Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

Chatting with the Guardian Science Podcast – a Pod Delusion Special

September 12, 2017

pod delusion extra

Originally posted here September 9, 2011. The audio file no longer works. Thankfully, I found a copy on my hard drive, hence this post.

Ahead of last week’s Science Online conference in London, Graham Steel and James O’Malley sat down with Alok Jha, Mo Costandi and James Meikle from the Guardian to discuss science reporting and related issues.

Topics tackled include churnalism, linking to papers, and the changes in the landscape of science journalism over the last couple of years.

03:09 – 13:27 Discussion about the background of the Guardian’s Science Weekly Podcast
13:28 – 17:44 How much science literacy can you assume in your audience when reporting on science?
17:55 – 32:07 Churnalism.What is it and how common is it in terms of Journalism and Blogging?
32:10 – 36:10 Including links to Science Manuscripts in online news articles
36:11 – 42:15 George Monbiot’s Guardian article “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist”
42:16 – 52:01 The change in the landscape/ecosystem of science blogging over the last 12 months or so
52:07 – 52:44 The use of social media during the recent riots in London and elsewhere
52:50 – 58:37 World’s first clinical trial of stem cells to treat strokes is set to move to its next phase


So how can we “Share It” exactly ?

October 28, 2016


On a one year trial basis, in late 2014 launched a potentially ‘interesting’ initiative which they called #scishare – Press Release

In December 2014, a 12-month content sharing trial was set up to enable subscribers to 49 journals on to legitimately and conveniently share the full text of articles of interest with colleagues without a subscription via a shareable web link on, enabled by publishing technology company, ReadCube. The trial was also extended to 100 media outlets and blogs around the world that report on the findings of articles published on, allowing them to provide their own readers with a link to a full text, read-only view of the original scientific paper.

Shortly after the launch, a number of people turned to social media/blogs to express their views.

On ReadCube, and Nature‘s give-away – Mike Taylor

Why Nature’s “SciShare” experiment is bad for altmetrics – Impactstory

– John Wilbanks

High-priced research publishers warily open up to the Web

Open access and the direction of travel in scholarly publishing – Stephen Curry

Macmillan may now offer ‘free access’, but is it really open?– Martin Eve

Some were of the view that were making subscription based content Open Access which they were not.

Content sharing is *not* open access and why NPG is committed to both content sharing: action and reaction – Timo Hannay

Clearing Up Misperceptions About Content Sharing

There was a lot of discussion about all of this at the following Reddit thread.

Science AMA Series: I’m Timo Hannay, former director of, Nature Publishing Group recently announced a “free to view” program which has created some excitement and misunderstandings. Ask me anything about it.

The results of the trial were released in December 2015 – Press Release

Some of the ‘key’ findings (emphasis in bold mine):-

• The most popular method of sharing of scientific articles has been via the media and blogger referral programme, which gave readers of articles free, read-only access to the full text of scientific articles in news stories and posts. (77%)
• High-profile media reports of Nature journal articles from a plethora of international media outlets drove the most traffic of the trial. The most popular article of 2015 was, “A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance” published in Nature in January 2015.
• In order, the most popular news outlets were: the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, Science Magazine and the Washington Post.
• Peer to peer sharing, where subscribers send or post shareable links to journal articles on tended to be mostly (67%) between subscribers and non-subscribers, with the remainder mainly accounted for by sharing between those who already had subscription access.
The trial had no adverse implications for subscription-based journals either in terms of institutional business or individual article sales.
• The free read-only links were shared all across the globe but the most active sharing was instigated by subscribers in: the USA, the UK, Japan, Germany, China, Canada, Spain, France, India and the Republic of Korea.

In March 2016, it was announced that Springer Nature were set to extend content sharing to the entire Springer Nature-owned journal portfolio – Press Release


Springer Nature will provide authors with free, shareable links to view-only versions of their peer-reviewed research papers, starting with authors of Nature and the Nature research journals. This initiative will then be extended to authors of all other Springer Nature-owned primary research journals, and ultimately to all authors of Springer Nature published primary research journals. These links can be posted anywhere, including via social channels and on other highly-used sites, institutional repositories and authors’ own websites, as well as scholarly collaborative networks, which many researchers are using to collaborate and to share both publicly and privately. These sharing services are expected to be operational within the next two months for all Springer Nature-owned primary research titles, with sharing services for additional portfolio titles to follow once agreed with their owners in the following months.

