Sci-Hub.io – the Pirate Bay of Academic Research. Theft or not?

Sci-Hub.io free academic papers

I recently posted a link on facebook to Sci-Hub.io. Known as the Pirate Bay of the science world created 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan. jstor-intrinic-motivationAfter posting the article link to FB there was one single response. A response that seemed to imply the pirate site was childish theft. That it was an “I want everything for free” attitude. It’s hard to argue otherwise.  Us and our first world problems.

  1. Theft? Yes. – Yes I agree that the current economic structure in academics does in fact technically make this theft. So hey, Professor Elbakyan is having an American Tea Party in St. Petersberg.
  2. Further I believe it is our current economic structure that is broken. Oh, and that JSTOR is run by boneheads who couldn’t solve a problem creatively if their lives depended on it. As we say in programming – “garbage in, garbage out.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 6.43.31 PM

Taken from a behavioral perspective, if you recall, before the itunes store made buying songs easy, everyone downloaded them for free. Before the kindle made downloading books electronically cheap and convenient, everyone downloaded them for free. Make it convenient or someone else will make it really convenient!

First, what is sci-hub.io ? From the article “Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge” by FIONA MACDONALD:

A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles – almost every single peer-reviewed paper every published – freely available online. And she’s now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world’s biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren’t already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it’s sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn’t afford to access the articles needed for her research…

Maybe I had a knee jerk reaction of vindication seeing this research become freely available after the tragedy of Aaron Schwartz’ suicide in 2013 from overzealous persecution for accessing JSTOR documents from the MIT network.  I’m seriously wondering if JSTOR is trying to make sure Martin Shkreli quits dominating the “evil capitalist stories” the media likes to write.

And to be clear, I walk the talk. Our company’s product is Tendenci – the Open Source Membership Management Software (on github too) and most of my photography is creative commons attribution

Creative Commons Capital Photo by eschipul
Creative Commons Capital Photo by eschipul

as seen used in this publication below fully within copyright laws with attribution. We can play nicely together.

CC by Ca

JSTOR’s purpose after all is to;

JSTOR was founded to be a shared digital archive serving the scholarly community. We understand the value of the scholarship and other material on the platform and that the future accessibility of this content is essential. Libraries around the world rely on us and contribute Archive Capital Fees to JSTOR for preservation activities.

To understand a Russian academics perspective, this data I found on the Internet for free, says that the overall average monthly income in Russia in 2005 was a NET total of $263 per month. Now that $25 JSTOR article for which the author was paid nothing by JSTOR is 10% of that Russian student’s monthly income.

That kind of changes your perspective a bit, huh?

I can and do understand why people would immediately view sci-hub.io as theft. Except for academics this just isn’t a black and white issue. There are a few differences.

I can’t afford to pay $45 for every research paper I want to read knowing the research was funded by federal grants, underwritten by the University and the authors were not compensated.

Why not bring the economics down to the level of the app store?

How does JSTOR add value if they don’t pay the authors and didn’t write the content? Their answer is “peer review and legitimacy,” but those can now be conveyed on the internet. Aren’t there other solutions?

Why can’t we sign a peer review article with a blockchain?  It’s not just jstor but modern academics that haven’t kept up. Being a non-profit doesn’t mean you get to ignore everything that is going on with economics via externalities.

I’ll leave those thoughts for y’all to ponder. As for me I discovered a fully legal work around for when I wanted an academic article years ago. And here it is:

JSTOR pricing for an article free in other places on the net.
JSTOR pricing for an article free in other places on the net.

How to get 95% of the academic articles you want on the Internet for free with google.

