It's sometimes known as the "serials crisis": academic and scholarly journals charging an arm, a leg and whatever other limbs they can get at in exchange for letting people read their material. The companies who publish the work make billion-dollar profits; meanwhile, even Harvard has complained that it can't keep up with the costs.


Countering the high price of research journals was one of the final crusades of the late internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz, but he wasn't the only person fighting for more free access to scholarly work. On Friday, Science Alert wrote about Alexandra Elbakyan, a Russian scientist who's been running a site called Sci-Hub since 2011. Sci-Hub has 48 million research papers available totally free of charge. As the site explains:

[Sci-Hub is] sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world…it's since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court - a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

Those 48 million papers constitute, in the words of BigThink, "nearly every scientific paper ever published." Here's how it works, according to The Atlantic:


Sci-Hub uses university networks to access subscription-only academic papers, generally without the knowledge of the academic institutions. When a user asks Sci-Hub to access a paid article, the service will download it from a university that subscribes to the database that owns it. As it delivers the user a pdf of the requested article, it also saves a copy on its own server, so that next time someone requests the paper, they can download the cached version.

Naturally, the publishing companies are unhappy about this. The site was taken down, but it got put back up. Now, everyone's waiting to see what will happen next.