The range of media partners enabled to use this sharing facility will also be extended. These media partners already represent over 100 other sites, many aimed at the public, including TheBBC, The Economist, Wired and The New York Times, as well as many leading science bloggers.

The tools that enable the content sharing initiative are provided by ReadCube, whose industry-leading functionality enables sharers to make available final published versions of research papers in the streaming Enhanced PDF format. In addition to the full text of the articles the Enhanced PDF provides hyperlinked in-line citations and figures, annotation capabilities, one-click access to supplemental content and figures and advanced article metrics.

Beyond these measures, Springer Nature plans additional steps to further extend sharing options which address the long-term needs of the research community.

I for one was having various technical issues getting this to work in practice.

At that time, it meant having to manually download a paper then manually uploading it to my library on ReadCube and then trying to find the sharable link which didn’t always work.

An example of when it did.


From a DRM perspective though, here’s what these shortened URLs actually look like in full


Devils Advocate

On the above point, I have to mention the following post by Dr Ross Mounce, March 2015 who has strong views on ReadCube.


How to Block Readcube and Why

On October 17th 2016, following on from the earlier announcement in March above, Springer Nature did indeed roll this out on a much larger scale – Press Release

Springer Nature is delighted to announce that it has rolled out its free content sharing initiative, now named SharedIt, to all of the Springer Nature-owned portfolio and over one thousand additional co-owned and partner-owned journals. This now encompasses over 2,300 journals and enables authors and subscribers to post links to free-to-read versions of primary research articles anywhere, including social media platforms, repositories, websites, scholarly collaborative networks and via emails. It follows a successful trial and roll out of the initiative for research articles in Nature-branded journals which has resulted in over 2.2 million additional article views since its launch in December 2014.

“As the first publisher to trial free sharing of subscription journal articles back in December 2014 via a new service now named SharedIt, we were confident that our initiative would be a useful service to our authors and subscribers, which was why we took the bold step to trial it. Uptake of the service and the positive feedback we have received since then clearly demonstrate that there is a need – and a real appetite – for a simple, quick and legitimate way to share research in the academic community. This led us to the decision to invest in extending SharedIt across the entire portfolio, in combination with our partners at ReadCube,” said Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature. “We believe that SharedIt is particularly beneficial because, unlike when PDFs or paper versions of research are circulated, the SharedIt links ensure that the most up to date, online version of the article is accessed, as well as providing valuable information to librarians, our authors and the wider community about how content is being utilised.”

After this was confirmed, I thought I would revisit the issue of how easy or not it was to share content since the last time I had tried. Initially, I thought not much had changed as in you still had to manually download papers and upload to ReadCube.

No response to those tweets.

I was pleased? to note however that things have indeed changed….but….

without any announcement as how to do it ????

Personal communication:-

‘Even with the Nature implementation – there was no real education effort once it went live which was a shame. Unless you knew to click the “share” icon – you didn’t know it was there’.

Totally random Springer Nature papers accessed – October 20th 2016.




The point being that sharable links are now there automatically, no longer any need to faff around with downloading and uploading papers to create them.


As matters stand though, it would appear that Springer Nature don’t really want you to know how simple this now is.

On a lighter note to end with…



Since writing the above, Springer Nature have now * put out the following resources which provide the needed clarity !

* After I put in a request for this with folks from Springer Nature in person.






A Review of MegaJournals

October 17, 2016



One issue that I’ve been following for a number of years is so called MegaJournals.

Mega journal as defined on Wikipedia.

Cue ‘Open Access and The Dramatic Growth of PLoS ONE‘ which I wrote for the figshare blog back in 2012. (As you will see, PLOS ONE started publishing papers in 2006).

