.

      I'm in a similar situation, except my university's library doesn't subscribe to all the journals I need, or they have odd restrictions. For example, for some of the major journals in my field, university staff and students can access current and past PDF copies of papers back to around the year 2000 or so. Previously-published papers, even when they're available as PDFs, are not available because it costs more for our university. Thus, I have to go to the paper archives, find the printed journal, find the article, and photocopy it. Insurmountable? Not at all, but why waste 30-60 minutes of my time when I can just copy-paste the DOI into Sci-Hub and get the PDF right away?

      Other papers are in conference proceedings and only available in paper form in libraries in foreign countries. Yes, I can (and have) requested interlibrary loans, or have staff in the foreign library find the paper, scan it, and email it to me (my institution pays for this), but why should this even be necessary? Again, DOI in Sci-Hub and I have a PDF. Done. Same result, a hell of a lot less hassle.

      Don't even get me started on review articles in huge publications that cost a thousand dollars or something for 1,400 pages of content that you don't want and 6 pages that you do, or journals that keep papers from the 1960s and earlier behind paywalls. Journals that charge you $6 to "rent" a paper for 48 hours (no saving, printing, etc.), $15 to be able to save it, and $30 to be able to print it are complete bullshit.

      Gabe Newell of Valve said this about game piracy, and it applies just as well to scientific literature:

      "We think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem," he said. "If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable."

      In this case, Sci-Hub is far more valuable in that it provides what I want, immediately, and in a convenient form. The fact that it costs nothing is secondary.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 27, 2017 @08:47PM (#54895813)

        The fact that it costs nothing is secondary.

        Gabe was talking about games at the time. In this case, the pricing is so absolutely outrageous - private researchers could easily pay $100 for 24 hour access to a specific paper, and they may have to go through dozens or hundreds of papers to write their own work, even if they aren't even cited - that it's nearly impossible to do research or even simply keep yourself informed without an organization with a much larger budget backing your efforts. So here, it's very much an issue, as is the fact that in most cases the research is paid for by the general public, in part or in full, never mind the fact that copyright law is currently grossly and dangerously distorted in favor of large corporations.

        Sci-hub makes it possible for the people who paid for scientific research (the public) to actually access that research without paying a private company that these days does little to nothing to actually earn a fee that's probably well over a thousand times more expensive that it should be.

      • Preach it v(what Gabe said).

        After a very belated cabinet upgrade I finally joined the ranks of tv streaming service users.

        In every measure if usability it's worse than the Pirate Bay.

        With the Pirate Bay (or Amazon music), I search for what I want, download a file then play it anywhere, anyhow I like.

        With NowTV it is much worse. First, I can't just go a la cart : I have to sign up for a service because it's designed to keep me paying even after I've lost interest. Second, they've decide that me giving them m

  • There's no reason why peer review can't be done online en masse by all scientists. They could even rate papers on their credibility.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because that works so well on Yelp.

      Having a PhD doesn't magically turn you into someone who's *not* petty, childish, ignorant, and completely willing to attack someone's work out of personal animus or a desire to punish thoughtcrime.

      • True, but what does having a publisher acting as a grossly overpriced intermediary contribute? It's become abundantly clear that many (most?) don't do any vetting of their volunteer reviewers, much less their paying submitters.

      • Because that works so well on Yelp.

        Having a PhD doesn't magically turn you into someone who's *not* petty, childish, ignorant, and completely willing to attack someone's work out of personal animus or a desire to punish thoughtcrime.

        That's why peer reviews have to show and sign their work, as well as being in the same discipline as the reviewed paper. But there is no reason this process cannot take place on cheap public websites (not those 'open access' sites where reading is free but posting a paper costs thousands). Those are run by traditional publishers in a last-ditch attempt to keep their model afloat.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Oh, yes. Far to many bad papers get published and far too many good papers turn out to be difficult to publish. I have gotten contacted by conference chairs several times by now because I was the only reviewer that rejected a paper, but apparently was also the only one that actually read and understood it. (None of these got published.)

  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday July 27, 2017 @07:35PM (#54895503) Homepage Journal

    Paywalled research is just a bad idea.

