Each year, 10 million researchers around the globe access 2.5 billion journal articles to conduct their research, while universities invest millions to provide access to academic journals. These scientists scour the work of their peers to interrogate each other’s work and to look for clues and inspiration for their own research. They are united by a common cause: to reveal new knowledge and insights to the world in the hope of improving lives and advancing our understanding of our existence.
But, as any academic can attest to, accessing this knowledge is not so easy. In fact it can be infuriatingly difficult. Researchers are often forced to follow circuitous and time-consuming routes to access the journal articles they need, even when their institutions and organizations have legitimate subscription access.
Not only do these barriers waste time and cause frustration, they are stifling the pace of scientific innovation. Think about it for a second: if 10 million researchers spend an hour per year trying to navigate clunky paywalls and university login pages just to read a few articles, that equates to 10 million hours (or 416,667 days) per year of wasted time that could be better used in actually conducting research.
The situation can be even more difficult for those working in low- and middle-income countries, who might not have subscription deals with the big journal publishers. In these scenarios, researchers face a hard choice: either give up on their research or illegally obtain copies of the papers they need.
The barriers to accessing scientific research have spawned social sharing networks and a “dark web” of crowdsourced journal articles. In 2011, Kazakh neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan created Sci-Hub—the world’s largest pirate website for scholarly literature—as a reaction to the high cost of research papers behind paywalls.
Interestingly, the highest usage of this illegal sharing site seems to occur on the campuses of U.S. and European universities, despite the fact that they can access the same papers through their libraries. This behavior suggests that these academics are turning to illegal platforms out of convenience rather than necessity. In fact, an analysis of Sci-Hub user data by Science showed that a quarter of the Sci-Hub requests for papers in 2015 came from the then 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the wealthiest nations with, presumably, the best journal access. Data from University of Utrecht have also shown that 75 percent of content downloaded by researchers from Sci-Hub was already available via their existing subscriptions.
Publishers aren’t happy having their articles appear on unauthorized sites because it not only undermines their business but also strips away their ability to monitor the quality of the online versions and the subsequent usage of the material. Ethics aside, the future of platforms like Sci-Hub is precarious. Last year, U.S. courts sided with publishing giant Elsevier, granting them millions in damages against Web sites that provide illicit access to tens of millions of their research papers and books.
Universities, and other academic institutions, aren’t happy either, because they are paying millions for subscriptions that their staff and students aren’t using.
In response to this situation, my co-founder, Jan Reichelt, and I created a startup called Kopernio to solve this problem. We’ve developed a technology that can simultaneously work to benefit researchers, libraries and publishers by enabling individuals to legally access journal articles online via a single click using “smart links,” whether they are on or off campus.
These links are created through integration with a user’s institutional subscriptions or, when subscriptions aren’t available, connecting users to open-access versions where possible. Kopernio will also allow institutions to better provide and track users’ access to subscribed resources—helping them effectively allocate subscription resources—and legitimately increase the reach of publishers’ content.
Effective April 10, Clarivate Analytics (owner of Web of Science, the world’s largest publisher-neutral citation index, with over 1.4 billion cited references going back to 1900) acquired our startup, which is a massive vote of confidence in our product and a massive win for researchers around the world.
The global scale as well as the publisher-neutral position of Clarivate Analytics will allow us to quickly scale Kopernio and finally help solve one of the most frustrating and time-consuming research problems today. So, the next time you want to quickly access a paper during your research, there’s now a convenient—and legal—way to do so.