The concept of OA “Megajournals” appears to have started around June 2011 as per this post by Mark Patterson (at that time with PLOS, now with eLife):

“Remarkably, PLoS ONE became the largest peer-reviewed journal in existence inside four years (and will publish as much as 1.5% of the articles indexed in PubMed in 2011), and over the past 12 months has been emulated by many other established publishers in various disciplines”.



A large part of the reason for the spike in the dramatic rise since Q1 & Q2 2011 is the fact that that was the time that PLoS ONE, received its first Impact Factor .That opened the floodgates in a big way (e.g. China) and it can clearly be seen from above that this fact has led to a significant effect.

Around the same time, Frank Norman posted a more broader and detailed post Megajournals which indeed was the conduit to my own post.

The trend towards Open Access has catalysed the creation of many new journals and new publishers. BioMedCentral, established in 2000, was a pioneer of open access publishing, launching a large number of journals. Public Library of Science (PLoS) initially established a small number of high-level journals, then in 2006 it launched PLoS ONE. This was the first of a new kind of journal, later dubbed mega-journal. PLoS ONE aimed to publish any article that met the test of scientific rigour, and eschewed any measure of importance or impact in its editorial and peer review process. In 2010, PLoS ONE published 6,749 articles, making it the largest journal in the world (by volume). Its success helped to persuade the mainstream publishing industry that fee-paid open access was a viable business model.

Recently I invited representatives from a number of open access publishers to discuss megajournals. Five of them gave presentations to an audience of scientists here, and one visited me subsequently to inform me about their operations.

I then revisited the output of PLOS ONE around a year later.


I was not alone in thinking that the exponential growth seemed unstoppable. With hindsight, such growth can equally be followed by exponential decay.

In May 2015, Mike Taylor posted Have we reached Peak Megajournal?

Bo-Christer Björk’s (2015) new paper in PeerJ asks the question “Have the “mega-journals” reached the limits to growth?”, and suggests that the answer may be yes. (Although, frustratingly, you can’t tell from the abstract that this is the conclusion.)

I was a bit disappointed that the paper didn’t include a graph showing its conclusion, and asked about this (thanks to PeerJ’s lightweight commenting system). Björk’s response acknowledged that a graph would have been helpful, and invited me to go ahead and make one, since the underlying data is freely available. So using OpenOffice’s cumbersome but adequate graphing facilities, I plotted the numbers from Björk’s table 3.


As we can see, the result for total megajournal publications upholds the conclusion that megajournals have peaked and started to decline. But PLOS ONE (the dark blue line) enormously dominates all the other megajournals, with Nature’s Scientific Reports the only other publication to even be meaningfully visible on the graph. Since Scientific Reports seems to be still in the exponential phase of its growth and everything else is too low-volume to register, what we’re really seeing here is just a decline in PLOS ONE volume.

It’s interesting to think about what the fall-off in PLOS ONE volume means, but it’s certainly not the same thing as megajournals having topped out.

What do we see when we expand the lower part of the graph by taking out PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports?


So the establishment of new megajournals is very much a good thing, and their growth is to be encouraged. Many of the newer megajournals may well find (and I hate to admit this) that their submission rates increase when they’re handed their first impact factor, as happened with PLOS ONE.


Touched upon in the posts by Norman and Taylor is Scientific Reports (SR). SR was launched in 2011 (with little fanfare) by Nature Publishing Group (now Springer Nature) and over the last couple of years has seen significant growth. Interestingly a few weeks after its launch, PLOS ran with the following post on their Official Blog:-

Welcome, Nature. Seriously.


We shall come back to SR shortly.

Whilst PLOS ONE has many supporters, it also has its critics, most notably, some of the individuals who blog for The Scholarly Kitchen:-

Is PLoS ONE Slowing Down?

The Rise and Fall of PLOS ONE’s Impact Factor (2012 = 3.730)

PLOS ONE Output Falls Following Impact Factor Decline

PLOS ONE Output Falls 25 Percent

PLOS ONE Shrinks by 11 Percent

As PLOS ONE Shrinks, 2015 Impact Factor Expected to Rise

What is clear however was that in terms of output, this seemed to have peaked around 2013/2014 and has subsequently been in decline ever since.

