The Fight to Make Medical Knowledge Open Source

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Restoring the Commons: Why Should Corporate Publishers Profit at Patients’ Expense?

Owing to growing mistrust of Big Pharma and the corporatization of medical care, patients increasingly rely on Internet research to help us take take responsibility for our own health and wellness. Usually the biggest obstacle we face is the pay wall scientific journals and big name publishers like Elsevier have set up charging $30 a pop for readers to view scientific articles online. Thanks to Alexandra Elbakyan, a Kazakhstanian neuroscientist, millions of scientific papers are now freely downloadable from Sci-Hub, the file sharing site she started in 2011.

Elsevier, along with US courts, views Sci-Hub’s activities as Internet piracy. Ironically, however, Sci-Hub enjoys the support of many researchers. They resent being denied access to state-of-the-art research, while big publishers like Elsevier derive immense profits from their own work. For the most part, scientists surrender the copyright for research papers to academic journals and science publishing houses and recoup no financial reward themselves.*

According to John Bohannon writing in the April 2016 Science, Elsevier is more profitable than Apple, with over 30% of their 2014 revenue going to profit ($1 billion).

Who Uses Sci-Hub?

Sci-Hub now hosts over 50 million research papers. Between September 2015 and March 2016, they provided more than 28 million documents free to health providers, patients and researchers. Most of Sci-Hub’s users (4.4 million) are from China. India, at 3.4 million, is their second largest user. Iran is the third largest user, Russia the fourth and the US the fifth.

Sci-Hub Servers in Russia

In October last year, a New York judge ruled in favor of Elsevier, decreeing that Sci-Hub infringes on the publisher’s legal rights as a copyright holder ordering the website to desist. The injunction had little effect. Although the sci-hub.org web domain was seized in November 2015, the servers that host Sci-Hub are in Russia, which for obvious reasons has little interest in enforcing US intellectual property law. Within days, the site reappeared on a different domain.

Although Elbakyan declines to say exactly how she obtains the papers, she confirms it involves online credentials of academics and institutions with legitimate access to journal content. Her supporters donate the material voluntarily.

Read Bohannon’s article here

People can access Sci-Hub’s search and download service here: http://scihub.org/


*A growing number of scientists publish through the Public Library of Science (PLOS), believing their work should be freely available to health providers, patients and other researchers. PLOS is a nonprofit open access scientific publishing project aimed at creating a library of open access journals and other scientific literature.

6 thoughts on “The Fight to Make Medical Knowledge Open Source

    • Stuart, …but PLOS isn’t much help if you want to read something like this (below; Wiley). What’s the record for the oldest bricked paper?

      de Bruyn, C. A. L., & van Ekenstein, W. A. (1895). Action des alcalis sur les sucres, II. Transformation réciproque des uns dans les autres des sucres glucose, fructose et mannose. Recueil Des Travaux Chimiques Des Pays-Bas, 14(7), 203–216. http://doi.org/10.1002/recl.18950140703

      Like

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