Sci-Hub is necessary but it is not a solution

There is a large and important debate in the scientific community at the moment which concerns access to research publications. Currently, a large amount of research is only available if a researcher or institution is willing to pay, often exorbitant fees, to access it. The debate has focussed on many issues, such as whether it is right for publishers to profit off research that is funded by the public when the researchers receive nothing or how a combination of high costs and funding limitations further the research gap between developed and developing countries.

There is increasing pressure, for example by the European Union and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to move to something known as open access, where authors pay a publication fees but where the research is then freely available to everyone. One player that often comes up in these discussions is Sci-Hub. Continue reading

Advertisements

Profit > Humanity?

This is a bit of a weird post because, in one sense, I’m actually criticising a journal publisher for making articles open access but, the bigger point, is that it is for a limited time and reveals a very troubling mindset. First, let’s talk about what sparked this. Scientific publisher Springer Nature is currently holding its Change the World event. It’s chosen about 180 of the best scientific articles it published in 2016 and is making them available for free. That’s great! But… at the end of this month, those articles will no longer be free unless they were originally published as open access articles.

I am using Change the World as an example but what I’m going to say here applies to all scientists that promise to improve people’s lives then publish behind a paywall. Springer Nature is framing its event as being a huge benefit to the world. I trust science, I’m sure that what is in those papers really can make a difference to the world. But lets just assume we really believe it when they say: Continue reading

Elsevier, you suck!

Remember when I wrote about the need for open access? I mentioned that some publishers have very high profit margins. Elsevier’s was 37%. Elsevier also has faced years of criticism for its policies, including a long term boycott, which has probably had little effect. You want to know why this happens?

A friend of mine shared a photo on Facebook from Insufferably Intolerant Science Nerd which showed this picture.

18010604_826334967527623_521545708189858786_n

It’s an article about Sci-Hub, a site which allows anyone to bypass paywalls and access research articles for free, hidden behind a paywall. That’s irony. But it doesn’t stop there.

EDIT: This contradiction has since been fixed. I guess since the author found out about it.

I don’t necessarily trust things I see on the internet so I go looking for this paper and find that it indeed costs $35,95 IF you access it through Science Direct, Elsevier’s own research portal. However, if you access it directly from the journal’s page it is free! Not only is it free but it includes this text.

A bizarre and frustrating dissonance exists between what content is routinely made free by scientific journals and what is not. For example, News and Perspective articles such as this one are published free online by Elsevier.

Yes! Annals of Emergency Medicine is published by Elsevier and News and Perspectives are free to access through the journal’s website but access that same article through Elsevier’s own research portal will cost you $35,95. Now, if that isn’t bizarre and frustrating, I don’t know what is. Elsevier, you suck!

The case of Diego Gomez highlights the need for open access

It was in November 2014 when I first wrote about Diego Gomez. Tomorrow will see a court, in Colombia, decide his fate. (Article in French) He is facing a fine of up to $327 000 and four to eight years in prison for the sharing a scientific article with a colleague. This is something that many scientists do and which is sometimes necessary for our work. This case highlights the need to move to a world where all scientific articles are open access, i.e. free to read. Continue reading

Science: DIY, peer review and problems

DIY science seems quite interesting, especially if you have an interest in science but are following a different career path. There are various ways to get by without the usual instruments, although I’m not sure how successful they are, but this guide to turning your smartphone into a microscope seems pretty good. I’ve actually got a busted laser pointer (the battery compartment doesn’t shut) so I might try this at some point.

The following is a story I heard about at the Southern African Society of Human Genetics conference. According to a news article published in Science magazine a series of obviously fake papers were created and sent to 304 open access journals.

By the time Science went to press, 157 of the journals had accepted the paper and 98 had rejected it. Of the remaining 49 journals, 29 seem to be derelict: websites abandoned by their creators. Editors from the other 20 had e-mailed the fictitious corresponding authors stating that the paper was still under review; those, too, are excluded from this analysis.

It’s a worrying result but a useful one. For example, it shows that peer review works at PLoS One and BioMed Central. In addition it told me that there is poor peer review at Dove Press and the OMICS publishing group, which is worrying because I had been getting Dove Press alerts (though never read their articles) and had heard senior scientists mention OMICS as a possible place to publish. Needless to say I cancelled my subscription to Dove Press alerts and will advise against publishing with OMICS.

The main problem with the experiment, and it is at least mentioned in the article itself, is that there’s no control group. It describes this as an open access issue but doesn’t give us the data to say that it doesn’t happen in subscription journals. This issue has been raised elsewhere, like here and here, the latter with further criticisms.

Lastly, we have a sad story about the many problems currently plaguing science. While I would suggest reading at that link and the two articles it references, if you only have time for one I would recommend this one. There are many scary things included, lack of replication of studies, problems with peer review and poor use of statistical significance to name a few. Many I’d already heard of but it’s distressing to see it all laid out in one place. But it’s only if we know about it that we can start addressing it.

A death in the open-access movement

I saw an article on Yahoo! today about the death of Aaron Swartz. Swartz was a computer programmer who co-authored RSS 1.0 (If you subscribe to the feeds for either new posts or new comments it is thanks to a later version of RSS), was co-owner of Reddit, a Wikipedia editor and activist. He committed suicide on 11 January, seemingly due to depression and stress relating to charges against him with regards to his activism relating to the open access movement. Continue reading

Open-source and open-access news

I think as a global society we need to start working together to benefit everyone. Being in South Africa I’m constantly exposed both to sections of society that are incredibly poor and sections that are incredibly rich. One of the ways to move out of poverty and work towards a better world is through education and technology, but that costs money. Sometimes a lot of money, which is why I am supportive of various initiatives for free and open-source software. Previously I’ve expressed support for Mendeley and disapproved of attempts to prevent the public having access to research they funded. I’ve seen a few pieces on the topics recently and thought I’d share them in one convenient post. Continue reading