In August 2016, Scholarly Kitchen ran with a post:-

Scientific Reports On Track To Become Largest Journal In The World


An unpredictable publication flow and revenue stream through APCs will have very different effects on the two publishers. Springer Nature has an enormous, diversified stable of journals and revenue streams, which allows them to play a long-term strategy game with Scientific Reports. Annual revenue fluctuations with one journal are not going to put Springer Nature in financial trouble. In contrast, PLOS’ income is almost exclusively based on APC revenue, with 97% of their 2014 revenue coming from publication fees. More importantly, 91% of all 2015 papers published in PLOS journals were published in PLOS ONE, the remaining 9% split among six other journals. As revenue from PLOS ONE functions to subsidize the publication costs of these six other titles, downward pressure on PLOS ONE puts the entire organization at risk.

Over last weekend, I noted a very recent post on Times Higher Education:-

Mega-journals: the future, a stepping stone to it or a leap into the abyss?

Nature’s new kid on the block is now the biggest journal in the world. But while such giants are currently overturning the world of scholarly publishing, their long-term future is unclear, says Stephen Pinfield.

In September, Plos One was overtaken. Nature’s Scientific Reports published 1,940 research articles in that month, compared with Plos One’s 1,756. The figures for August were 1,691 and 1,735, respectively. Scientific Reports has grown rapidly since its launch in 2011, a rise that has coincided with (some have suggested, partly contributed to) a decline in Plos One. Like Plos One, Scientific Reports publishes across STEM, although in reality, the former has more papers in health and life sciences and the latter in physical sciences.


Pinfield’s projected figures for SR in 2016 are based on data from August and September 2016 alone. I them made the following graph based on data from here on SR.


After I tweeted details of Pinfield’s post and my own graph, things got rather interesting on Twitter. Here’s some of what I saw.




Based upon available data, SR certainly appears to be on track to become the largest Journal in the world overtaking PLOS ONE but possibly not until early next year.

On the other hand however, whether megajournals are growing or shrinking might be seen as irrelevant. Put another way, a key question worth thinking about is whether there is a growing proportion of papers published (including as preprints, an increasingly popular way of dissemination information rapidly and freely) without being judged on ‘relevance’ or ‘expected citation potential’ or ‘perceived scientific quality’, but just on the basis of some basic objective criteria, e.g. the detail of the description of materials and methods, statistical robustness and logic of the conclusion in view of the data, etc.

Such objective criteria can, of course, also be applied by journals not known as Mega Journals. See Science (which needs communication) first, careers (which need selectivity) later, Velterop et al (2015).

I will conclude with the closing paragraph’s from Pinfield’s post:-

What remains to be seen is whether mega-journals, as currently constituted, will prove to be a major innovation that contribute to the reshaping of research publishing in an increasingly open access world, or whether their real importance will lie in being a stepping stone to even more radical forms of scholarly communication. This will partly depend on the extent to which the open access “wild animal” will be domesticated. Signs of that already abound, meaning that any change is more likely to be incremental rather than disruptive.

It is, of course, possible that mega-journals will sink without trace: that probably applies to some of the current smaller hopefuls. But there does now seem to be momentum behind some of larger titles, which means they, at least, are likely to continue to prosper. In the short term, though, what is clear is that the battle to publish the largest journal in the world seems to be swinging towards a new form of a very old journal, Nature.

Stephen Pinfield is professor of information services management at the University of Sheffield. He is currently principal investigator on an AHRC-funded project investigating mega-journals and the future of scholarly communication.

Steel, Graham (2016): A Review of MegaJournals. figshare.

Retrieved: 12 55, Oct 17, 2016 (GMT)

“Wallets with a Serious Case of Stockholm Syndrome”: Sci-Hub and the Future of Scholarly Communication

February 29, 2016
Sci-Hub Logo

Originally posted here by Marcus Banks. Re-blogged in verbatim with permission to do so.

Following Aaron Swartz’s tragic suicide in 2013, there was a brief flurry of attempts to honor his legacy by increasing public access to research articles. Swartz had successfully accessed millions of articles from MIT’s licensed JSTOR database, in a way that drew the ire of JSTOR (which eventually dropped charges), MIT (which arrested Swartz), and the federal government (which alleged numerous violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act).

