A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles - almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published - freely available online. And she's now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world's biggest publishers.
For those of you who aren't already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it's sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn't afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it's since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court - a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.
"Payment of $32 is just insane when you need to skim or read tens or hundreds of these papers to do research. I obtained these papers by pirating them," Elbakyan told Torrent Freak last year."Everyone should have access to knowledge regardless of their income or affiliation. And that’s absolutely legal."
If it sounds like a modern day Robin Hood struggle, that's because it kinda is. But in this story, it's not just the poor who don't have access to scientific papers - journal subscriptions have become so expensive that leading universities such as Harvard and Cornell have admitted they can no longer afford them. Researchers have also taken a stand - with 15,000 scientists vowing to boycott publisher Elsevier in part for its excessive paywall fees.
Don't get us wrong, journal publishers have also done a whole lot of good - they've encouraged better research thanks to peer review, and before the Internet, they were crucial to the dissemination of knowledge.
But in recent years, more and more people are beginning to question whether they're still helping the progress of science. In fact, in some cases, the 'publish or perish' mentality is creating more problems than solutions, with a growing number of predatory publishers now charging researchers to have their work published - often without any proper peer review process or even editing.
"They feel pressured to do this," Elbakyan wrote in an open letter to the New York judge last year. "If a researcher wants to be recognised, make a career - he or she needs to have publications in such journals."
That's where Sci-Hub comes into the picture. The site works in two stages. First of all when you search for a paper, Sci-Hub tries to immediately download it from fellow pirate database LibGen. If that doesn't work, Sci-Hub is able to bypass journal paywalls thanks to a range of access keys that have been donated by anonymous academics (thank you, science spies).
This means that Sci-Hub can instantly access any paper published by the big guys, including JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier, and deliver it to you for free within seconds. The site then automatically sends a copy of that paper to LibGen, to help share the love.
It's an ingenious system, as Simon Oxenham explains for Big Think:
"In one fell swoop, a network has been created that likely has a greater level of access to science than any individual university, or even government for that matter, anywhere in the world. Sci-Hub represents the sum of countless different universities' institutional access - literally a world of knowledge."
That's all well and good for us users, but understandably, the big publishers are pissed off. Last year, a New York court delivered an injunction against Sci-Hub, making its domain unavailable (something Elbakyan dodged by switching to a new location), and the site is also being sued by Elsevier for "irreparable harm" - a case that experts are predicting will win Elsevier around $750 to $150,000 for each pirated article. Even at the lowest estimations, that would quickly add up to millions in damages.
But Elbakyan is not only standing her ground, she's come out swinging, claiming that it's Elsevier that have the illegal business model.
"I think Elsevier’s business model is itself illegal," she told Torrent Freak, referring to article 27 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits".
She also explains that the academic publishing situation is different to the music or film industry, where pirating is ripping off creators. "All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold," she said.
Elbakyan hopes that the lawsuit will set a precedent, and make it very clear to the scientific world either way who owns their ideas.
"If Elsevier manages to shut down our projects or force them into the darknet, that will demonstrate an important idea: that the public does not have the right to knowledge," she said. "We have to win over Elsevier and other publishers and show that what these commercial companies are doing is fundamentally wrong."
To be fair, Elbakyan is somewhat protected by the fact that she's in Russia and doesn't have any US assets, so even if Elsevier wins their lawsuit, it's going to be pretty hard for them to get the money.
Still, it's a bold move, and we're pretty interested to see how this fight turns out - because if there's one thing the world needs more of, it's scientific knowledge. In the meantime, Sci-Hub is still up and accessible for anyone who wants to use it, and Elbakyan has no plans to change that anytime soon.
Has this ever happened to you? While researching an important paper, you come across an online journal database that claims to connect academics to high-quality peer-reviewed research. Intrigued, you search for keywords related to your topic, only to discover that you must pay a hefty subscription fee to access the service.
Subscription fees and paywalls are often the bane of students and academics, especially those at small institutions who don't have access to many article directories and repositories.
Whether you're working on an undergraduate paper, a PhD dissertation, or a medical research study, we want to help you find tools to locate and access the information you need to produce well-researched, compelling, and innovative writing.
Check out the top 21 free online journal and research databases in this article, and click the link below to download the full list of 101 databases, completely free!
The Top 21 Free Online Journal and Research Databases
CORE is a multidisciplinary aggregator of open access research. It allows users to search more than 66 million open access articles. While most of these link to the full-text article on the original publisher's site, five million records are hosted directly on CORE.
In addition to a straightforward keyword search, CORE offers advanced search options to filter results by publication type, year, language, journal, repository, and author.
Functioning as a research and publishing network, ScienceOpen offers open access to more than 28 million articles in all areas of science. Although you do need to register to view the full text of the articles, registration is free. The advanced search function is highly detailed, allowing you to find precisely the research you're looking for.
The Berlin- and Boston-based company was founded in 2013 with the goal to "facilitate open and public communications between academics and to allow ideas to be judged on their merit, regardless of where they come from."
3. Directory of Open Access Journals
A multidisciplinary, community-curated directory, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) gives researchers access to high-quality, peer-reviewed journals. It has archived more than two million articles from 9,519 journals, allowing you to either browse by subject or search by keyword.
