I am writing the revision of my latest manuscript: choleric Reviewer #2 argues that Bogdanov (2010) has already done the same work. Surprise! Bogdanov (2010) is not exactly available…the article is behind a paywall at $30. Yes, it’s unfortunately true, universities cannot grant me access to all the science, but will I pay? For a moment, I flirt with the idea of building a website with all the downloaded science freely accessible on a server in Russia and becoming the Batman of modern Science…
Wait a second, someone has already done that! Alexandra Elbakyan is a neuro-technology researcher from Kazakhstan and she funded the Sci-Hub project: a pirate server where all science is available for free!
The PirateBay of Science: Sci-Hub and LibGen
Sci-Hub and LibGen are your access to fee-free science. Virtually all scientific papers that have ever been published (48 million) are accessible with a simple search. You just put the title or doi in the search bar and the website first searches for the article on LibGen (Library Genesis). If the article is there, enter the captcha, sometimes click on random Russian words and voilà! You have your article.
If your article is not there, you click the correct link on a Google Scholar page and the website automatically tries a series of university proxies to bypass the paywall. It uses the same proxys as the ones you use when accessing the library from home. The good news is that the downloaded article will then be stored on LibGen and the next person will not need to use proxies.
If the proxy part fails, try again using the direct link method: go to the paywall and add .sci-hub.io in the middle of the address, just after the .com.
You may start to get the sulfurous smell behind the illegal downloading of scientific articles. If you are worried about the moral question, you may change your mind after reading my other article about the reality of science publishing. If you are worried about the risk, it brings me to the next point.
Is it Risky?
No, using the Sci-Hub project presents no risk to you. Your internet service provider has no right to track or restrain your access to a website. Only a court can do that, in which case the website is either suspended or DNS-blocked. It happened last year for Sci-Hub.org, and that is why the website moved out of the US jurisdiction at Sci-Hub.io.
So What if Sci-Hub.io or LibGen.io are Finally DNS-blocked?
Unfortunately, Sci-Hub.io or LibGen.io may become DNS-blocked because the .io domain is administered by a UK-based company. However, there is already an alternative at http://sci-hub.cc/, with .cc being in the Cocos Islands. Further, even if DNS-blocking happens in your country, the website is still there (in Russia) and you can access it by downloading Tor and using its anonymous browser, or directly using Tor2Web with the following .onion address: scihub22266oqcxt.onion. That would bypass the DNS-blocking.
If not Sci-Hub, What Else?
Here are seven other common things to do when you cannot access an article, some of them can be as illegal as Sci-Hub:
- Google Scholar: Pdf may be indexed (often illegally) – click the version link to check.
- Request the paper directly from the authors by emailing them a few words (it is legal to obtain the paper that way, whenever the authors are still alive).
- Visit the author’s webpage: If you are lucky, the papers will be illegally there.
- Aggregators of repositories: search BASE (or CORE) for the manuscript version just before the last copy-editing, they are sometimes nicely archived by the authors on repositories (this is called green open-access and is often legal).
- Academic networks: If you have an academic email, sign up on ResearchGate or Academia to search the-may-be-illegally-shared paper: but is it illegal if it is just between us? It is!
- Use the hashtag #iCanHazPDF: tweet the doi of the paper with your email address and the hashtag, and wait for someone to manually send it to you. It mostly works for medical science though and it seems illegal if the sender is not the author.
- Library: you will need to move to your university library, and may have to request an inter-loan. Expect some delays and to have to pay a little for it!
We have reviewed the many ways to access all science for free and most of these ways are illegal. However illegal does not necessarily mean unfair so in my next article, I will question the morality behind science publishing and discuss why all science should be free.
Special thanks to Dr. Anu Devi