    Yes, I understand that the peer review and publication process has to be paid for, but restricting access to the fruits of scientific progress -- and therefore also limiting further progress! -- is the wrong way to do it.

    My guess is that we'll transition to an "author pays" model. Researchers employed by institutions will have their fees covered by their employer. Researchers who don't have that option are already disadvantaged under the current model, so the fact that they'll still be disadvantaged isn't so terrible. Plus they'll still be able to publish in free online archives that accept non-reviewed and unedited work. Really good work should find it fairly easy to get someone to fund the peer review and editing required to get it into a journal.

    • Re:Good (Score:4, Interesting)

      by heypete ( 60671 ) <pete@heypete.com> on Thursday July 27, 2017 @07:49PM (#54895589) Homepage

      Yes, I understand that the peer review and publication process has to be paid for, but restricting access to the fruits of scientific progress -- and therefore also limiting further progress! -- is the wrong way to do it.

      In my field (physics and meteorite research), peer reviewers work for free. They're not paid by the journal, though I'd argue that they should be paid at least a reasonable fee for their time and expertise.

      And yes, the publication process must be paid for, and that's quite reasonable. Still, the journals charge far more for subscriptions than the cost of typesetting, printing, binding, distribution, and a modest profit.

      Personally, I prefer to publish in the journal maintained by the scholarly society relevant to my field rather than the other major journal in the field that's published by Elsevier, even though the latter has a slightly higher impact factor. The society journal is essentially the journal-of-record for the field and their publication costs are quite minimal. They contract with an outside publisher (one of the big publishers, but who's remarkably non-gangster-like in their operations) to actually handle the printing, distribution, and online access, but otherwise maintain control of the content and policies, and strongly push for open access.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      The reality is that can all be done far better by public universities. A global link of all public universities sharing content between themselves and the public. Distributed and mirrored keep the resource impact down on individual universities and that pool can also work to create open content, open reference material, making it far cheaper for students (free versus wasting thousands of dollars).

    • My guess is that we'll transition to an "author pays" model.

      Which is arguably just as bad as paywalled research for exactly the same reason. Now those without financial resources will be unable to publish their research for others to find.

      What we need is to revert back to the original scheme from whence the current journals grew. Scientific societies published collections of papers but as the task of collating, refereeing, assembling into volumes and then publishing grew to be a major task publishing companies took over.

      However, modern technology makes all of

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It certainly shouldn't be under copyright for 70+ years! That's BS given the level of public support and the fact that a publishing business would go under if they couldn't make their money back in 20 years or less.

      Heck, papers from the fricking 1800s are easier to obtain these days than papers from, say, the 1960s, because organizations have scanned in their collections and put them on the web for free. The publishers are still asking you to pay for access to articles from 50 years ago. That's nuts. Th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Need to find out how to mirror Sci-Hub before it gets taken down.

  • by ffkom ( 3519199 ) on Thursday July 27, 2017 @07:38PM (#54895527)
    Just out of curiousity I searched for a (not at all famous) paper I published in the 1990s. Found it on Sci-Hub by just entering a few key words in a search engine - conveniently retrievable.

    I remembered that at some point in time, a state-funded institution did officially archive my paper. But it took me about half an hour to finally find it, buried behind multiple retrieval forms and links, with no chance to find it had I not looked up its entire, exact title before.

    No question, Sci-Hub did the better job of keeping my little contribution to the world's knowledge available to the public.
    • I really don't have a problem with Sci-Hub or other sites like it because a lot of the research published in those journals comes from taxpayer funds to some degree. I don't really understand why more state (or federal as the case may be) governments don't put stipulations that the research funded by taxpayer dollars is open to the public. Theoretically any other government information (aside from classified information or the like) is public record, so I'm not sure why this should be any different.
      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        Mostly because they've made a distinction between "freely available" as in accessible vs "freely available" as in beer. While some journals do indeed limit themselves to members and whatnot, the majority of them are happy to sell you a license for any paper you'd like.

        Also, most other government data is like that as well. If you make a freedom of information request for example, you usually will be charged a processing fee. And that's just purely a government interaction -- throw in a private profit-driv

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday July 27, 2017 @07:51PM (#54895603)
    not picking on journals
  • For some major publishers, such as Elsevier, more than 97% of their catalog of journal articles is being stored on Sci-Hub's servers -- meaning they can be accessed there for free.

