Redditors Aim to 'Free Science' From For-Profit Publishers

They aim to download website Sci-Hub's over 85 million scientific papers and make them open-source.
Chris Young
The logo of Sci-HubSci-Hub/Wikimedia Commons

A group of Redditors came together in a bid to archive over 85 million scientific papers from the website Sci-Hub and make an open-source library that cannot be taken down, according to a report by Gizmodo.

Over the last decade or so, Sci-Hub, often referred to as "The Pirate Bay of Science", has been giving free access to a huge database of scientific papers that would otherwise be locked behind a paywall.

Unsurprisingly, the website has been the target of multiple lawsuits, as well as an investigation from the United States Department of Justice. The site's Twitter account was also recently suspended under Twitter's counterfeit policy, and its founder, Alexandra Elbakyan, reported that the FBI gained access to her Apple accounts.

Now, Redditors from a subreddit called DataHoarder, which is aimed at archiving knowledge in the digital space, have come together to try to save the numerous papers available on the website. 

Mission to make science open source and 'uncensorable'

In a post on May 13, the moderators of r/DataHoarder, stated that "it's time we sent Elsevier and the USDOJ a clearer message about the fate of Sci-Hub and open science. We are the library, we do not get silenced, we do not shut down our computers, and we are many."

This will be no easy task. Sci-Hub is home to over 85 million papers, totaling a staggering 77TB of data. The group of Redditors is currently recruiting for its archiving efforts and its stated goal is to have approximately 8,500 individuals torrenting the papers in order to download the entire library.

Once that task is complete, the Redditors aim to release all of the downloaded data via a new "uncensorable" open-source website.

In 2019, a similar community of Redditors successfully completed an almost identical mission by downloading and releasing 33TB of scientific papers and books from Library Genesis, a site similar to Sci-Hub.

As the r/DataHoarder group would have it, this is by no means a mission aimed at allowing people to cheapskate their way to easy access for otherwise paid articles. Instead, they claim it is a "rescue mission for Open Science."

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, more than half of all academic publishing is controlled by only five publishers. Paywalls for the articles are justified on the premise that they compensate publishers for their investment in editing, curating, and publishing. However, the truth is that work is often peer-reviewed by scholars who get no compensation from the publisher.

Much of the science published in these articles is also publicly funded in the first place, leading many to argue that the results should be freely available to the public — instead, Harvard University warned in 2012 that subscription fees for scientific journals were becoming prohibitively expensive. As such, the poster from r/DataHoarder wrote that the group joins a mission to "free science from the grips of for-profit publishers."

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