This week I’m participating in the Open Scholarship Initiative (OSI) conference in the Washington, DC area. I was active in the first OSI meeting last year, and am looking forward to this one. Hopefully I’ll tweet events and reflections (#OSI2017). For today I’d like to share thoughts on one particular issue, and its implications for the future of education.
OSI meetings are based on topical workgroups, each of which addresses a specific aspect of scholarly communication. Last year I was part of one focused on information overload (and scarcity, or underload); here’s our report. This year I’m in a new group, one splendidly dedicated to… rogue solutions.
Let me quote from our charge:
What are the impacts of Sci-Hub and other rogue solutions on open access and what is the future of this approach, which may be gaining new mainstream support (noting for instance Wellcome’s recent funding of ResearchGate). What new resources should the scholarly community develop (and how) that would be useful and legal additions to our progress toward open (a new blacklist for instance, or new repositories)? This group will also integrate (to the extent possible) ideas raised by the information overload workgroup from OSI2016.
What are some of these rogue approaches?
Sci-Hub (Wikipedia) is a search engine that hunts for open versions of articles. Created by Kazakh grad student Alexandra Elbakyan. Frequently sued, the site changes locations and is multiply mirrored.
r/Scholar on Reddit is a forum where users post requests for articles and books.
#ICanHazPDF is a Twitter hashtag where users plea for open pdfs of named articles. (I’ve had success w/”ICanHasPDF”, too; old English prof habits die hard.)
Unpaywall is a Google Chrome browser extension that, when pressed, tries to find open versions of articles linked or displayed on a current webpage. Impactstory created it, in part by building a big database of articles from legit sources, available through the oaDOI API. (Nature article)
The Open Access button is another browser extension, which, when pressed, triggers a search for OA pdfs.
Social media in general – Charlie Rapple shared some fine research at the Scholarly Kitchen concerning how scholars use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to find and share readings. I’m fascinated by the way a majority of scholars believe in respecting copyright… and also trade papers.
So why does this matter?
Because the proliferation of rogue solutions points to rising frustration with the scholarly publication and communication ecosystem. Open access has won over some journals, elicited the creation of others, and inspired new practices from publishers, while traditional (“closed access”, if you like) publishing practices continue. We’re in a state of massive conflict, and the future of scholarship is in the balance.
Perhaps one or more of these rogues will grow into a widely used service. Rapple’s study shows that many faculty are keenly interested in sharing and accessing openly. #ICanHazPDF seems widely used, although I don’t have a sense of numbers. We could see one or more evolving into what Balázs Bodó calls “shadow libraries” (thanks to commentator Ted). On the other hand, the fate of Sci-Hub and LibGen suggests another outcome, one where these services remain marginal and on the run, like bittorrent file-sharing.
There is also the looming gap between the global north and south, or the developed (rich) and developing (not rich) nations. The former tend to have far more access to scholarship than the latter. Addressing this imbalance is one cause for the pro-open movement. Will global south/developing nations’ faculty, staff, and students start taking up these rogue tools? Recall that Elbakyan, Sci-Hub’s creator, is from a non-wealthy central Asian state.
Are there other rogue approaches to scholarly communication that you find interesting and/or useful? What do you make of this whole subfield?
And will I see you at OSI this week?