People argued that the way to remember Swartz was to provide immediate, complete, non-embargoed access to research articles. Not reports to grant funders about progress along the way, not mere summaries of the results — but the actual papers from actual journals, complete with their DOIs and page numbers.

Indeed, in 2013 — well after the Internet had transitioned from a novel technology into an essential part of everyday life — we were still debating about how to maximize access to the fruits of a publication process that dates from the 1600’s. Activists claim that all of the scholarly literature should be free, publishers claim they add significant value to this literature that is worthy of compensation.

We are still having this debate in 2016, and if trends continue we will keep doing so for decades more. The great unleashing of the literature called for after Swartz’s death has not come to pass. There is too much money to be made in the current scholarly publication system — in which the only way to have immediate access to papers is to be affiliated with an institution rich enough to afford this, or to live in a poor enough nation that it is not an attractive market for publishers anyway.

Legally, the current system rests on a transfer of copyright from the authors of papers to publishers — with that transfer complete, the publishers then bundle articles into journals and license them back to libraries. These licensing terms carry costs that greatly exceed the rate of inflation, which is by now a very well-documented phenomenon. This is because journals are “inelastic” and “non-substitutable”; there is less ability to shop around on the basis of content, as each journal fills a unique niche. Meanwhile librarians feel duty bound to subscribe to all the leading titles in a field, leading inexorably to monopolistic pricing.

That pricing does not affect researchers, who are the consumers of scholarly work, because they do not pay it. The upshot is that the only balance sheet negatively impacted is that for the library. Hence we find that librarians, in the immortal words of John Dupuis, feel like “wallets with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.”

Open access journals, which are available without subscription or licensing barriers, most certainly improve access compared to subscription journals. But they are not necessarily any cheaper for libraries, especially those that foot the bill for the author processing charges (APCs) that sustain open access journals. As T. Scott Plutchak has often observed, access and affordability are two separate issues.

Everything I’ve written so far should be very familiar to observers of the scholarly communication scene, perhaps mind-numbingly so. The uneven balance of power between librarians and researchers, and ergo between librarians and publishers, are long-established sources of resentment in libraryland.

Enter Sci-Hub, a radical disruption with perhaps enough power to compel solutions to this intractable impasse.

What is Sci-Hub? A repository of academic papers that are supposed to be behind pay walls. To date Sci-Hub has collected more than 47 million academic research papers. It does so through bypassing the many access control mechanisms meant to restrict this content to authorized users. (Whether this comes via “donations” of institutional log-in credentials or phishing scams is unclear.) This effort necessarily involves infringing on copyright, but Sci-Hub founder Alexandra Elbakyan argues that she observes a higher law by making these papers available to all interested readers.

In a sense Sci-Hub’s approach is a refinement and improvement of the process Aaron Swartz utilized with JSTOR. As Graham Steel notes, Sci-Hub’s approach is much more effective at file sharing than the once upon a time cutting edge #ICanHazPDF.

Publishers are outraged. Elsevier successfully sued Sci-Hub in US court last year, seeking the site’s demise. After a brief pause last year (prior to the lawsuit’s conclusion), as of today Sci-Hub continues unabated. Elbakyan is from Kazakhstan, and the site’s servers are not in the United States. It also relies on sophisticated programming that bounces between servers around the globe. For all these reasons it would be very difficult to halt Sci-Hub on a permanent basis. Even if Sci-Hub itself did cease operations, another similar site could easily emerge in its place.

The genie is out of the bottle. The writing is on the wall. [Insert similar metaphor here]. If nothing else, Sci-Hub proves that the days of making money from regulating access to PDFs of journal articles is over.

Or does it? As observers of this controversy have noted, academic libraries are not going to cancel their journal licenses thanks to the newfound availability of articles on Sci-Hub. Those licensed packages are the lifeblood of Sci-Hub — which penetrates ostensibly secure university networks in order to fetch and cache articles — in any case. And of course an institutional actor such as a library would not make decisions based on a third party’s practices that infringe on copyright.