Problem: writing a research paper for a national PR Magazine on “Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Incentives”. Solution:

  1. Search google scholar. https://scholar.google.com/ – Yes google scholar and NOT google. This will lead you to academic research on the subject for sale at some relatively high price on a site like jstor. This was my search Intrinsic Motivation and Extrinsic Incentives http://bit.ly/1Od1fRR
  2. COPY a large amount of text from the abstract or the preview they show you on overview page on JSTOR (or any of the academic pay-or-no-knowledge-for-you sites,) Highlight it.  Copy it verbatim.
  3. Now go back to www.google.com (not google scholar, but regular google this time.)
  4. Paste that monster block of text into google.com and odds are you will find a link to a PDF version of the article on someone’s server available for free.
  5. That led me to about 5 links to academic servers with the full pdf available for download at no cost. Example:
    http://www3.grips.ac.jp/~esp/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2015.-1.-28-Sawada_on_Rice_Planting_14_11_27.pdf

And the bottom line is the TOPIC I was interested in in a peer reviewed science journal as recent at 2014 was downloaded within 5 minutes. It takes me longer to print it than find it. Not that sci-hub.io probably couldn’t do it even faster. And that is a good thing for the globe. Now back to reading….

… In our study area, despite the potential of infestation of opportunistic behaviors by workers, a fixed wage (FW) contract has been dominant for rice planting since the 1960s. To account for this puzzle of a seemingly-inefficient contractual arrangement, we adopt a hybrid experimental method of framed field experiments by randomly assigning three distinct labor contracts, i.e., FW, individual piece rate (IPR), and group piece rate (GPR) contracts and artefactual filed experiments to elicit social preference parameters. Through the analyses of individual workers’ performance data from framed field experiments and data on social preferences elicited by artefactual field experiments, Three main empirical findings emerge. First……

Life can be complex. But I got what I wanted, I didn’t use it because after scanning it it wasn’t the article I was looking for. It sent unused, I didn’t pay for it, but I also threw it away, but mainly I acquired it and came to that decision faster than I could have typed in my credit card number to buy it from JSTOR.

Incentives and Social Preference
Incentives and Social Preference

In this case the economics didn’t match the need. I solved it for myself, and sci-hub is apparently solving it for millions. Open our minds and find a better optimum solution. We can and should do this.

the official religion and patriotic fervor

Over the past 13,000 years the predominant trend in human society has been the replacement of smaller, less complex units by larger, more complex ones.

… part of the reason for states’ triumphs over simpler entities when the two collide is that states usually enjoy an advantage of weaponry and other technology, and a large numerical advantage in population. But there are also two other potential advantages inherent in chiefdoms and states. First, a centralized decision maker has the advantage at concentrating troops and resources. Second, the official religion and patriotic fervor of many states make their troops willing to fight suicidally.

The latter willingness is one so strongly programmed into us citizens of modern states, by our schools and churches and governments, that we forget what a radical break it marks with previous human history. Every state has its slogan urging its citizens to be prepared to di if necessary for the state: Britain’s “For King and Country,” Spain’s “Por Dios y Espana,” and so on. Similar sentiments motivated 16th–century Aztec warriors: “there is nothing like death in war, nothing like the flowery death so precious to Him [the Aztec national God Huitzilopochtli] who gives life: far off I see it, my heart years for it!”

Such sentiments are unthinkable in bands and tribes. In all the accounts that my New Guinea friends have given me of their formal tribal wars, there has been not a hint of tribal patriotism, of a suicidal charge, or of any other military conduct carrying an accepted risk of being killed. Instead, raids are initiated by ambush or by superior force, so as to minimize at all costs the risk that one might die for one’s village. But that attitude severely limits the military options of tribes, compared with state societies.

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, pg 281-282

a penchant for boldness and initiative

The Marine Corps’ style of warfare requires intelligent leaders with a penchant for boldness and initiative down to the lowest levels. Boldness is an essential moral trait in a leader for it generates combat power beyond the physical means at hand. Initiative, the willingness to act on one’s own judgment, is a prerequisite for boldness. These traits carried to excess can lead to rashness, but we must realize that errors by junior leaders stemming from overboldness are a necessary part of learning. We should deal with such errors leniently; there must be no “zero defects” mentality. Abolishing “zero defects” means that we do not stifle boldness or initiative through the threat of punishment. It does not mean that commanders do not counsel subordinates on mistakes; constructive criticism is an important element in learning. Nor does it give subordinates free license to act stupidly or recklessly.

