December 21, 2016 - 14:51 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Kazakhstani computer programmer and creator of an illegal hub for paywalled papers Alexandra Elbakyan, who is of Armenian descent, was named one of Nature journal’s 10 people who mattered this year.
In 2009, when she was a graduate student working on her final-year research project in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Elbakyan became frustrated at being unable to read many scholarly papers because she couldn’t afford them. So she learnt how to circumvent publishers’ paywalls.
Her skills were soon in demand. Elbakyan saw scientists on web forums asking for papers they couldn’t access — and she was happy to oblige.
“I got thanked many times for sending paywalled papers,” she says. In 2011, she decided to automate the process and founded Sci-Hub, a pirate website that grabs copies of research papers from behind paywalls and serves them up to anyone who asks. This year, interest in Sci-Hub exploded as mainstream media cottoned on to it and usage soared. According to Elbakyan’s figures, the site now hosts around 60 million papers and is likely to serve up more than 75 million downloads in 2016 — up from 42 million last year and, by one estimate, encompassing around 3% of all downloads from science publishers worldwide.
It is copyright-breaking on a grand scale — and has brought Elbakyan praise, criticism and a lawsuit. Few people support the fact that she acted illegally, but many see Sci-Hub as advancing the cause of the open-access movement, which holds that papers should be made (legally) free to read and reuse.
Also among Nature's top 10 are Elena Long, a transgender physicist who paved the way for greater acceptance of minority groups;Guillem Anglada-Escudé, an astronomer detected the nearest known planet outside the Solar System; Celina Maria Turchi, a physician raced to make sense of a medical mystery in northeast Brazil; as well as Gabriela Gonzalez, a physicist who helped to catch the first direct signs of long-sought gravitational waves.