For these reasons Angela Cochran, Director of Journals at the American Society of Civil Engineers, is seeking common cause with librarians. In a much-discussed post on the Scholarly Kitchen, Cochran lays out the case against Sci-Hub and expresses her dismay that librarians and open access advocates have not spoken out against Sci-Hub’s “piracy.” Cochran is right that the methods used by Sci-Hub could put many other institutional computer systems at risk, which is why librarians and others should be concerned.

But Cochran is not familiar with that feeling of librarian Stockholm Syndrome that John DuPuis so aptly described. I’ve long raged against having to think about and deploy access control mechanisms within the libraries where I have worked. I became a librarian in order to maximize access to information, not to meter it out stingily. But dem’s the breaks baby cakes. Part of being an academic librarian today involves providing uncompensated copyright enforcement for publishing interests, in order to reinforce values you do not even believe in.

Hence Cochran’s disillusionment. I suspect many academic librarians and open access advocates support Sci-Hub’s ends if not its means. (Perhaps I am wrong on the library front, this ultimately depends on whether a librarian perceives themselves as a “soldier or revolutionary” in Rick Anderson’s formulation). If Cochran wishes to find common ground with the greatest number of librarians in the wake of Sci-Hub, I suggest seeking this in discussions of building a future for scholarly communication that serves the interests of publishers and librarians alike. Pointing a finger at Sci-Hub in outrage will not do the trick.

There is pathos in all this. Sci-Hub’s posting of PDFs would be a trivial event if PDFs were not where the action still is for scholarly communication. In a Web-centric world PDFs should be yesterday’s news as a means of sharing knowledge.

This is why it’s high past time for publishers and librarians to work together to move beyond the PDF, a topic I will explore more fully in a future post. Sci-Hub’s ultimate service, I hope, will be to speed this conversation along.

Marcus Banks is a health sciences library director.



Some thoughts about Sci-Hub

February 18, 2016

scihub website

Late last week, I was contacted by an online contact asking if I would be interested in participating in an interview:-

Do you want to be possibly interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Ed about and Sci-Hub?

Being well aware of #icanhazpdf and Sci-Hub, I agreed. Sci-Hub is certainly a hot topic at the moment.

It wasn’t practical to speak with the reporter at that time so I emailed them back suggesting that they email me a few questions and I would respond.

I heard back a few days later and got to work at formulating my responses. This took quite a bit longer than I had anticipated.

The report at The Chronicle of Higher Education is due to be published week ending 19th February and I will link to it here as soon as I have found it. The Chronicle is a subscription publication. However, a fair percentage of articles can be read without a subscription and I hope that will be the case here.

++UPDATE++ The Chronicle article has now come out and you can read it in full here.

From experience of doing interviews, I am fully aware that only a portion of what you write/say will be used. As such, I thought I would blog our Q&A discussion in verbatim.


QUESTION: In your article, you write that open access has become the new norm and social media is the tool driving it. I’m wondering, what is Sci-Hub’s role in open access?

Sci-Hub is not open access. Maybe it’s a bit of grit in the oyster, helping to rock the boat. I completely agree with Dr Martin Eve who recently tweeted “I can’t condone and I don’t think it’s the answer, but it is a symptom of the problem. Pure open access business models would be immune to it”.

QUESTION:  Now that Elsevier is suing Sci-Hub there is much more attention drawn to academic piracy. In your opinion is Sci-Hub challenging the traditional pay to publish/pay to access model?

Subscription journal workarounds have been around for many years. Sci-Hub launched quietly in 2011 (I didn’t know about it until 2013) and is one that has received much attention over the last 12 months or so via social media, blog posts and broad media coverage. As I currently understand it, I’m not sure it’s “challenging” these models per se (because it uses .edu proxies i.e., journal subscription accounts), but it has become an extremely effective way to access literature that is beyond the reach of most. Other than the legal aspects of the dispute with Elsevier, I sense there are also technology based ones.

With regards to Sci-Hub generally, Richard Smith-Unna summarized matters succinctly in this tweet:-

QUESTION:  Many librarians I’ve spoken to say that academic publishing is working off a broken system. Do you agree? If so, who is it up to to fix it? What will it take?

