G. Monbiot, “Scientific publishing is a rip-off. We fund the research – it should be free”

Sci-Hub, [the] pirate web scraper service [established by Alexandra Elbakyan], has done more than any government to tackle one of the biggest rip-offs of the modern era: the capture of publicly funded research that should belong to us all . . .

Half the world’s research is published by five companies: Reed Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell and the American Chemical Society. Libraries must pay a fortune for their bundled journals, while those outside the university system are asked to pay $20, $30, sometimes $50 to read a single article.

While open-access journals have grown rapidly, researchers still have to read the paywalled articles in commercial journals. And, because their work is assessed by those who might fund, reward or promote them according to the impact of the journals in which they publish, many feel they have no choice but to surrender their research to these companies. Science ministers come and go without saying a word about this rip-off . . .

Like people in many countries where scholarship is poorly funded, Elbakyan discovered that she could not complete her neuroscience research without pirated articles. Outraged by the journals’ padlock on knowledge, she used her hacking skills to share papers more widely. Sci-Hub allows free access to 70m papers, otherwise locked behind paywalls . . .

In the great majority of cases, the research reported has been funded by taxpayers. Most of the work involved in writing the papers, reviewing and editing them is carried out at public expense by people at universities. Yet this public asset has been captured, packaged and sold back to us for phenomenal fees. Those who pay most are publicly funded libraries. Taxpayers must shell out twice: first for the research, then to see the work they have sponsored. There might be legal justifications for this practice. There are no ethical justifications.

Alexandra Elbakyan lives in hiding, beyond the jurisdiction of the US courts, and moves Sci-Hub between domains as it gets taken down.

George Monbiot, “Scientific publishing is a rip-off. We fund the research – it should be free”, in theGuardian.com ; London : Guardian News and Media Limited, 13 september 2018 (excerpt La Litera información)

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