|I make science puns, but only periodically.|
Sci-Hub is a free, online repository of 48 million academic papers. It was launched by Kazakhstani graduate student Alexandra Elbakyan. Unlike most graduate students, Elbakyan is not pondering Foucauldian discourse and beer prices, but hiding out in Russia. According to a recent New York Times article, Elbakyan's struggles to access research papers inspired her to set up the site so that other students and researchers would have the same access to knowledge as researchers at well-funded universities. The repository is generated by downloading papers from publisher's paywalled websites using anonymous 'donated' subscription credentials.
|The Peer Review Publication Process|
Kriegeskorte N. (2012) "Open evaluation"
Frontiers in computational neuroscience.
The gold standard of academic publishing is peer-reviewed publications in which papers are reviewed by other experts. The scale of these operations is impressive:
In the primary research market during 2014, over 1.1m research papers were submitted to Elsevier. Over 16,000 editors managed the peer review and selection of these papers, resulting in the publication of more than 360,000 articles in over 2,000 journals. (RELX 2014 Annual Report p. 14)In many cases, all copyright is assigned to the publisher. Like academic patenting, private ownership of copyrights on publicly-funded research is contentious. This publishing system also channels public funds into private hands (nothing new, see virtually every other industry.) Sci-hub rejects private ownership and paywalls as impediments to the flow of knowledge and instead infringes. Alternatives to Sci-Hub tend to operate within the confines of copyright.
|Value Chain in Academic Publishing|
Blue is Academia, Red is Publishers
Combine this odd value chain with the importance of publications, the expectation that academic research and knowledge be made freely available, and the low marginal cost of digital media (the cost of making copies of digital media is nearly zero), and criticism abounds.
There are at least two ways of viewing this supplier-consumer-intermediary structure:
- Academia is a resource-rich developing country: Academia is akin to countries who export raw materials (research) and then pay to import them in their processed form (papers.) Publishers, who are developed countries and have processing capacity, exploit their position to capture the value created by academics.
- Academia is an outsourcer: Academia outsources research quality control, the marketing and distribution of papers and HR services (i.e. peer review as performance reviews) to publishers. By outsourcing these processes, universities benefit from the efficiencies of big publishers who have economies of scale.