There are several reasons that academic publishing is working off a broken system. The ongoing serials crisis. Addiction to Journal Impact Factor and most recently, expensive Article Processing Charges, e.g. here. However the publishing landscape continues to evolve. I would like to see academics, librarians and research funders taking more of a leading role in matters rather than the publishers. Some such as Björn Brembs even question the need for publishers at all !

QUESTION:  Are you familiar with how Sci-Hub’s model works? Does the fact that it uses university credentials to scrape papers from Elsevier and other journals put librarians who work at those university in an awkward position?

Yes, I am aware of how the model works. This is not mentioned on the Sci-Hub platform, but is elsewhere such as the Wikipedia page about it. Some (but not as many as I thought) in the librarian community are aware of Sci-Hub and other methods of bypassing the modern interlibrary loan (ILL). A detailed paper titled Bypassing Interlibrary Loan Via Twitter: An Exploration of #icanhazpdf Requests by Gardner & Gardner et al from 2015 is noteworthy. Equally worth a read is Is Biblioleaks Inevitable? by Dunn et al from 2014.

QUESTION:  Is there a tension between academics and publishers? Is that how open access emerged?

In terms of tension between academics and publishers, where does one start ! That is an extremely broad question. Many academics feel that publishers haven’t been serving their interests effectively. For example, see The Cost of Knowledge signed so far by over 15,000 researchers. This was inspired by Sir William Timothy Gowers.

The open access movement traces its history at least back to the 1950s. Widespread access to the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s fueled the movement. Post internet, open access was initially seen as a threat by traditional subscription based publishers and more recently, an opportunity.

QUESTION:  You’ve studied open access thoroughly. To you, what does the future look like for Sci-Hub? If it disappears, do you expect something else will take its place?

The future of Sci-Hub is uncertain. It does have shades of the Napster era. See Napster, Udacity, and the Academy by Clay Shirky. That said, as The Library Loon states in her recent blog post Next moves in the Sci-Hub game“Sci-Hub has come as close as anything to Napsterizing paywalled journals yet actually surviving the experience”. Pressure on the system will continue until we have full open access in place.


In a subsequent piece about Sci-Hub, Peter Suber is quoted three times and is on record as saying the following:-

“I don’t endorse illegal tactics,” says Peter Suber, director of the Office for Scholarly Communications at Harvard University and one of the leading experts on open-access publishing.

Suber quote

Why Open Access ? Here’s my personal story

March 2, 2015
 (Re-posted from my now deceased blog, 13th October 2008) 


I did re-post this to my WP blog a couple of years ago but it was worthy of an update.

I decided to rewrite this post after receiving this tweet from Dr Martin Eve:-

I would very much encourage everybody to read his compelling post Open access in a time of illness


Why does Open Access matter to me?

I became involved in patient advocacy in September 2001 just under two years after I lost my brother Richard (who was aged 33 at that time) to a fatal, rare neurodegenerative disease (vCJD). At that time period, the prognosis of the disease was grim to say the least and with no treatment on or under the table, 9 months after the official diagnosis of his condition, it had gone downwards so much, we as a family were allowed under Scottish Law (with approval from his GP) to let him go.

The situation was so rapid, it didn’t occur to any of us to declare anything but defeat.

Richard & Graham

Graham & Richard Steel 1999

That was the history to the start of this post but not the point of writing it.

Two years later…

We (family) were approached to become more involved in a related support group. Dad declined, I agreed and took up the post of Vice-Chairman, a fairly daunting task at the age of 33.

During the early years of this work, I commenced the process of studying peer reviewed scientific, technical and medical (STM) research in detail for the first time.

One of the first questions I was asked  by the organizations Secretary was “Should we send scientific papers to family members, they’re quite complicated?” Me, “Well, I think we should give them the chance to look at relevant papers. Some might actually be interested in reading them, we should at least give them that opportunity rather than deny them”.

As Dr Eve touches upon in his post:-

Namely, that there isn’t a public for this material because it is specialized in both its wording and its content.

This is total nonsense and I really can’t stand it.

I completely agree.

