Challenging the Custodians of Scientific Literature

I have recently been reading some interesting articles regarding the access of scientific literature. One red-hot issue at the center of the current debate is the Sci-Hub website (open at your own legal peril), launched by a neuro-scientist in Russia, who decided to make published research available to everyone, for free. Sci-Hub is also being called the “Pirate Bay of Science”, make what you will of that.

While the debate rages on about the legality of the Sci-Hub webpage, as a researcher, I have often questioned personally, why do researchers have to pay ~$30 for accessing a single paper? Or otherwise, their institute must sign up for institutional access, at exorbitant prices. All this, when the publisher doesn’t even pay a dime to the reviewers, who are the backbone of this whole process. Are the publishers charging this much $$ from their readers for just maintaining the database, their servers, and providing coordinating services? Food for thought…


While reading an expansive recent article on ScienceAlert about Sci-Hub, I found this quote by the founder of Sci-Hub, Alexandra Elbakyan, very poignant:

All papers on their website are written by researchers, and researchers do not receive money from what Elsevier collects. That is very different from the music or movie industry, where creators receive money from each copy sold.

To that, I would like to add that the reviewers, whose dedication of time and effort make the process of peer-review and scientific advancement possible, are also paid nothing.

To add to the discussion about Sci-Hub, here is a very interesting in-depth article on the vision and force behind Sci-Hub.

Following that up, on the side, is a moving article about Aaron Swartz, a boy-genius and a prodigy, who was the founder of RSS feeds, and co-founded Creative Commons and Reddit, among other significant creations on the internet. The life of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide at 26, is so compelling, I wonder why Hollywood has not made a movie about him yet.

As a footnote, many renowned and wealthy academic institutions like Harvard University, USA, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, Ryerson University, Canada, University of Montreal, Canada, Brock University, Canada, and Helsinki University, Finland, are now finding it hard to afford and keep up with exorbitant journal subscription fees.

I will definitely be writing more about the current state of academic publishing and the access to science and scientific literature in the future on this blog. Look forward to your views in the comments.

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About WQ

I received my PhD (2013) in Remote Sensing, Earth and Space Science at the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA, under a Fulbright fellowship. Currently, I'm an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Space Science at Institute of Space Technology (IST), Islamabad, Pakistan, where I have been a founding member of the Geospatial Research & Education Lab (GREL). My general expertise is in Remote Sensing where I have worked with various remote sensing datasets through my career, while for my PhD thesis I specifically worked on Remote Sensing using SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and Oceanography, working extensively on development of techniques to measure ocean surface currents from space-borne SAR intensity images and interferometric data. My research interests are: Remote sensing, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery and interferometric data processing & analysis, Visible/Infrared/High-resolution satellite image processing & analysis, Oceanography, Earth system study and modelling, LIDAR data processing and analysis, Scientific programming. I am a reviewer for IEEE Transactions on Geoscience & Remote Sensing, Forest Ecosystems, GIScience & Remote Sensing, Journal of African Earth Sciences, and Italian Journal of Agronomy. I am an alumnus of Pakistan National Physics Talent Contest (NPTC), an alumnus of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, a Fulbright alumnus, and the Pakistan National Point of Contact for Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). I was an invited speaker at the TEDxIslamabad event held in Nov., 2014. I've served as mentor in the NASA International Space App Challenge Islamabad events in April 2015 and April 2016.

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