Of Robin Hood, open access and academics

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons (By ChordBoard, 2008)

The legend of Robin Hood continues to be popular today, even though folklore says that he was an outlawed fugitive accused of “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor”. While the medieval Robin Hood used his archery skills to help the poor, a science graduate in Kazakhstan has been using her computer skills to help make academic research accessible to the poor. Meet Alexandra Elbakyan, the creator of Sci-Hub, a website that has been functional since 2011 and provides access to academic papers by bypassing journal pay-walls “illegally”.Elbakyan, like thousands of other graduate students in developing countries, was frustrated with the academic publishing industry which charges upwards of $30 for a single paper even though it pays nothing to the authors. This sense of deprivation led Elbakyan to create a online system which can make knowledge accessible to everyone, even if it were to use “illegal” methods of piracy and hacking.

scihub
Image source: Wikimedia Commons (By Jramanan, 2016)

In 2015, the academic publishing giant Elsevier filed a lawsuit against Sci-Hub and its creator, claiming millions in damages for copyright violation and other “crimes”. Far from being a fugitive in hiding, Elbakyan wrote a letter to the court justifying her reasons for operating the Sci-Hub website and argued for making academic publishing open. Even after Elsevier succeeded in shutting down the Sci-Hub domain in 2016 the website remains active on alternate “backup” domains. The academic community is divided on Elbakyan and Sci-Hub; but there have been calls for an evaluation of the outdated publishing model even though publishers argue that they do provide alternate avenues to make academic journals available at low or no-cost.

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Image source: Mattering Press

On the bright side, the science and technology studies (STS) community has taken note and is now making efforts to make relevant knowledge available via open access. A number of new STS journals are now available as open-access, including alternate forms of publishing such as film and art. A recent exciting development is the upcoming launch of Mattering Press which will produce open-access, STS themed peer-reviewed monographs and books. The first four books from Mattering Press will be available for download online when the Press is officially launched on July 25th.

 

What do you think about open-access publications in STS? Do you think STS knowledge should become open-access?

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