    Couldn't have happened to a nicer publisher.

    • Personally I prefer "Couldn't have happened to a more deserving ____"
      Same initial dose of sarcastic irony, plus the lingering savor of literal truth once you realize the actual intent.

      • That also works for "nicer"...
        • Only if you include the quotes.

          There's always genuinely nicer folks it could have happened to - in fact it often happens to them first since they're not as ruthless.

      • I have reviewed you post and it has been rejected for the following reason:

        [x] Rejection not presented in the form of a rejection letter.

        Please re-write and resubmit. Don't forget to include the resubmission fee.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 27, 2017 @08:18PM (#54895723)

    The dirty secret of the academic publishing world is that it's a enormous scam designed to funnel taxpayers money into the pockets of rich vendors, who have repeatedly failed to do their jobs because they have no competition and act as a monopolistic racket. Let's not even talk about the kickbacks and benefits they give to the people at these public institutions that are supposed to be upholding the public good but are just looking to inflate their budgets and their ego.

    The thing researchers love about sci-hub is that you type in the article name, and you get the article. Imagine that! Something the web search industry figured out 15 years ago has yet to make it into the proprietary morass of vendor locked in library IT systems.... because the academic publishing world is hopelessly corrupt and moribund.

    There is no opportunity for a free market force to come in and force these leeches on the taxpayers to do their fucking jobs properly - and their job is to index and store information after it has been verified by peer review. Nothing more, nothing less. It's not complicated. It's not rocket science and it's not brain surgery.

    Scihub is the best thing that has ever happened to academic publishing. The management and shareholders of Elsevier and the rest of these thieves should be ashamed of themselves. Ripping off the public for decades on end. It's time to stop.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Thursday July 27, 2017 @11:03PM (#54896333)

      I fully agree. One of the reasons I made sure to keep my online rights when publishing my PhD thesis. Had to go to a small publisher for that. All my papers are online as well, for the journal ones (few, that process just takes far too long got CS) as tech-reports with the same title.

      The thing is, I already got paid for all my research by public funding. I consider it highly immortal to ask people to pay for access after that. Personally, I think that publicly funded research should come with a hard requirement that anything published must be free to access for anybody and I expect we will basically get that, as eventually nobody will read the commercial journals anymore and their relevance will go away.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I consider it highly immortal to ask people to pay for access after that.

        Immortal is a bit exaggerated. Copyright usually expires after 100-150 years.

        • by gweihir ( 88907 )

          For Disney, it is currently defined at "now + 20 years", so I would say "forever" is a good approximation.

    • by Holi ( 250190 )
      "There is no opportunity for a free market force to come in and force these leeches on the taxpayers to do their fucking jobs properly "

      Isn't that what Sci-Hub is doing? Are they not the market force?
  • Greed, declining review quality, slow publication, etc. Just like other copyright industries, but probably even more stupid than most. And no loss at all to humanity when these all finally fail. Content will of course continued to be published, after all the authors and the reviewers (the two critical parts of scientific publishing) never got any compensation from journals at all. This will also allow to make a real effort to fix the currently mostly broken review system.

  • This is what Aaron was set up to do when he got in trouble. Many years later, and on a much larger scale, data clearly wants to be free.
  • A lot of research is funded by governments, yet the resulting reports should be locked away by some publisher who doesn't contribute any real value.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the times where print was difficult and expensive you had a role. And you filled that role reasonably well, investing in management and editing, in exchange for some pay.

    These days you skip management and editing and just focus on *GIMME MONEY*. So it's about time you shrivel up and die. You ceased to be useful.

  • Whether it is right to make scientific articles, published by commercial journals, freely available - and on the other hand whether it is right to hamper the freedom of scientific research by making the articles prohibitively expensive - is perhaps open to discussion, although I personally think all scientific research should be freely accessible. But it is clear from the popularity of sites such as this, that there is a huge desire (as well as a need) for open access to research. Unless the commercial scie

  • ...the better for science.

  • Portable, cheap, and you just need light. And you don't have to worry about losing something cheap.
  • . . . .why aren't the results available free for any citizen ? After all, we ALREADY paid for it !!

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