Just as spring arrived last month in Iran, Meysam Rahimi sat down at his university computer and immediately ran into a problem: how to get the scientific papers he needed. He had to write up a research proposal for his engineering Ph. His project straddles both operations management and behavioral economics, so Rahimi had a lot of ground to cover.
But every time he found the abstract of a relevant paper, he hit a paywall. Although Amirkabir is one bohannon finder chat the top research universities in Iran, international sanctions and economic woes have left it with poor access to journals.
A paper in Operations Research, published by the U. He looked at his list of abstracts and did the math. Rahimi was peeved. Many academic publishers offer programs to help researchers in poor countries access papers, but only one, called Share Link, seemed relevant to the papers that Rahimi bohannon finder chat.
The choice seemed clear: Either quit the Ph. Rahimi felt no guilt. The journal publishers take a very different view. But in increasing s, researchers around the world are turning to Sci-Hub, which hosts 50 million papers and counting.
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Over the 6 months leading up to March, Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents. More than 2. The papers cover every scientific topic, from obscure physics experiments published decades ago to the latest breakthroughs in biotechnology. The publisher with the most requested Sci-Hub articles?
It is Elsevier by a long shot—Sci-Hub provided half-a-million downlo of Elsevier papers in one recent week. These statistics are based on extensive server log data supplied by Alexandra Elbakyan, the neuroscientist who created Sci-Hub in as a year-old graduate student in Kazakhstan.
For someone denounced as a criminal by powerful corporations and scholarly societies, Elbakyan was surprisingly forthcoming and transparent. After establishing contact through an encrypted chat system, she worked with me over the course of several weeks to create a data set for public release: every download event over the 6-month period starting 1 Septemberincluding the digital object identifier DOI for every paper. The data set and details on how it was analyzed are freely accessible. Server log data for the website Sci-Hub from September through February paint a revealing portrait of its users and their diverse interests.
Sci-Hub had 28 million download requests, from all regions of the world and covering most scientific disciplines. Elbakyan also answered nearly every question I had about her operation of the website, interaction with users, and even her personal life. Among the few things bohannon finder chat would not disclose is her current location, because she is at risk of financial ruin, extradition, and imprisonment because of a lawsuit launched by Elsevier last year.
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Among the revelations that may surprise both fans and foes alike: Sci-Hub users are not limited to the developing world. Some critics of Sci-Hub have complained that many users can access the same papers through their libraries but turn to Sci-Hub instead—for convenience rather than necessity. The data provide some support for that claim. The United States is the fifth largest downloader after Russia, and a quarter of the Sci-Hub requests for papers came from the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the wealthiest nations with, supposedly, the best journal access.
In fact, some of the most intense use of Sci-Hub appears to be happening on the campuses of U. The injunction has had little effect, as the server data reveal.
Although the sci-hub. Barely skipping a beat, the site popped back up on a different domain. Still, many are concerned that Sci-Hub will prove as disruptive to the academic publishing business as the pirate site Napster was for the music industry see editorial by Marcia McNutt on her love-hate of Sci-Hub.
Everyone should be thinking bohannon finder chat the fact that this is here to stay. It is easy to understand why journal publishers might see Sci-Hub as a bohannon finder chat. Along with book chapters, monographs, and conference proceedings, Sci-Hub has amassed copies of the majority of scholarly articles ever published. It continues to grow: When someone requests a paper not already on Sci-Hub, it pirates a copy and adds it to the repository.
Elbakyan declined to say exactly how she obtains the papers, but she did confirm that it involves online credentials: the user IDs and passwords of people or institutions with legitimate access to journal content.
She says that many academics have donated them voluntarily. Publishers have alleged that Sci-Hub relies on phishing s to trick researchers, for example by having them log in at fake journal websites. The Bohannon finder chat paper in The Astronomical Journal describing a possible new planet on the outskirts of our solar system?
Sci-Hub has them all. It has news articles from scientific journals—including many of mine in Science —as well as copies of open-access papers, perhaps because of confusion on the part of users or because they are simply using Sci-Hub as their all-in-one portal for papers. The flow of Sci-Hub activity over time reflects the working lives of researchers, bohannon finder chat over the course of each day and then ebbing—but never stopping—as night falls. There is an day gap in the data starting 4 November when the domain sci-hub.
