Association of American Publishers Pick on Wrong Librarian
August 15, 2016 6:25 PM   Subscribe

"...it seems pretty ridiculous for the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to freak out so much about an academic librarian just mentioning Sci-Hub while on a panel discussion, that it would send an angry letter to that librarian's dean. But, that's exactly what AAP did."

Part of the dean's response: "... the larger issue here is that the academic publishing model has become unsustainable. Like many university libraries, the library budgets at California State University Long Beach and the California State University generally cannot sustain annual price increases of 3% to 10% by many of your organization's members. Journal subscription prices are a key part of the reason that extra-legal services, such as Sci-Hub flourish. As you know, the music industry and the movie industry have faced similar challenges. One substantial difference with scholarly journal publishing, however, is that the 'artists,' the scholars who conduct the research and write the articles, receive no monetary compensation."
posted by Bella Donna (28 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hah! I went to library school with Gabriel and Carolyn and did some group projects with Gabe. At least at the time they had the sort of politics that exalt property rights; the idea that they'd be praising the violation of copyrights is extremely fucking dubious to anybody who's known them. Glad to know they're doing well and pissing off jerks.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:43 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


My father spent his career teaching at a CSU campus, and to say that their libraries don't have the $$$ for these subscriptions is the understatement of the century, or perhaps the millennium. This is also true at my little SUNY, and not just in the sciences--we can't afford Early English Books Online (EEBO), which puts our early modernists at a massive disadvantage, or any of the other major text databases, like Gale's 19th-century collection (sob, wail, etc.). And because these services almost never allow individual subscriptions, academics at smaller campuses, and increasingly some larger ones, are priced out of access to materials. (Some of them may be available via consortium--we have some ebooks that way--but that doesn't seem to be a common solution.)
posted by thomas j wise at 6:48 PM on August 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


And consider the plight of faculty at universities in developing countries. I regularly send PDFs to Ivorian and Liberian colleagues at universities whose priorities are so far from buying subscriptions to American Journal of Primatology and Animal Behavior. And then when they go to submit their own research for publication, they get dinged for not having enough supporting citations. This model is unsustainable and exclusionary and makes me angry. But I can't afford to publish open access in most journals, and the journals that I can afford to publish in that are open access aren't prestigious enough to count for things like jobs and tenure cases.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:18 PM on August 15, 2016 [44 favorites]


Librarians have faculty status in the Cal State system--what did the AAP think the CSULB library dean was going to do, throw his librarian under the bus for a guarantee of 3% inflation next year instead of 10%?

Also: how is this going to help academic publishing? There is absolutely no good news in that market for the publishers. Elsevier can tell academic librarians that costs are going up 25% next year and they're eliminating printing and downloading on the 100 most popular articles in every journal they publish* and libraries will still be forced to pay them. This year. Probably. But the year after? Ten years from now?

Are you kidding me? Of course we're cheering OA on. I've probably met reps from 90% of the AAP Higher Ed members and I'll be sorry to see them find a job somewhere else...but not that sorry.

Elsevier has really great profit margins but I really doubt that's going to be the case ten years from now. Sci-Hub is just the most obvious target du jour. It's Napster for the academic publishing market.

I signed up for a Sci-Hub account not that long ago (note to AAP: I wouldn't suggest contacting my dean either. She's not likely to be particularly sympathetic). It's ok but really just a convenient scapegoat for the larger problem of academic publishing.

If the AAP would bother to spend some time on the unsustainable costs that many of its members are charging libraries, then maybe librarians wouldn't be mentioning how their faculty access articles to which the librarians can no longer afford to provide access at our conferences.

*fucking Harvard Business Review, an AAP member
posted by librarylis at 7:27 PM on August 15, 2016 [24 favorites]


Honestly, fuck AAP. I lost all respect for Pat Schroeder--and that was a considerable amount--when she signed on with AAP and immediately started throwing us under the bus.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:44 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I regularly send PDFs to Ivorian and Liberian colleagues

I do the same for many of those in developing countries. This is the only reason I'm on Researchgate. I don't need facebook for scientists, I need an easy way to host and disseminate my own publications.

[CSU] generally cannot sustain annual price increases of 3% to 10% by many of your organization's members.

No organization can. They've been doing this for decades now.

