Why Science is Better with Communism The Case of Sci-Hub transcript and translation
# Transcript and translation of Sci-Hub presentation
_The University of North Texas 's [Open Access Symposium
2016](/symposium/2016/) included [a presentation via Skype by Alexandra
founder of Sci-Hub. [Elbakyan's
slides](http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc850001/) (and those of
other presenters) have been archived in the UNT Digital Library, and [video of
this presentation](https://youtu.be/hr7v5FF5c8M) (and others) is now available
on YouTube and soon in the UNT Digital Library._
_The presentation was entitled "Why Science is Better with Communism? The Case
of Sci-Hub." Below is an edited transcript of the presentation produced by
Regina Anikina and Kevin Hawkins, with a translation by Kevin Hawkins and Anna
**Martin Halbert** : We have a recent addition to our lineup of speakers that
we'll start off the day with: Alexandra Elbakyan. As many of you know,
Alexandra is a Kazakhstani graduate student, computer programmer, and the
creator of the controversial Sci-Hub site. The New York Times has compared her
to Edward Snowden for leaking information and because she avoids American law,
but Ars Technica has compared her to Aaron Swartz--so a controversial figure.
We thought it was very important to include her in the dialog about open
access because we want, in this symposium series, to include all the different
perspectives on copyright, intellectual property, open access, and access to
scholarly information. So I'm delighted that we're actually able to have her
here via Skype to present.
**Alexandra Elbakyan** : First of all, thank you for inviting me to share my
views. My name is Alexandra. As you might have guessed, I represent the site
Sci-Hub. It was founded in 2011 and immediately became popular among the local
community, almost immediately began providing access to about 40 articles an
hour and now providing more than 200,000.
It has to be said that over the course of the site's development it was
strongly supported by donations, and when for various reasons we had to
suspend the service, there were many displeased users who clamored for the
project to return so that the work in their laboratory could continue.
This is the case not just in poor countries; I can say that in rich countries
the public also doesn't have access to scholarly articles. And not all
universities have subscriptions to those resources that are required for
A few of our users insisted that we start charging users, for example, by
allowing one or two articles to be downloaded for free but charging for more,
so that the service would be supported by those who really need it. But I
didn't end up doing that because the goal of the resource is knowledge for
Certain open-access advocates criticize the site, saying that what we really
need is for articles to be in open access from the start, by changing the
business models of publishers. I can respond by saying that the goal of the
project is first and foremost the dissemination of scholarly knowledge in
society, and we have to work in the conditions we find ourselves in. Of
course, if scholarly publishers had a different business model, then perhaps
this project wouldn't be necessary. We can also imagine that if humans had
wings, we wouldn't need airplanes. But in any case we need to fly, so we make
Scholarly publishers quickly dubbed the work of Sci-Hub as piracy. Admittedly
Sci-Hub violates the laws of copyright, but copyright is related to the rights
of intellectual property. That is, scholarly articles are the property of
publishers, and reading them for free turns out to be something like theft
according to the current law.
The concept of intellectual property itself is not new, although it can seem
otherwise. The history of copyright goes back to around the 18th century,
although the first mentions of something similar can be found in the Talmud.
It's just that recently copyright has been found at the center of passionate
debate since some are trying to forbid the free distribution of information in
However, the central focus of the debate is on censorship and privacy. The
defense of intellectual property in the internet requires censorship of
websites, and that is consequently a violation of freedom of speech. This also
raises a question of interference in private life - that is, when the
government in some way monitors users who violate copyright. In principle this
is also an intrusion in communication.
However, the very essence of copyright - that is, the concept of intellectual
property - is almost never questioned. That is, whether knowledge can be
someone's property is rarely discussed.
However, our ancestors were even more daring. They did not just question
intellectual property but property in general. That is, there are works in
which we can find the appearance of the idea of communism. There's Thomas
More's _Utopia_ from the 16th century, but actually such works arose much
earlier, even in Ancient Greece where these questions were already been
discussed in 391 BCE.
