Civil disobedience Martin Luther KingOnline knowledge forum Big Think has shared a profile of the Kazakh woman who’s single-handedly taking on the Goliath of scholarly publishing, and leading a global civil disobedience campaign in support of scholarly open access. Alexandra Elbakyan, born in Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub in 2011, the online repository of over 48 million scientific papers – nearly every peer-reviewed paper ever published anywhere – available online, for anyone, for free. And this wouldn’t be possible without an anonymous (no, not that Anonymous) global network of academics who are donating paywall access keys to make sure that Sci-Hub stays up to date with the latest in research and learning.

Needless to say, Big Publishing isn’t pleased. Reed Elsevier launched and won a case in 2015 in a New York district court, arguing that Sci-Hub contravened their copyrights. However, since Elbakyan and Sci-Hub have no assets in the U.S., the court could do no more than bar the website. Sci-Hub promptly hopped to another domain, and will probably continue to do so every time it has to.

Elbakyan claims that in fact she is fully justified, and Elsevier is the one acting illegally, according to Article 27 Clause 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “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.” Elsevier might counter-claim that they are protected under Clause 2, which reads: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author” – except that that clearly refers to the rights of the authors, who usually receive no payment whatsoever from Elsevier.

TeleRead has chronicled Elsevier’s many abuses against the spirit of free intellectual inquiry – and giving the community the benefit of their own tax dollars – again, and again, and again. What makes the Sci.Hub case so gratifying is that, no matter how many millions Elsevier gets awarded in U.S. damages, Elsevier probably won’t ever see any of it, while losing the battle for hearts and minds into the bargain. And the Sci.Hub model is now so well established, with so many participants and supporters, that they probably won’t ever be able to get the genie back in the bottle. Time to own up and act decent for a change?


  1. Sorry, but Elsevier is cynical enough to know that the number of “hearts and minds” shaped by this dispute won’t matter. Watch this documentary to see an illustration of why it won’t:

    That’s depressing levels of ignorance shown by students whose SAT scores to get into those schools show that they’re not stupid. They simply haven’t been taught much in our public schools. That’s why one of those students knows so little of history and geography that she thinks that Adolf Hitler might be someone from Amsterdam, the city thought of as a country.

    If you think a generation that ill-educated are going to get upset about access to obscure scholarly journals, think again. What matters to them is what they keep up on and what they know very well, which are silly escapades in the lives of empty headed celebrities. I know. I asked on guy in a college near me who the VP of the U.S. was. He didn’t have the slightest idea. Do your really think he cares how much it costs to read some obscure scholarly journal on late Renaissance literature?

    My own suspicion is that this woeful ignorance, like a lot of other horrors in our society, is the product of yet another stupid educational fad. In the mid-90’s I knew someone who might be called an educational expert, whatever that means. She was really down on what she called “drill and kill.” In her deluded mind, having kids learn to identify countries on a map or date major events in history was drilling and killing. That mindset is what has screwed up today’s college kids.

    It was bosh, utter bosh. Grade school kids have minds like sponges. They’re dreadful at reasoning, but they’re great at soaking up information. In the fourth grade, I learned to identify all the states on a map and name their capitals, along with all the countries in the Western hemisphere and their capitals. It was easy and fun. I’d probably find that impossible today.

    And not having dates or names of countries in which to place people and events, students can’t learn later details. It’d be like trying to be a pharmacist without being taught basic chemistry. That’s why one student in that documentary doesn’t know where the D-Day landing took place. She can only wave her hands about over a mental map on which there are no names—not even France much less Normandy. It’s why other studies have shown that some half of high school graduates can’t place the Civil War within half a century. Given that level of ignorance, how can they learn still more detail about the war? They can’t.

    Quite frankly, all this squabble about access to scholarly articles isn’t even a fraction of one percent of the importance of graduating millions of high school students each year, utterly ignorant of any framework in which they can learn history, geography or pretty must anything else. It’s not just what they don’t know at twenty that’s worrisome. It’s what they’ll never be able to learn because they were so cheated out of an education that they only dimly realize that they were cheated.

    Elsevier certainly stinks. I agree with that. But there are others far worse. I’d add Pearson to that mix. Education fads exist because they’re quite lucrative for textbook publishers. Each new one that comes along means billions of dollars in sales for textbook publishers. California, with one of the worst school systems in the country, is going to have to spend billions on textbooks for the Common Core collection of fads. That money could be better spent elsewhere.

    But the real problem lies in the trenches with the ed schools, education professionals who create, promote and follow those fads, along with teachers who spent their summers learning them. Fads require followers. Refuse to follow, and those fads will die out without inflicting much harm. In Seattle, there’s only one high school whose math scores on standardized tests aren’t awful. He is the only one who flat out refuses to follow the math-teach fads the Seattle school bureaucracy is pushing. The problem has gotten so bad, every STEM program at the University of Washington has had to teach remedial math to incoming freshmen.

    Finally, judging by numerous studies about what interests students in today’s incoming college classes, what matters to them now (and probably for the rest of their lives) is not access to Elsevier. It’s access to celebrity websites. Mess with that, and they will get very angry.

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