This namely involved paper copies of Toll Access (TA) articles passed to the support group (which then became of Charitable status) I was involved with, by highly regarded UK researchers in the field in question. Whilst ‘we’ were able to share such research (with family members of the organization) by post using “fair use”, I knew that copyright restricted me from sharing any such material with a wider audience – the organizations website which I agreed to take over the handling of.

Despite this restriction, simply by placing as much information online in an open manner wherever possible, in the space of year, traffic had increased by over 4000%. As such, even before I knew what Open Access (OA) was, it was abundantly clear that being open was the main key to outreaching.

During this period, one of our three Scientific Advisors (Prof. Sarah Tabrizi) made me aware of PubMed.

After leaving that organization in 2005, I wanted to continue my patient advocacy work with broadened wings and become involved in other issues.

When did I become aware of OA?

Mid 2006. Up until the day in question, I had a pretty simple template email system in place to request PDFs of TA manuscripts directly from authors.

On the day in question, I noted from the Abstract of the Manuscript that I was looking for, there was a link to the full article. I had never seen a full paper online before. I had been of the view that all such content was locked behind an online paywall.


PLoS Pathogens
was the first OA Journal that I came across.

Not only could I access the Manuscript I was looking for and had requested, but the real eye opener was that I was able to access the entire Journal online for free! And not just that Journal, but I had stumbled upon something extremely significant.


OA was a dream come true. Until then, I had sent out ~1000 requests directly to researchers for their paywalled PDFs. 90% of those requests were happily fulfilled. At say £30 a paper, that would have cost me £30,000.

I did on one occasion burn a substantial number of these to CD-r at say 1 pence a copy (only a handful of copies were made) and hand over to  CJD International Support Alliance (CJDISA) in my remit as their Information Resource Manager. I was subsequently advised by a Librarian that this was a breach of publisher copyright.


As I said in this interview:-

One of my main eternal frustrations remains not being able to share my extensive library of papers due to Draconian copyright restrictions. Creative Commons is a dream come true….. Indeed, I’m wearing one of my PLOS t-shirts right now =) Prof Lawrence Lessig, you remain a STAR !!

Why should scientific and medical research be an open-access resource for the world?

To me, it makes so little sense* in this day and age to carry out and share STM research in a closed environment.

*Unless you are a traditional subscription based publisher of course.

May I quote in part, Associate Professor Bevin P. Engelward, the winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine from this 2007 PLoS Biology article:-

…In an age rife with the potential for infectious pandemics, bioterrorism, and toxic environmental calamity, and at a time when we need new ways to cure terrible illnesses, public access is our society’s compelling answer to accelerating the best science possible. This advance is much needed, both by researchers working in academic settings and in the private sector. Indeed, we should demand no less. We invite our fellow scientists to join in the demand for open access to biomedical literature.

Science, progress, societal benefits from that is a pretty concise focus.

Indeed, here’s a shot of Peter Murray-Rust and @McDawg discussing their forthcoming OA related Manuscript in London, August 2008.

(Image c/o Joe Dunckley’s sciblog Flickr stream)

What I do to support Open Access, and what can others do?

Simple. Spread the word.

My most blogged about post to date is precisely about this.

The blogosphere / and much more now, social media is an astonishingly great place to share and discover information. I’ve blogged fairly extensively about OA since I started blogging late 2007.

I’d like to close with this, again from Dr Eve.

What I’d like to close with here is that when worlds collide, interesting things happen. I remain dedicated to facilitating open access in the humanities disciplines, even when nobody needs this in a life-threatening circumstance, although I have argued that such circumstances do exist (in Open Access and the Humanities). But for me, the patronizing arguments that either everyone who needs it already has access or that there is no audience for OA can easily be countered by stories like this. We need open access. It makes the web a far better place, one where patients can turn to find high-quality material that can help them make sense of their conditions, one where others can turn to help them make sense of their worlds and cultures.

The musician in me cannot omit something poignant on this post. As such, here’s McDawg’s favourite mix of Peter Gabriel’s Shock The Monkey arising as a result of this competition. Such a mix was technically out of bounds for me at the time, but a friend in Portugal offered to assist on my behalf and did.

Peter Gabriel fully supports initiatives such as Creative Commons, The Open Society Institute, Students For Free Culture etc.