Rogue approaches to scholarly communication

OSI2016_Martin KalfatovichThis 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.

LibGen (“Library Genesis) (Wikipedia) is a searchable database for articles.  Also comics, magazines, and paintings, somehow.  Like Sci-Hub it frequently moves and appears in mirrors.

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)

CanaryHaz is another open access searching Chrome extension.  It requires users to register with the site, which then sets up individual lockers to stash copies.

CanaryHaz and Unpaywall both in use

CanaryHaz appears as the green bar up top. Unpaywall is the green lock icon on the right edge.

The Open Access button is another browser extension, which, when pressed, triggers a search for OA pdfs.

Social media in generalCharlie 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 callsshadow 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?

(OSI2016 photo by Martin Kalfatovich)

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21 Responses to Rogue approaches to scholarly communication

  1. What’s the definition of rogue? I can’t see how Unpaywall, CanaryHaz, or The Open Access Button would be characterized as rogue. They don’t attempt to subvert the system, bypass paywalls, or the like but rather are just embedded search engines with targeted sources.

    I think there is also interesting space being carved out (or at least trying to) via the STM Association sharing principles. You can see my comments on it here:

  2. Great list! This article reminded me to go back and read Roger C. Schonfeld’s piece Meeting Researchers Where They Start: Streamlining Access to Scholarly Resources from 2015. See Even those of us who have access to large library collections of e-resources may resort to rogue sites because… it’s just easier!

  3. ted says:

    About a year ago I came across this article about “emergent digital librarianship” and darknet shadow libraries, the largest of which has

    more than 1.15 million documents. Nearly two thirds of the collection is in English, one fifth of the documents is in Russian, while German works amount to the third largest group with 8.5% of the collection. … [M]ost of the collection is published by mainstream western academic publishers. Springer published more than 12% of the works in the collection, followed by the Cambridge University Press, Wiley, Routledge and Oxford University Press.

  4. I post all my articles at
    I get notified of searches, downloads and reads, which are startlingly many and is information I never get with journal publications. I can join interest groups and follow other writers and researchers.
    Of course, I am not under an imperative to publish in top ranked journals, either, so I am really happy with this solution.
    But my dear Bryan, is it truly roguey?

  5. VanessaVaile says:

    as an unaffiliated guerrilla informationist, being called rogue is affirmation and honorific

  6. tomasz says:

    Many of these “rogue” solutions were not visible in 2013, when I wrote this article, but it seemed clear that if there was to be a “revolutionary” change in scholarly publishing, the dissatisfied portion of the public will mobilize. It is also unsurprising that the publishing establishment will try to counter.

    “Obviously, different people are bound to feel somewhat differently about the prevailing social order. In particular, some will dislike it because it hurts their interests, others because they find it stale, still others because they find it unfair, and so on. However, knowledge of such subjective factors is insufficient to explain revolutions. Revolutions succeed not just when many people object to the establishment: they succeed when the revolutionary elite – which always includes some members of the establishment – manages to mobilize the part of the population that is deeply dissatisfied with the prevailing regime, while the latter is not prepared to counter the rebellion.” (Bunge, Clarifying some misunderstandings about social systems and their
    mechanisms. Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 34(3), 371-381. doi:10.1177/0048393104266860)

  7. The Atlantic article “Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria: Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them” is on point.
    “The first copyright statute in the United States, passed in 1790, was called An Act for the Encouragement of Learning. Copyright terms were to last fourteen years, with the option to renew for another fourteen, but only if the author was alive at the end of the first term. The idea was to strike a “pragmatic bargain” between authors and the reading public. Authors would get a limited monopoly on their work so they could make a living from it; but their work would retire quickly into the public domain.”
    With nearly half of all college students ‘adult learners’ (two thirds of California community college students), or as I characterize us – taxpayers, we are moving beyond ‘education reform’ and into a major social problem. The fact that students (and taxpayers) are entirely left out of the conversation does not bode well. With the neoliberal takeover of higher education, college is just another marketplace where administrators, faculty and staff fight over working conditions while dwindling enrollments and resources spell the end of many institutions. Anyone looking at education from outside the academy is characterized as another ‘roaming autodidact’, or worse, a ‘western white male roaming autodidact.’ Guilty as charged (and a retired Silicon Valley worker!), I continue to pursue my projects as a lifetime learner with Enlightenment values.

  8. zapya apk says:

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    great. I don’t know who you might be but certainly you are going to a well-known blogger in the event you are not already.

  9. Pingback: Update on rogue solutions in scholarly communication | Bryan Alexander

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