Not only must we not stifle boldness or initiative, but we must continue to encourage both traits in spite of mistakes. On the other hand, we should deal severely with errors of inaction or timidity. We will not accept lack of orders as justification for inaction; it is each Marine’s duty to take initiative as the situation demands. We must not tolerate the avoidance of responsibility or necessary risk.


Relations among all leaders—from corporal to general—should be based on honesty and frankness regardless of disparity between grades. Until a commander has reached and stated a decision, subordinates should consider it their duty to provide honest, professional opinions even though these may be in disagreement with the senior’s opinions. However, once the decision has been reached, juniors then must support it as if it were their own. Seniors must encourage candor among subordinates and must not hide behind their grade insignia. Ready compliance for the purpose of personal advancement—the behavior of “yes-men”—will not be tolerated.

Warfighting Pages 57-58

Sadako and the Paper Cranes

I recently had the privilege of visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial in OKC. As part of the museum exhibit you come upon hundreds of golden cranes. The description says they started arriving in OKC after the bombing and at first people were not sure why. Then they learned of the story SADAKO.

Sadako by Kamoda cc on flickr

I bought the SADAKO book in the museum shop to learn more.  From Wikipedia on Sadako:

On August 3, 1955, Sadako’s best friend Chizuko Hamamoto came to the hospital to visit and cut a golden piece of paper into a square and folded it into a paper crane. At first Sadako didn’t understand why Chizuko was doing this but then Chizuko retold the story about the paper cranes. Inspired by the crane, she started folding them herself, spurred on by the Japanese saying that one who folded 1,000 cranes was granted a wish.

It just struck me on several chords. First the story of the paper cranes. Second the unexpected gesture from Japan and the global community to OKC in a time of sadness. Third the origin of the story from the Hiroshima bombing. I can’t quite wrap my brain around it, but it definitely hit me in the gut.

The photo above is from the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan. Thanks to Flickr userKamodo for the CC licensed photo.

The Simple Truth About Your Business

I just finished reading The Simple Truth About Your Business, Why Focused and Steady Beats Business at the Speed of Light. By Alex Brennan-Martin, a man I have had the privilege of meeting. And a man who has earned a good amount of my money from celebrating dinners at his Houston restaurant with my wife over the years.

brennans-after-the-fireLike many things I like, I need it broken down. Numbered lists and exactness of speech. So I figured I would like a book titled The Simple Truth! Specifically The Simple Truth from the book  on page 25 states:

The Simple Truth answers the three most important questions in your quest for excellence and success:

  1. What is the real product my customer is buying?
  2. What special ingredient differentiates my product?
  3. Why is my customer buying what I am selling?

So the “for examples” are:

  1. Wal-Mart’s Simple Truth: “To lower the world’s cost of living.” – pg 27
  2. Disney World is not in the theme-park business, or even the entertainment business; it is in show business. – pg 28

Brennan goes on to clarify

You cannot deliver the Simple Truth unless the employees understand the Simple Truth. The customer is numero uno, but until the employees’ needs are aligned with those of the customer, there is an inherent conflict.”

For Brennan the simple truth of his restaurant is:

Creating Great Customer Memories – pg 50

Which brings me to a challenge with our business. We used to say simply “we build web sites that help you sell”. Probably because our turn around was in the recession of 2001 and 2002. If you could help someone survive that was awesome stuff! It prevented CEOs from having to lay people off, and that is a BIG motivator.

To this day our primary headline is “Does your website increase your sales” and our tag line is “The Web Marketing Company“. Pretty clear stuff.

Yet our vision is:

To Connect and Organize the World’s People. Do Good.

So unlike Wal-Mart, our vision statement can not double as our simple truth. Having deep thoughts on that subject now…