How can you access research articles for free

Robin Hood © AndScene

Robin Hood © AndScene

The first issues of the first scientific journals were published back in 1665, in which it was noted things like, hey it looks like there’s a spot on Jupiter, thanks to new telescopes invented by a certain Mr. Newton, whose friend Halley described a comet. The same journal that reported that oranges and lemons could cure scurvy, and something in willow tree bark could bring down a fever, published a letter by some guy over in the colonies about playing with kites during lightning storms, and an account of a remarkable eight-year-old musician by the name of Amadeus, and within this last century, some sketchings of the structure of some molecule called DNA. A journal still in publication to this day, 350 years later, available now online and in print for the low, low subscription price of only $6,666 a year.

As you can imagine, the high price of journals leaves “doctors…in developing countries…missing out on relevant information about health.” “At that time,” back in the 1990s, “there was optimism that, by 2004,” at least, the problem of access to life-saving information would be solved. But 2004 came and went. So, they set their sights for 2015. Surely, by then, we could “achieve health information for all,” as “lack of access…remain[ed] a major barrier.” “Realistically only scientists at really big, well-funded universities in the developed world [may] have full access to published research.” And, as prices rise even more, even that may no longer be true. You know there’s a problem when even Harvard, as in 30-billion-dollar-endowment Harvard, claims that “Costs [for research journals] are now prohibitive.”

Meanwhile, the journal publishers are raking in billions, charging institutions up to $35,000 a year per journal, and charging individuals online per article. So, you have “a family member…diagnosed” with some disease, and you go online. You can read all sorts of internet dreck, but if you want to see the actual science, it can get expensive. And, you likely paid for the research. Tax dollars pour in to fund the research, and then you can’t get access to the research you paid for.

It’s like if a nice little city park was built, but then some private firm came in and started to charge admission. “That’s roughly how it works with scientific research.” And this conversion of “public research dollars into private publishing profits” has long been a source of discontent. The publishers don’t end up paying anything for the research. They get it for free; they don’t pay the researchers anything. “So, we pay for it, and then we [have to] pay for it again if we want to read it.’ So, it can end up with science as a profit system, rather than science as knowledge.

Enter Alexandra Elbakyan, nicknamed by some “the Robin Hood of Science.” It’s the story “of how one researcher…made nearly every scientific paper ever published available for free to [everyone], anywhere in the world.”

Named by perhaps the most prestigious scientific journal in the world as one of the top “people who mattered” the most in science in 2016, Alexandra started out as just a frustrated grad student in Kazakhstan, unable to access the scholarly papers she needed for her research. Once she figured out how to circumvent all the paywalls, she started a website—now at sci-hub.hk—to remove all barriers in the way of science by giving away the world’s scientific, medical, and nutrition literature for free.

“What she did is nothing short of awesome,” said [one researcher]. “Lack of access to the scientific literature is a massive injustice, and she fixed it with one fell swoop.”

This article has been reprinted from the NutritionFacts.org website with permission from the NutritionFacts team. This article has been exclusively first published on NutritionFacts.org – a strictly non-commercial, science-based public service providing free updates on the latest in nutrition research.

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