As one who depends entirely on the whole construct of academic publication for my work, I say that it's time to burn the whole fucker down. It's done and has been done for decades. The only reason to publish is to get the imprimatur of peer review and acceptance. Long term access and a DOI are the main lasting benefits. Copy-editing used to mean something, but journals seem to hardly do any anymore. On balance, academic publishers are a blight and pestilence on any academic pursuit at this point.
posted by bonehead at 7:50 PM on August 15, 2016 [17 favorites]


I don't need facebook for scientists, I need an easy way to host and disseminate my own publications.

We have that, it's called "the web".

What you're really asking for is a way for stuff you publish on the Web to count towards tenure.
posted by mhoye at 8:13 PM on August 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


librarylis: I signed up for a Sci-Hub account not that long ago
Sci-Hub doesn't have accounts, AFAIK. Where did you sign up?
posted by spinda at 8:22 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


We have that, it's called "the web".

Tell that to our IT who think URL/object permanence of 6 months or more is an unbearable burden. Content management systems are a fire hydrant many IT managers love to piss on.

Researchgate, for all its many, many faults, actually does a decent job of this. I mean I do wish we could have an ArXive for every discipline, but instead we get Bill Gates' leavings and that's still better than my corporate IT's understanding of the web.
posted by bonehead at 8:32 PM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


This post would be incomplete without a link to Sci-Hub [mirrors: 1, 2].
posted by ryanshepard at 8:38 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Sci-Hub doesn't have accounts, AFAIK. Where did you sign up?

No, you are totally right. Same day, two sites with a similar purpose--but only one with user accounts. To be clear: I signed up for Research Gate but used and am familiar with Sci-Hub. They're not in my normal discipline so I only search them when I need something specific for a particular research center. Unfortunately for the AAP, that still means that I use them at all.
posted by librarylis at 9:04 PM on August 15, 2016


That letter from Dean Kochan is good. I wonder how many expletives the first draft of it contained.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 9:34 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Elsevier has really great profit margins but I really doubt that's going to be the case ten years from now. Sci-Hub is just the most obvious target du jour. It's Napster for the academic publishing market.

I was doing some consulting for Elsevier many many years ago (gosh-- 15 years at this point??) and back then people were predicting the demise of their business model within less than 5 years. And here we are now 15 years later. And they're still booming. The problem lies with the tenure system more than anything else-- as long as they hold a lock on the journals where publication credit counts most for jobs and tenure review, they'll unfortunately be fine.
posted by frumiousb at 10:18 PM on August 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


OMG!! I do ILL for my little campus library and until this moment didn't know this existed. Thank you Bella Donna!
And of course thank you ryanshepard!
posted by evilDoug at 10:19 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


My wife stopped publishing in Elsevier journals around the time they became known for hosting arms fairs.

From the comments:

> 'committed mass theft of copyrighted material... to justify the theft of intellectual property...'

Wow, and here I'd been thinking that people were just posting copies of the articles, and thereby committing copyright infringement, I had no idea they'd been taking the originals such that the previous owners no longer had them.


In other news, the American Chemical Society is launching an Arxiv-like preprint server for chemistry.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:25 PM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


The more I learn about the academic publishing industry the angrier I get. Bad enough to learn how many thousands of dollars it costs for institutional access; then I learned just publishing in these journals can cost up to $5000! So you get hit on both ends. It's a racket.
posted by schroedinger at 11:16 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


It makes science journalism far harder, too. No publisher, let alone freelance, can afford to subscribe to the journals - especially if you're covering a genetics story one day, superconductivity the next and cosmology after that. For stories that come out of universities and research institutions, you not only need the original paper (because the spin from the PRs normally borders on fantasy) but usually a bunch of others in the field. And while most, if not all, academics are happy to email copies of their papers to journalists, you can't research around something that way - especially on the breathless news cycle of the web.

And, dammit, good science journalism matters. It's hard enough without this garbage.
posted by Devonian at 3:48 AM on August 16, 2016 [15 favorites]


It makes science journalism far harder, too. No publisher, let alone freelance, can afford to subscribe to the journals - especially if you're covering a genetics story one day, superconductivity the next and cosmology after that.

The journal where I work makes the paper proofs available to any journalists who ask, for free, in advance of the embargo date. It is always worth asking.