If we look at the slogans of communism, we see that one of the core concepts
is the struggle against inequality, the revolt of the suppressed classes,
whose members don't have any power against those who have concentrated basic
resources and power in their hands, with the goal of redistributing these
We can see that even today there is a certain informational inequality, when,
for example, only students and employees of the most wealthy universities have
full access to scholarly information, while access can be completely lacking
for institutions at the next lower tier and for the general public.
An idea arises: if there isn't private property, then there's no basis for
unequal distribution of wealth. In our case as well: if there's no private
intellectual property and all scholarly publications are nationalized, then
all people will have equal access to knowledge.
However, a question arises: if there is no private property, then what can
stimulate a person to work? One of the ideas is that under communism, rather
than greed or aspiration for wealth being a stimulus for work, a person would
aspire to self-development and learning for the betterment of the world.
Even if such values can't be applied to society as a whole, they at least work
in the world of scholarship. Therefore in the Soviet Union there was a true
cult of science - statues were even erected to the glory of science - and
perhaps thanks to this our country was one of the first to go into space.
However, it's one thing to have a revolution, when there's a mass
redistribution of property in society, but an act of theft is another thing.
This, of course, is not yet a revolution, but it's a small protest against the
property rights and the unequal distribution of wealth. Theft as protest has
always been welcomed and approved of in all eras of society. For example, we
all know about Robin Hood, but there have actually been quite a few noble
bandits in history. I've listed just a few of them.
I think that if the state works well, then accordingly it has a working tax
system and a certain system of redistribution of wealth, and then,
accordingly, there's no cause for revolution, for example. But if for some
reasons the state works poorly, then people begin to solve the problem for
themselves. In this way, Sci-Hub is an appropriate response to the inequality
that has arisen due to lack of access to information.
Pictured is Aldar Köse, a Kazakh folk hero who used his cunning to deceive
wealthy beys and take possession of their property. It's interesting to note
that beys are always depicted as greedy and stupid. And if you look at what's
written in the blogosphere today about scholarly publishers, you can find
these same characteristics.
There's also the interesting figure of the ancient Greek god Hermes, the
patron of thieves. That is, theft was a sufficiently respected activity that
it had its own god.
There's a researcher named Norman Brown who wrote an academic work called
_Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth_. It turns out that this myth is
related to a certain revolution in ancient Greek society, when the lower
classes, which lacked property, began to rise up.
For example, the poet Theognis of Megara wrote that "those who were nothing
became everything" and vice versa. This is essentially one of the most well-
known communist slogans.
For the ancient Greeks this was related, again as Brown says, to the
appearance of trade. Trade was identified with theft. There was no clear
distinction between the exchange of legal and illegal goods - that is, trade
was just as much considered theft as what we call piracy today.
Why did it turn out this way? Because Hermes was originally a god of
boundaries and transitions. Therefore, we can think that property is related
to keeping something within boundaries. At the same time, the things that
Hermes protected - theft, trade and communication - are related to boundary-
If we think about scholarly journals, then any journal is first of all a means
of communication, and therefore it's apparent that keeping journals in closed
access contradicts the essence of what they were intended for.
This is, of course, not even the most interesting thing.
Hermes actually evolved - that is, while he was once an intellectual deity, he
later came to be interpreted as the same as Thoth, the Egyptian god of
knowledge, and further came to oversee such things as astrology, alchemy, and
magic - that is, the things from which, you might say, contemporary sciences
arose. So we can say that contemporary science arose from theft.
Of course, someone can object, saying that contemporary science is very
different from esoterica, such as astrology and alchemy, but if we look at the
history of science, we see that contemporary science differs from the ancient
arts in the former being more open.
