Do Your Part! Illegally Download Scientific Papers

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The writers of scientific papers are not paid by the journals. The research is not paid for by the journals. The peer reviewers aren’t always paid. The journals now don’t even have to pay for printing if they don’t feel like it. The ONLY reason access to papers is so costly seems to me is essentially because institutions can afford them and the market will bear it.

What am I missing?


Building large and proper publishing systems are not cheap, and having staff to manage the peer review system. Getting the paper published isn’t free, so someone has to pay. Who should be paying for that to happen?

Not being snarky, I’m honestly asking as someone employed by a scientific publisher.


God I hate research paywalls. They’re as much of a problem in the humanities as they are in the sciences, and they serve no other purpose but to fatten the pockets of capitalist parasites.


I edit an open-access, no-fees journal, but we couldn’t do it without institutional support and some pretty serious time donation, and couldn’t do it if we weren’t tiny. Among the things that cost money are the hosting and indexing fees, the printing and distribution if you’re a print journal, copy editing, costs involved in publicising/advertising your journal both to scientists (this often takes the form of having a conference presence or even helping to sponsor/subsidize the conference) and to libraries, and just general clerical/administrative costs. While this doesn’t get you to justifying Kluwer-level journal costs, the common narrative that all the hard work is done for free is not reality-based.


I wonder if Kazaa might be part of the solution?

I think that’s the point. Piracy tends to be minimal when market forces are balanced.


I never said proposed a fee free model. I’m asking why in a world of publishing the prices for this specific corner are so extortionary. I have better, cheaper access to Cigar Aficionado than Science and the latter probably has wider circulation. I’m also making it clear to everyone that scientists are not paid by journals, because this is a misconception that I’ve encountered before.


Really, stealing the articles will do little to fight the stranglehold that publishers have on scientific publication. If you want to attack the beast DO NOT SUBMIT papers to super-overpriced journals.


My apologies, I didn’t mean to get your statements incorrect. I agree that scientific journals should be appropriately priced, and that the information should be made as freely available as possible. I also believe a lot of people don’t know the amount of time, energy, resources, and people it takes to get one article published. It also means a much smaller audience, which will naturally drive the price per article up.

I will say that I work for a non-profit organization, so our goal is not to make money, but to publish the best content possible to as wide an audience as possible. Not all publishers are the same.

You are also very right about this, and depending on the paper and journal, some researchers pay for it to be published. If the publisher is doing it’s job correctly, this has the benefit of both allowing a wide audience access to it, and yet still being properly peer reviewed before publication. That also gives some insight to the costs, which for us is about $2k an article, and that does not come with a massive profit margin at all.


Good for your organization. However, profit margins at Elsevier were 39% in 2013, and 37% in 2014. That’s just disgusting for a function that’s too damned important. This is an industry that should be nationalized. Maybe we could get rid of the fake journals as well.


That someone would use those words publicly in a non ironic context is a sure sign of involvement in the social alchemies.

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The extended implications.

All of science is built by standing on the shoulders of those who came before. Scientists traditionally give their work to the world for free, but this isn’t purely altruistic. In part, it’s a pay-it-forward deal; giving your work away is the price you agree to pay in return for the free usage of the science of the past.

Closed-access for-profit journals fundamentally violate this ethos. Even if they were run ethically, they would still be objectionable.

But they aren’t run ethically. Corruption scandals amongst the for-profit journals are routine and increasing; see for an example. In the medical sciences especially, this corruption has literally murderous consequences.

Beyond that, for-profit journals create many bad externalities. Academic institutions in the developing world cannot afford them; this in turn cripples the ability of local researchers to respond to the medical, environmental and social problems of which their communities have the most intimate knowledge. The resulting suppression of academia and brain-drain of local scientists towards the developed world further damages their societies.

For-profit journals also increase the tendency towards sensationalism, the neglect of replication and the bias against publishing negative results.

Although there is some cost involved in journal production, almost all of the work is done at the expense of unpaid junior academics. Not just the writing and reviewing; these days, academics have to do the bulk of the typesetting themselves as well. Journal submission processes are nightmarish; getting a manuscript into an “acceptable” format takes days of work, and uploading a submission often requires hours.

It is entirely within the technological ability of 21st century humanity to create a single database, paired with an excellent search engine, that includes the full text of every single academic paper that has ever been published, and to make this database freely available to every person in the world. If the cost were shared amongst academic institutions worldwide, the expense would be trivial.

Doing this would constitute the greatest advance in the dissemination of human knowledge since the Gutenberg press. The only reason why we can’t do it is because a bunch of hugely profitable rent-extracting parasites are squatting on top of an unearned mountain of copyrights.


There are many, many reasons Elsevier needs to die, and their greed is actually almost the least of it.


Elsevier delenda est.

In a just world, their entire board of directors would be facing life in prison. They’re mass murderers.


Too bad there isn’t some sort of system where research could be funded by grants. Maybe the government could even fund some research that might be in the interests of the public. Not being snarky, but this stuff is paid for. If the funds are mismanaged or not allocated properly, that’s a problem that should be solved, but not by withholding the information from all but the wealthy elite.

Wikipedia, despite its issues, is a great example of what could happen. Tremendous amounts of knowledge are now freely available to anyone, where previously they would have had to pay $1000+ for a set of encyclopedias (quickly outdated). Academic journals of course would have some differences, but there’s no legitimate reason that they couldn’t also be made freely available to everyone.


This is a soon to be (mostly) self-corrected problem. Increasingly, the federal granting agencies on which so much scientific research relies are insisting that science funded by public taxpayer dollars be made freely available to the public, if not immediately upon publication, then within a short time-frame (e.g. two years), either because the journal makes all their not-super-recent papers freely available or because the journal allows the authors to make it so at their own free institutional databases. Scientific journals are now scrambling to change their copyright and free-to-access policies, because they can no longer run under the current model if they ever again want to publish NSF-funded research. That needle will keep swinging in that direction, because the scientific research community wants to, and because the researchers are actually the ones who do both the editing and peer-review for the journals and the reviewing and adjudication for the granting agencies.

(And no, academic scientists don’t do that editing and peer-review work “for free”. We do it as part of our expected service to the scientific community, which is in our job description and a criteria for promotion and tenure. We do get paid to do that work: it is part of our job as academic scientists.)

That said, yeah, seriously, fuck Elsevier. Those guys have been price gouging for decades.

The alternative to SciHub and illegally downloading yourself, of course, is to make friends with an academic scientist at a university that pays for access and ask them to send you the papers. Which they will happily do. (Or go to school there. I know alumni at my school get lifetime access to everything available through our library, which is basically everything.)


Yes, funded researchers can use their grants to pay “page charges” to the journals, and requiring such charges is one way the journals can keep costs down for consumers.


Sure, but (e.g.) Journal of Chromatography A does NOT cost $20,000 per year per subscriber to produce / host online, even including a healthy profit margin.