Science-intensive technologies – Kommersant newspaper № 57 (7258) from 04.04.2022

The world’s largest scientific publishing houses have stated that they are suspending the sale of their products and services to organizations in Russia and Belarus. Thus, Russian universities and research organizations will lose legal access to foreign scientific journals and databases. Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexei Khokhlov estimated that Russia will lose 97.5% of the world’s scientific products distributed by subscription. Scientists interviewed by Kommersant call the decision of the publishing houses “an attempt to assassinate Russian science.” The way out of this situation is the transition to piracy and the illegal downloading of scientific journals.

“We have taken an unprecedented step by suspending sales of products and services to research organizations in Russia and Belarus,” said a joint statement from the world’s 15 largest publishers of scientific journals. “We are joining other organizations around the world who are trying to end this aggression and restore peace.”

At the same time, the appeal says that the boycott is not aimed at Russian and Belarusian scientists, but at research organizations in these countries.

Therefore, scientific articles by authors from these countries will continue to be published, as “editorial decisions should not depend on the origin of the manuscript, including the authors’ nationality, ethnicity, political beliefs, race or religion.” The statement was published on March 31 and was signed by Elsevier, Springer Nature, IOP Publishers, Wolters Kluwer, ACS Publications, Brill Academic Publishers and others.

“Scientific and information blockade” – this is how Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexei Khokhlov described the situation. According to him, the decision of the publishing houses means that legal access to the largest collections of scientific articles will be stopped in Russia in the near future. He points out that this will be a “serious challenge” for Russian science, as the share of Russian authors is only 2.5% of the total number of scientific articles.

Accordingly, 97.5% of scientific information disseminated by subscription will be unavailable, he said.

Russia pays for access to scientific journals and databases through a “single operator of national centralized subscription to foreign information resources.” Since 2020, the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) has been doing this. Thus, in 2021, the fund spent 3.7 billion rubles for these purposes – this is the cost of access to 30 resources of scientific and scientific-technical information for more than 1,200 Russian scientific and educational organizations. The fund did not have time to renew the subscription. “Current contracts (with publishers.” Kommersant) almost no, with rare exceptions. But this is a normal situation, the Russian Foundation for Basic Research did not have time to sign them in 2022, Mr. Khokhlov told Kommersant. Nevertheless, we still have access to all publishing houses and databases. But if it is really stopped in the near future, we will have to look for workarounds. ” Alexei Khokhlov reminds that in order for a scientist to work at the advanced level of modern science, he must read literature published in other countries: “If there is no such information, it will certainly make the work more difficult. I hope we will find an adequate solution in the near future. “

Tatiana Stukalova, head of the Center for Information and Library Support of Educational and Scientific Activities of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, told Kommersant that their subscriptions to foreign publishing houses were still working. “Restricting or even banning legal access to foreign scientific resources is a challenge for both scientists and publishers,” she said. “Such challenges are dangerous for all participants in international scientific cooperation. The development of science is impossible without access to world scientific knowledge. “

Sergei Popov, an astrophysicist and leading researcher at the Moscow State University, believes that the decision of the publishing houses could have been influenced by public letters from hundreds of rectors of Russian universities and institutes in support of the “special military operation.” He draws this conclusion because the boycott “is not related to individual Russian researchers, it is the termination of institute and university subscriptions.”

“According to the publishers who signed the statement, they are not punishing scientists, but scientific organizations. It sounds very strange that as soon as the above-mentioned services are used on a daily basis by active scientists, not administrators, ”says Mr. Khokhlov.

Artem Oganov, a member of the European Academy and a full member of the Royal Chemical Society and the American Physical Society, said that the publishers’ statement could be interpreted differently. “If we are talking about a total boycott and blocking access to scientific literature, and not just a cosmetic reduction in the presence in Russia, it means an attempt to kill Russian science,” he said. Mr. Oganov reminds that there are other restrictions on Russian science. Thus, a number of countries have terminated contracts with Russian scientists, they are not allowed on international scientific installations – for example, in the European Synchronous Center ESRF.

