The idea that scientific papers and studies should be locked up behind a paywall is a tightly held belief among the world’s largest, richest publishers. To the founder of the infamous Sci-Hub – often known as The Pirate Bay of Science – that is objectionable to the point of being offensive to humanity.
Granting free access to scientific knowledge for the benefit of all mankind is a growing movement. As reported here last December, people such as an archivist known as ‘shrine’ are now adding significant momentum to the cause, one that a few weeks ago received a specific calling.
Having made almost continuous headlines all around the planet this year, the Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak needs little introduction. At the time of writing, it has infected at least 31,500 people in 28 countries, killing more than 630. Preventing its spread is now a global matter and while doctors and scientists do their work, people like ‘shrine’ are doing their part to assist.
A few days ago, a thread appeared on Reddit announcing the creation of an unofficial database of coronavirus-related papers and studies.
Organized by ‘shrine’ with support from friends and hosting provided by ‘Archivist’ at archiving site The-Eye.eu, the database was compiled after scanning Sci-Hub’s 80 million documents for anything related to coronaviruses and placing them in one place for easy access. The archive currently holds 5,532 studies and papers dating from 2020 right back to 1968.
“Our project is illegal, but it’s the right thing to do in this crisis. We refuse to put copyright before human lives. Sharing everything we know about the virus is essential, which is why international scientists are openly sharing their coronavirus findings in an unprecedented way,” ‘shrine’ writes.
“Developing-world scientists often work without article access due to complex and expensive contract agreements between publishers, universities, and hospitals, relying on overseas colleagues to help them hunt down PDF files. The virus is not going to wait for this, so we need to act with conviction, now.”
This week, Vice reported that scientific publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer Nature, had removed their paywalls to allow free access to some research studies on multiple strains of the coronavirus. But for ‘shrine’, it was too little, too late.
“Publishers kept their Coronavirus paywalls active for nearly three weeks before waking up and providing a severely limited open access release,” he informs TorrentFreak.
“In our view this obstruction and delay to open research access during the crisis constitutes a crime against humanity, and should be seen as a direct attack against our life and health as a species.”
Even though the project is just a few days old, visitors to the archive have been arriving from all over the world.
Traffic data shared with TF shows that users from North America are responsible for just over 42% of the database’s hits, with Europe a close second accounting for almost 39%. Oceania and Asia follow in third and fourth place with 4.57% and 2.13% respectively, with South America and Africa sitting at the bottom.
At the time of writing, the unofficial archive has received more than half a million requests which in turn have consumed around half a terabyte of bandwidth (see visual logfile sample render below). According to ‘shrine’ the project has been well received but if just a small amount of information from the archive proves useful to anyone in this health crisis, it will be mission accomplished.
“The Coronavirus Papers release has been met with appreciation and support from anonymous virologists, and we consider the project a success if we have assisted even one scientist with access to one of these critical studies.
“We hope that the archive continues to hold value as research continues, long after the publishers forget about the threat of pandemics and put their paywalls back up,” he adds.
While the archive at The-Eye is conveniently and instantly available, the entire collection of coronavirus papers – along with the earlier Libgen-archiving material – is also available via torrents. This method of sharing scientific studies is seen as crucial to maintaining access long term since it augments centralized storage with robust decentralization.
“The human right to education is enshrined in the torrents. The immutable 100-terabyte torrent collection stands as a promise of knowledge for future generations, for as long as we keep seeding humanity’s library keeps standing,” ‘shrine’ says.
“We are coming to realize that de-centralized web protocols like BitTorrent, IPFS, DAT, and others are central to the democratization of knowledge. The de-centralized protocols make it so that we’re not fighting alone, people all over the world can stand up with us for humanity’s knowledge.”