Today, we have an interview with Sci-Hub creator Alexandra Elbakyan, who is committed to the free flow of scientific knowledge and is challenging the unfair journal system, which charges outrageous fees to view scientific publications.
Hiding scientific knowledge behind paywalls
Around 70% of scientific publications are hidden behind paywalls, restricting access to knowledge and progress. We believe that this is unfair and that putting profit before the health of others is morally repugnant, and this is part of why we support the concept of Open Science, particularly the work of Alexandra Elbakyan.
Alexandra is the founder of Sci-Hub, a website devoted to providing scientists, students, and researchers with free access to scientific publications that would otherwise be locked behind paywalls.
Sci-Hub bypasses the publishers’ paywalls by allowing access through educational institution proxies. Sci-Hub then stores papers in its own repository for anyone to obtain and benefit from the knowledge contained. It is thought that over 67 million scientific publications and articles are now available via the Sci-Hub service.
The system is holding back scientific progress
Many researchers have told us that Sci-Hub is really important in helping them gain access to research that they could otherwise not reach due to the unreasonable prices of journals. When researchers working on new, potentially life-saving, medicines and therapies cannot review the existing data due to the cost of accessing this information, it becomes a very serious matter indeed, because they cannot build on top of existing data to push our knowledge further.
Our colleagues at non-profit public health organizations claim that their quite modest budgets don’t allow them to subscribe to any scientific journals. They consider themselves lucky if some of their members happen to be affiliated with scientific institutions and can find full-text articles for them. How can they make any sort of informed decision about public health if they cannot get a full picture of the problems they are dealing with?
The third type of complaint comes from doctors who wish to remain properly informed about the most recent clinical trial results in order to be able to help their patients better. This is where the situation becomes really sad.
The lack of access to science is a serious problem
When both scientists and the public are complaining about a lack of access, this highlights the significance of the problem. Of course, everyone deserves fair compensation for the jobs they are doing, but it is very hard to justify why the results of taxpayer-funded research cannot be freely accessed by the public when they have already paid for it once.
On one hand, the current model of placing science behind paywalls is not only limiting public access to knowledge, it is also holding back scientific progress. On the other hand, the attempts to change this system often face quite strong resistance. Sci-Hub is facing legal action by publishers who argue that putting their articles into open access is theft and wish to close Sci-Hub down. It is our view that the system needs to change and that a fairer way that facilitates the sharing of knowledge should be created for the benefit of society and scientific progress. Luckily, Alexandra’s activities keep the attention of the global community on this critical issue, and in the last few years, we have seen Open Science initiatives develop in many countries, particularly in the European Union.
LEAF Director Elena Milova interviewed Alexandra last year, and Elena was fortunate enough to get in touch with Alexandra recently and interview her about the progress in her work.
We would like to thank Alexandra for taking the time to speak with us, and we appreciate the work that she is doing for the scientific community.
Paywall: The Business of Scholarship
It seems that we are not alone in our disgust for the current paywalling of science. Earlier this year, researchers at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York decided that this problem deserves the attention of decision makers and the general public, and they started producing a documentary in order to reveal the flaws of the existing system of scientific publications and to propose solutions. This documentary is Paywall: The Business of Scholarship.
The producer of the documentary, journalist and filmmaker Jason Schmitt, contacted university representatives, university and public libraries, open access publishing houses, and researchers around the globe to ask them if they have ever hit paywalls and how paywalls affected their professional activities. They were brave enough to reveal the unpleasant truth about the problem of paywalls, and their stories were collected into a powerful film.
Lifespan.io conducted an interview with Alexandra Elbakyan last year, and Jason contacted us to ask our permission to include it in the movie. However, when Elena took a look at the project’s website, she decided that the team deserved much more support, so she found a way to create new footage with Alexandra specifically for the documentary. Preparing it was truly a team effort: our supporter from Russia Ivan Kondratiev served as an operator, and Josh Conway, who was our volunteer editor at the time, agreed to help Elena edit the translation.
On September 5th, the global premiere of Paywall: The Business of Scholarship will take place at 5:30 PM at the Landmark Theatre in Washington, D.C.; in October, there will be a screening at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, where it will be included in the annual festival in support of open science. Information on the other screenings happening in the U.S. and other countries can be found here. To show our support, we will also be screening the film on launch day on our Facebook page.
We are very happy that we were able to contribute to the very important cause of scientific progress and the open sharing of knowledge. The movie has an open license, which basically means that anyone is entitled to spread it however they want. Once the movie is released, we suggest that you help spread it as wide as possible so that more heads can work on the problem of paywalls and find a way to solve them.
Update September 6th: You can find the full film in both English and Russian language format here.