As we work to prepare students for their future careers, understanding digital citizenship is a critical part of today's professional toolkit. Considering the UCA IT Department’s recent warning of increased phishing attempts, we thought it might be timely to share some developments related to scholarly communication.
In late December, the Washington Post announced that Alexandra Elbakyan, the founder of Sci-Hub, is under investigation by the US Justice Department on suspicion that she is working with Russian intelligence to steal U.S. military secrets. Sci-Hub, which provides access to millions of scholarly research articles in breach of copyright law, was sued by the publisher Elsevier and court ordered to cease operations in October 2015. Yet the site has defied the order and continues to operate by periodically changing web domains.
Sci-Hub professes to share the goal of open access advocates (including libraries) to make scholarly research accessible to all, but its methods are worse than unethical. Through phishing and hacking campaigns, Sci-Hub actively seeks usernames and passwords from academic libraries, often targeting Western universities, in order to pirate copyrighted articles. Evidence suggests Sci-Hub also may be using academic credentials to plant malware, harvest social security numbers, and track the online activity of Sci-Hub users. For more on this, see this guest post from the Scholarly Kitchen.
There is a push for universities to block campus access to Sci-Hub, as downloading content from these kinds of sites puts universities at risk. Just last semester, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) temporarily shut down UCA’s off-campus access to database content when Sci-Hub attempted to use a UCA account to acquire content. The Library was able to neutralize the compromised account so that database access was quickly restored. Database and journal licenses dictate that illegal content harvesting activities will result in loss of campus access, which can have a dire impact on faculty research as well as student learning.
It is also worth noting that libraries justify journal and database subscriptions by assessing annual cost per download from authorized publisher platforms. Yet when students and faculty download articles through platforms like Sci-Hub and ResearchGate rather than through the library’s discovery service, journal cost per use increases for that library. (See Rick Anderson’s post to the Scholarly Kitchen for a more detailed explanation.) The library has no way to assess usage of scholarly content from sites like Sci-Hub, but the library can justify purchases and subscriptions when materials are directly requested and used by faculty and students.
The good news is there are many trusted sources of open scholarly publications, including the DOAJ, DOAB, OAPEN, PLOS Journals, PubMed Central, arXiv. You can find the UCA Library’s previous posts on some of these sources here and here. In addition, there are pilot projects in the works for non-open article-sharing, including a recent initiative between Springer Nature and ResearchGate, and a new online application called Get Full Text Research (GetFTR) set to launch in 2020. An initiative of the American Chemical Society, Elsevier, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley, GetFTR can direct users to final, full-text versions of papers (if available through a subscription or open access) or to pre-prints if the publisher permits.
All this to say, we strongly encourage you to be careful with your UCA credentials and be wary of how you access scholarly research. We ask this for the sake of your online privacy and for the sake of continued campus access to critical scholarly research. If you have difficulty accessing an article, please let the library assist you. Our interlibrary loan turnaround time for digital articles is usually less than 48 hours. As always, we look forward to helping you find the information you need this semester.