That is, when the movement towards greater openness appeared, contemporary
science also appeared. Once again this is not an argument in support of
Indeed, in the cultural consciousness science and the process of learning have
always been closely associated with theft, beginning with the legend of Adam
and Eve and the forbidden tree, which is called simply "the tree of
knowledge." And it's interesting that Elsevier's logo depicts some kind of
tree, which, accordingly, raises associations with this tree in the Garden of
Eden - the tree of knowledge - from which it was forbidden to eat the fruit.
Likewise we can recall the well-known legend of Prometheus, a part of our
cultural consciousness, who stole some knowledge and brought it to humans.
Once again we see the connection between science and theft.
Nowadays, many scholars have described science as the knowledge of secrets.
However, if we look closely, we have to ask: what is a secret? A secret is
something private, in essence private property. Accordingly, the disclosure of
the secret signifies that it ceases to be property. Once again we see the
contradiction between scholarship and property rights.
We can recall Robert Merton, who studied research institutes and revealed four
basic ethical norms that in his opinion are important for their successful
functioning. One of them is communism - that is, knowledge is shared.
Accordingly, if we look at certain traditional communities, then we find that
those communities that function within a caste system (dividing people by
occupation) usually turn out to have certain castes of people with
intellectual occupations, and if you look at the ethical norms of such castes,
you find that they are also communistic. You can find this, for example, in
Plato. Or even if you look at India, you find the accumulation of wealth is
usually the occupation of another caste.
To sum up, we have the following take-aways. Science, as a part of culture, is
in conflict with private property. Accordingly, scholarly communication is a
dual conflict. What open access is doing is returning science to its essential
**Audience question** : I'm a former university press director. I'd just like
to point out also that "property is theft" is the watchword of French
anarchism, a famous phrase from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, so perhaps anarchism
and science are also inseparable. But my main question really has to do with a
challenge that a librarian named Rick Anderson posted on the Scholarly Kitchen
blog two days ago, and that has to do with the fact that evidently Sci-Hub
relies a lot on the access codes that faculty have given to Sci-Hub in one way
or another so that Sci-Hub can gain access to the electronic materials that it
then uses to post on its own site. What Anderson does is points out that if
that information falls into the wrong hands, there are all sorts of terrible
things that can be done because those access codes provide access to personal
information, to student data, to all sorts of other things that could be badly
misused, so my question to you is what assurances can you give us that that
kind of information will not fall into the wrong hands.
**Elbakyan** : Well, first of all I doubt that it's possible to gain access to
all the information that is listed in the post on the Scholarly Kitchen. As a
rule, these logins and passwords can only be used for access to the proxy
server through which you can download articles, whereas for access to other
things, such as email, the login and password won't work. [ _Audience reacts
with skepticism._ ]
**Audience question** : Earlier this week a number of us participated in a
panel presentation on scholarly publishing and social justice, and one of the
primary points that came out of that was that the people who create the
published product - not necessarily the scientist but the people who actually
do the work that results in the published product - deserve to be paid for
their labor, and there is definitely labor involved. So if you're replacing
the market for these publications and eliminating these people's opportunities
to make money, where is the appropriate distribution of wealth.
**Elbakyan** : First of all, we shouldn't confuse the compensation that a
person receives for their labor with the excessive profits that publishers
wring out by limiting access to information. For example, Sci-Hub also does a
fair amount of work and has high expenses, but these expenses are for some
reason covered by donations - that is, there's no need to close access to
information - that is, it's a red herring to say that if articles are
distributed for free, people won't have anything to eat. One does not follow
from the other. In my opinion, though, an optimal system for funding would
consist of grants, donations, and membership fees.
**Audience question** : You've spoken so far exclusively about Sci-Hub. I
wonder if you could comment just briefly on LibGen and whether you see the two
models as identical or whether there are any material differences between
LibGen and Sci-Hub.
**Elbakyan** : Well, LibGen is primarily a repository. It doesn't download
new articles but is more aimed at preserving that which has already been