Also, my (independent, nonprofit, not having the deep pockets of Elsevier) journal has been hacked by Sci-Hub, so while I understand that a lot of the big publishers have predatory pricing models and people need access to research, Sci-Hub is not run by people who just love knowledge. It is run by people who actively hack sites, and leave them intentionally riddled with malware and bots when possible. When universities get tetchy about Sci-Hub, it isn't just because they're being sticks in the mud. A lot of our library subscribers are the ones who dealt with the brunt of our Sci-Hub incident, because they were the ones locked out of their accounts when Sci-Hub took over their logins. The link calls Sci-Hub "a tool for free access to scientific research and knowledge", but that's pretty disingenuous, given the way they actually operate.

I say all of this as someone who has always used my academic subscriptions to get PDFs to anyone I knew who needed them. I am ALL FOR people sharing research with people who can't get access in other ways. In my PhD program, I had friends in other programs who would ask me if I could download X paper for them, and I would and did gladly help when I could. If that was how Sci-Hub worked, then that would be one thing. But it really, really isn't.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:00 AM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, my (independent, nonprofit, not having the deep pockets of Elsevier) journal has been hacked by Sci-Hub, so while I understand that a lot of the big publishers have predatory pricing models and people need access to research, Sci-Hub is not run by people who just love knowledge. It is run by people who actively hack sites, and leave them intentionally riddled with malware and bots when possible.
Fascinating – I've been hearing the various intellectual-property related claims about Sci-Hub but nothing claiming actual hacking (as distinct from unauthorized usage). Do you have any more information about this or a link to the forensic analysis? The closest I've heard are academics claiming that their credentials which turned up on Sci-Hub had been compromised without their knowledge.
posted by adamsc at 6:13 AM on August 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


No publisher, let alone freelance, can afford to subscribe to the journals

In at least some cases you can get access to a university library rather than try to actually manage subscriptions as an independent institution. I don't know the fine print for the agreement, but I know someone who was at a startup (one of like two people doing technical work) and read literally thousands of papers for a few hundred dollars in fees. By the publisher's list prices these probably would have cost the startup more than his salary. Well, over a few years, so more than his healthcare benefits and payroll taxes, anyway.
posted by mark k at 7:31 AM on August 16, 2016


It is run by people who actively hack sites, and leave them intentionally riddled with malware and bots when possible.
I'm with adamsc on this one. That's a pretty bold statement. I think it can be stated that scihub uses illicitly obtained credentials, but I don't know that it's been proven that they are the perpetrators of malicious hacks.
posted by pahool at 9:06 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


literally thousands of papers for a few hundred dollars in fees.

Dang. I would be surprised if this were very common. That is a sweet deal, a much sweeter one than is available from the local Big Research University to institutions like mine (a state agency that employs a lot of scientists). We could get document delivery from them at what looks like about half what it would cost us from the publishers on a per-article basis-- but A of all that's...not thousands of papers for a couple hundred dollars by a long shot, and B of all I'm eyeballing that figure because I haven't been able to get the money for it.
posted by clavicle at 9:22 AM on August 16, 2016


Do you have any more information about this or a link to the forensic analysis? The closest I've heard are academics claiming that their credentials which turned up on Sci-Hub had been compromised without their knowledge.

I mean...I'm not going to publish internal work documents from our tech team online? But universities and publishers worldwide have been experiencing similar attacks. Example:
"At one UK academic library, analysis of Sci-Hub activity reported by a major publisher revealed nearly 40 compromised student accounts which were being used to access content via a similar number of IP address (believed to be anonymous proxy servers), mostly based in the UK or Europe. The level of access was being kept at a low enough level not to trigger a number of alerts the library had in place to detect suspicious activity, such as simultaneous logins from more than one country or an excessive number of downloads per hour.

After analysing all of the relevant logs, the library was confident that the accounts had only been used by Sci-Hub. However, after disabling the accounts and forcing the users to change their passwords, the library soon saw a large number of login attempts using the compromised credentials. This was traced to a file of usernames and passwords posted on the Pastebin web site. The library continues to see a large number of login attempts using the compromised credentials on a daily basis.

No evidence was found that any of the accounts had been “donated” or that they were used for anything other Sci-Hub activity (prior to them being made available on Pastebin). The exact method Sci-Hub used to collect them remains uncertain although the library suspected phishing or the possibility that a malware keylogger had been installed on a student lab PC.