The site was launched in 2003 with the aim of increasing the visibility of open access scholarly journals. Content on the site covers subjects from science to law to fine arts and everything in between.
4. Education Resources Information Center
The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), of the Institution of Education Sciences, allows you to search by topic for material related to the field of education. Links lead to other sites, where you may have to purchase the information, but you can search for full-text articles only.
The service primarily indexes journals, grey literature (such as technical reports, white papers, and government documents), and books. All sources of material on ERIC go through a formal review process prior to being indexed.
5. arXiv e-Print Archive
The arXiv e-Print Archive has been around since 1991 and is a well-known resource in the fields of mathematics and computer science. It is run by Cornell University Library and now offers open access to more than one million e-prints.
6. Social Science Research Network
The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) is a collection of papers from the social sciences community. The site offers more than 700,000 abstracts and more than 600,000 full-text papers.
There is not yet a specific option to search for only full-text articles, but because most of the papers on the site are free access, it is not often that you encounter a paywall. You must become a member to use the services, but registration is free and enables you to interact with other scholars around the world.
7. Public Library of Science
Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a big player in the world of open access science. Publishing seven open access journals, the nonprofit organization is committed to facilitating openness in academic research. According to the site, "all PLOS content is at the highest possible level of open access, meaning that scientific articles are immediately and freely available to anyone, anywhere."
OpenDOAR, or the Directory of Open Access Repositories, is a comprehensive resource for finding open access journals and articles. Using Google Custom Search, OpenDOAR combs through open access repositories around the world and returns relevant research in all disciplines.
The repositories it searches through are assessed and categorized by OpenDOAR staff to ensure they meet quality standards.
9. Bielefeld Academic Search Engine
The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) is operated by the Bielefeld University Library in Germany, and it offers more than 100 million documents from more than 4,000 sources. Sixty percent of its content is open access, and you can filter your search accordingly.
10. Digital Library of the Commons Repository
Run by Indiana University, the Digital Library of the Commons (DLC) Repository is a multidisciplinary journal repository that allows users to check thousands of free and open access articles from around the world. You can browse by document type, date, author, title, and more or search for keywords relevant to your topic.
11. CIA World Factbook
The CIA World Factbookis a little different from the other resources on this list in that it is not an online journal directory or repository. It is, however, a highly useful research database for academics in a variety of disciplines. All the information is free to access, and it provides facts about every country in the world, including information about history, geography, transportation, and much more.
Paperity boasts being the "first multidisciplinary aggregator of open access journals and papers." Their focus is helping you avoid paywalls while connecting you to authoritative research.
In addition to providing readers with easy access to thousands of journals, Paperity seeks to help authors reach their audiences and help journals raise exposure to boost readership.
13. dblp Computer Science Bibliography
The dblp Computer Science Bibliography is an online index of major computer science publications. Although it provides access to both free access articles and those behind a paywall, you can limit your search to only full-text articles. The site indexes more than three million publications, making it an invaluable resource in the world of computer science.
EconBiz is a great resource for economic and business studies. A service of the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, it offers access to full texts online, with the option of searching for open access material only.
Don't forget to download the full list of 101 free online journal and research databases.
15. BioMed Central
BioMed Central provides open access research from more than 290 peer-reviewed journals in the fields of biology, clinical medicine, and health. You can browse these journals by subject or title, or you can search all articles for your required keyword.
A multidisciplinary search engine, JURN provides you with links to various scholarly websites, articles, and journals that are all free access or open access. Specifically covering the fields of the arts, humanities, business, law, nature, science, and medicine, JURN has indexed almost 5,000 repositories to help you find exactly what you're looking for.
Dryad is a digital repository of curated, open access scientific research. It is run by a not-for-profit membership organization that aims to "promote a world where research data is openly available, integrated with the scholarly literature, and routinely reused to create knowledge." It is free to access, but note that there is a publishing charge associated if you wish to publish your data in Dryad.
Run by the British Library, EThOS allows you to search over 400,000 doctoral theses in a variety of disciplines. Although some full texts are behind paywalls, you can limit your search to items available for immediate download, either directly through EThOS or through an institution's website.
PubMed, of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, is a very well-known research platform in the fields of science and medicine. It offers access to "more than 26 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books." While many resources are behind paywalls, you can filter your search to view free full texts only, making this an even more valuable resource.
20. Semantic Scholar
A unique and easy-to-use resource, Semantic Scholar harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to efficiently sort through millions of science-related papers based on your search terms. According to the site, although some articles are behind paywalls, "the data [they] have for those articles is limited," so you can expect to receive mostly full-text results. Another feature is the extensive advanced search options, which allow you to search by cell type and brain region, among other things.
Taking its name from Zenodotus, the first librarian of the ancient library of Alexandria, Zenodo is a tool that was "built and developed by researchers, to ensure that everyone can join in open science." You can sort by keyword, title, journal, and more and download open access documents directly from the site.
Find More Great Online Journal and Research Databases
If you're looking for more great online journal and research databases to help you find exactly the information you need to make your next paper outstanding, click here to download full list of 101 databases, completely free.
Did we miss any? Help your fellow academics by letting us know on Facebook or Twitter which online journal directories you use the most.
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