I can’t say that I’m encouraging this activity as that would be encouraging scientists to break the law, but I will call your attention to a piece in The Atlantic describing a new development. Scientists, or anyone, can now request paywalled academic papers on Twi**er, and authors or others who have the paper (you surely have to use Twi**er to see the request) can respond by sending the pdf file to the requestor. Added bonus: the hashtag is cat-related. An excerpt:
Most academic journals charge expensive subscriptions and, for those without a login, fees of $30 or more per article. Now academics are using the hashtag #icanhazpdf to freely share copyrighted papers.
Scientists are tweeting a link of the paywalled article along with their email address in the hashtag—a riff on the infamous meme of a fluffy cat’s “I Can Has Cheezburger?” line. Someone else who does have access to the article downloads a pdf of the paper and emails the file to the person requesting it. The initial tweet is then deleted as soon as the requester receives the file.
Andrea Kuszewski, a San Francisco-based cognitive scientist who started the hashtag, tells Quartz that “the biggest rule is that you don’t thank people.” Those who willingly share papers are, in most cases, breaking copyright laws. But Kuszewski says it’s an important act of “civil disobedience,” adding “it’s not an aggressive act but it’s just a way of saying things need to change.”
Yes, indeed: things need to change. It’s simply absurd for academic papers to charge $30 or more per paper. Access to papers is the lifeblood of many scientists, and to grossly inflate the prices of single papers in this way is as invidious—though not as deadly—as the practices of those entrepeneurs who have raised the prices of pills manyfold after getting rights to the drug. There is no justification for companies like Elsevier to charge so much money to get a single pdf and, in fact, I’ve always maintained that the American public, who funds most research through government agencies like the NSF and NIH, have a right to see that research without paying for it. Open access journals are the way to go.
3½ years ago I urged scientist/readers to boycott the publisher Elsevier, notorious for price-gouging libraries and restricting access to scientific information. My own boycott still stands: I refused to review a paper for an Elsevier journal this weekend, and told them why. I’m heartened to see that the petition urging the boycott, “The cost of knowledge,” now has 15,261 signers. And you can still sign it. But Elsevier isn’t the only culprit.