Subsequently, the library was the victim of a distributed brute-force password attack lasting around 48 hours, averaging 3 login attempts per second. The vast majority of the login attempts came from the IP addresses the library had previously linked to Sci-Hub activity."
I guess you could argue that Sci-Hub isn't ACTUALLY doing all the hacking/phishing/malware themselves, and that they are instead using stolen login credentials that have been retrieved by other hackers on their behalf, but that doesn't seem much better? Also, the section I quoted is an expansion of a post whose author interviewed Alexandra Elbakyan by asking if Sci-Hub used phishing to gather login credentials. She said no. He said "what about this story that sounds exactly like phishing?" and she basically responded with "well sure, sometimes. But no comment."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:04 AM on August 16, 2016


If the account credentials are being donated by malicious phishers or installers of malware, I would argue that that is a huge difference from the statement that scihub is "run by people who actively hack sites, and leave them intentionally riddled with malware and bots when possible." I just hadn't heard of any situation where phishing or malware was proven to be attributable directly to scihub, so I was wondering if you had some additional data.
posted by pahool at 10:33 AM on August 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've administered several EZProxy installations and have only ever seen EZProxy as the vector for scihub document leaching. Has anyone seen other vectors? I'd imagine that compromised machines within a university's IP range would be a ripe target as well.
posted by pahool at 10:35 AM on August 16, 2016


We need university libraries to drop their subscripts to these fuckers. Cut off the money.

Actually sci-hub is vastly more efficient than "[using your] academic subscriptions to get PDFs to anyone [you know] needs them." That's the point.

It's worth considering why sci-hub might now be preemptively leeching papers en mass, when obviously they did not need so many downloads initially. It's likely the publishers have hampered their original less invasive "on demand" download, forward, and cache system. And their user base has likely expanded both in terms of people and subject areas.

There is a darker reason that kinda compels sympathy for sci-hub though : These publishers could take down a sizable portion of human knowledge when they "fall". It's a reasonable fear that justifies drastic measures.

I'd argue an even stronger position myself that although sci-hub should prioritize saving human knowledge from these parasites it should not shirk away from measures that induce the publishers to inflict self-harm.

In particular, I'm okay with sci-hub supporters using keyloggers to scrape accounts and grab journal articles, maybe the publishers will make the universities cut off their own undergrads, thereby driving more people to sci-hub and making the subscriptions vastly harder to justify. And maybe the libraries will start passing the costs onto individual labs directly, driving even more people to sci-hub.

In fact, I'm even okay sci-hub supporters using credit card fraud to download articles, perhaps by publishing a "card test tool" for credit card fraudsters that "tests" a batch of card by buying articles sci-hub wants. All those fraudulent credit card translations would eventually be reversed, thus hitting the publisher with charge backs.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:56 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, on the science journalism front, some professors make a point (perhaps they negotiated this in advance) of posting PDFs of their published papers on their .edu sites and, in my experience, are happy to send copies of their published articles to journalists. That doesn't solve the double-fuckery of having to pay for publication and then having to pay to access the resulting journal, of course.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:21 PM on August 16, 2016


Do you have any more information about this or a link to the forensic analysis? The closest I've heard are academics claiming that their credentials which turned up on Sci-Hub had been compromised without their knowledge.

I mean...I'm not going to publish internal work documents from our tech team online? But universities and publishers worldwide have been experiencing similar attacks.
I apologize if that sounded like I was accusing you of making it up, which wasn't my intention. I was just curious about the details because I've heard allegations of phishing before but haven't seen anything on the record other than statements from publishers & industry groups which are quite vague on details and almost universally class using valid credentials to download a paper as severely as actually breaking into a server. That's almost certainly a major violation of the ToS and copyright law but those are usually considered very different classes of problem. Escalating to breaking in to servers or installing malware would definitely go a long way towards removing whatever sense of legitimacy Sci-Hub has built up.

Part of why I was asking is that this kind of analysis requires some fairly specialized skills which many places (especially .edu and .gov) have trouble staffing for and it's easy to make mistakes, especially in a high-pressure situation when a company with more lawyers than you have staff is threatening to sue. One problem I've particularly noticed in academic environments is that an investigation turns up previous compromises which hadn't been noticed all and were initially attributed to the event which finally generated enough noise to get attention.

I do find the very precise wording they've used to deny phishing suspicious. I'm sure at least some of the phishing claims are simply excuses from people who were caught donating their credentials but it wouldn't be surprising to learn that someone is buying credentials on the black market or guessing using one of the many public password lists. That's inevitable if there's money involved but given how strongly some people feel about the issue, it's very easy to imagine someone taking a page out of Aaron Swartz's book but trying to be harder to catch and leaving the main group as much plausible deniability as possible.
posted by adamsc at 6:15 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


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