By the end of February, bohannon finder chat flow of Sci-Hub papers had risen to its highest level yet: more thandownload requests per day. How many Sci-Hub users are there? The download requests came from 3 million unique IP addresses, which provides a lower bound. But the true is much higher because thousands of people on a university campus can share the same IP address. Sci-Hub downloaders live on every continent except Antarctica. Of the 24, city locations to which they cluster, the busiest is Tehran, with 1.
In rich and poor countries, researchers turn to the sci-hub website.
Rahimi, the engineering student in Tehran, confirms this. The geography of Sci-Hub usage generally looks like a map of scientific productivity, but with some of the richer and poorer science-focused nations flipped. The smaller countries have stories of their own.
Someone in Nuuk, Greenland, is reading a paper about how best to provide cancer treatment to indigenous populations. Research goes on in Libya, even as a civil war rages there.
Someone in Benghazi is investigating a method for transmitting data between computers across an air gap. Far to the south in the oil-rich desert, someone near the town of Sabha is delving into fluid dynamics. Mapping IP addresses bohannon finder chat real-world locations can paint a false picture if people hide behind web proxies or anonymous routing services. Over the 6-month period, 74, download requests came from IP addresses in New York City, home to multiple universities and scientific institutions. The s for Ashburn, Virginia, the top U. Spokespeople for the latter two say their employees are unlikely to for the traffic.
The GWU press office responded defensively, sending me to an online statement that the university recently issued about the impact of journal subscription rate hikes on its library budget. When she moved from Argentina to the United States in to start her engineering Ph.
The intense Sci-Hub activity in East Lansing reveals yet another motivation for using the site.
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The papers are all from chemistry journals, most of them published by the American Chemical Society. So the apparent goal is to build a massive private repository of chemical literature.
But why? A lawsuit isn't going to stop [ Sci-Hub ], nor is there any obvious technical means. But he laughed and said that he had no idea who it was. But he understands why the scraper goes to Sci-Hub even though MSU subscribes to the downloaded journals.
For his own research on the linguistic structure of scientific discourse, Hart-Davidson obtained more than years of biology papers the hard way—legally with the help of the publishers. And once the hard drive full of papers arrived, it came with strict rules of use.
At the end of each day of running computer programs on it from an offline computer, Padilla had to walk the resulting data across campus on a thumb drive for analysis with Hart-Davidson. Yet Sci-Hub has drawbacks for text-mining research, Hart-Davidson says.
The pirated papers are in unstructured PDF format, which is hard for programs to parse. But the bigger issue, he says, is that the data source is illegal. While Elsevier wages a legal battle against Elbakyan and Sci-Hub, many in the publishing industry see the fight as futile. And for all the researchers at Western universities who use Sci-Hub instead, the anonymous publisher lays the blame on librarians for not making their online systems easier to use and educating their researchers. Will Sci-Hub bohannon finder chat the industry toward an open-access model, where reader authentication bohannon finder chat unnecessary?
Even if arrested, Elbakyan says Sci-Hub will not go dark. She also notes that the entire collection of 50 million papers has been copied by others many times already. Indeed, the data suggest that the explosive growth of Sci-Hub is done. Elbakyan says that the proportion of download requests for papers not contained in the database is holding steady at 4.
If she runs out of credentials for pirating fresh content, that gap will grow again, however—and publishers and universities are constantly devising new authentication schemes that she and her supporters will need to outsmart.
She even asked me to donate my own Science and password—she was only half joking. For Elbakyan herself, the future is even more uncertain. Elsevier is not only charging her with copyright infringement but with illegal hacking under the U. Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Others who ran afoul of this law have been extradited to the United States while traveling.
And she is fully aware that another computer prodigy—turned-advocate, Aaron Swartz, was arrested on similar charges in after mass-downloading academic papers. Facing devastating financial penalties and jail time, Swartz hanged himself. Like the rest of the scientific community, Elbakyan is watching the future of scholarly communication unfold fast.
The survey on attitudes toward Sci-Hub is now closed— here are the final.
By Science News Staff Apr. By Jocelyn Kaiser Apr. By Meredith Wadman Apr.