Alexei Khokhlov draws special attention to the fact that the list of signatories of the statement includes Elsevier, the operator of one of the two largest databases of scientific articles, Scopus. The second, Clarivate Analytics, the owner of Web of Science, has previously announced the closure of its office in Russia and the imminent cessation of access to the database for Russian research organizations and universities. Closing access to Web of Science and Scopus will be a big blow to Russian science, Artem Oganov agrees: “Databases allow you to search for information by keywords. This allows scientists to see what has been done in a given field. ” He believes that it is time to create its own bibliometric database in Russia. The current Russian Index of Scientific Citation (RINC), in his opinion, does not compete with international databases.

However, scientists hope that it is impossible to completely block access to knowledge in the modern world.

Alexei Khokhlov notes that some of the scientific information will be available through “open access” magazines, which take money not from subscriptions, but from the authors of articles. The share of open access articles in the world’s leading scientific journals already exceeds 35% and will only increase in the future, says the academician. Sergei Popov hopes that scientists from different countries will be able to establish contacts with each other to discuss what is happening, exchange information and research: “If Russian scientists participate in international collaborations, you can always ask co-authors to send the necessary articles.”

Tatiana Stukalova says that “self-archiving” is becoming more widespread when authors place preprints of articles in open sources – large thematic archives or institutional repositories and personal pages of authors. Also, in her opinion, a scientist can always apply for the full text of the article directly to its author.

“If Russian scientists are denied access to leading scientific journals, they will have no choice but to switch to illegal access,” Artem Oganov said.

He does not rule out that in response to the decision of the publishing houses, the Russian authorities will decide to legalize Sci-Hub – the largest scientific “pirate” portal.

We will remind, the Sci-Hub site in 2011 was created by the researcher from Kazakhstan Alexandra Elbakyan (in recent years lives in Russia). Under the slogan “Removing barriers to the dissemination of knowledge”, the site provides free access to scientific journals. According to Ms. Elbakyan, she receives pirated content from scientists who sympathize with her idea from universities who have legally acquired subscriptions. On February 12, 2022, Sci-Hub reported that the service’s database contained a collection of 88,343,822 scientific articles and publications. However, the content is uneven: most articles on medicine, in second place – chemistry, followed by biology, humanities, physics, engineering and mathematics (some articles fall into several categories). In 2017, an Elsevier lawsuit found Elbakyan guilty of piracy and ordered her to pay $ 15 million to the publisher. In the same year, the American Chemical Society obtained a similar court ruling and $ 4.8 million in compensation. the site has been blocked many times, but it regularly has “mirrors”.

The possible legalization of the site could solve the problems with Ms. Elbakyan’s citizenship. Earlier in her blog, the researcher said that she considered herself a “Soviet man” and would like to receive a Russian passport. At the same time, she states that she cannot take the oath, which promises to “comply with Russian law”, because the activities of Sci-Hub formally contradict the Russian copyright law. It should be noted that on March 2, Alexandra Elbakyan wrote in a blog that she received requests from Ukrainian scientists to block the Sci-Hub in Russia so that “scientists in Russia would stop and think about how to proceed.” Ms. Elbakyan noted that “technically it is impossible to do it completely, as the project has long had” mirrors “.” And she made it clear that she considered it wrong “to punish all Russians because of the actions of one person.”

Ms. Elbakyan answered Kommersant’s questions after the issue was published. She noted that scientists from Russia are a minority of the total number of Sci-Hub users. Therefore, the growth in the number of visitors from Russia will not have a significant impact on the project, she believes. “On the contrary, the current situation around Russia could negatively affect Sci-Hub – at least in the Western bloc, such as the United States and Europe, which are also very active in using the site,” said Alexandra Elbakyan.

Sci-Hub has always been perceived as a Russian (although I would say “Soviet”) project. And that is why the negative image of Russia, which is currently developing there, will affect the project as well. “

Kommersant has sent inquiries to the Ministry of Education and Science and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and is awaiting a response. It should be noted that on March 21, the Ministry of Education and Science announced that it would remove the requirements for the availability of publications by Russian scientists indexed by Web of Science and Scopus by the end of the year. The moratorium concerns indicators of state programs, national and federal projects, evaluation of scientific performance of organizations and the success of grants.

Anna Vasilieva


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