“Sci-Hub provides access to nearly all scholarly literature” is a new, if misleadingly titled, pre-print at PeerJ Preprints. Mis-titled because it seems to imply to the world that all scholarly literature is behind paywalls, or that all the stuff that matters is behind paywalls. It isn’t, as there’s also Open Access. On this point the body of the article contradicts its own title, in terms of the OA coverage…
“Strikingly, coverage [at Sci-Hub] was substantially higher for articles from closed rather than open-access journals (85.2% versus 49.1%).”
So only 49.1% for OA. I’d guess that’s mainly because less people need to plug a DOI into Sci-Hub to get an OA article.
However the idea that 49.1% of “all” OA articles are in Sci-Hub turns out to be very questionable. Because that 49.1% amounts, according to the article, to a piffling “1.4m” articles from 2,650 OA journals.
The whole of OA journal output to date cannot possibly fit into a mere 2.8m articles. For instance, CORE alone has 5m full-text OA papers, according to their February 2017 blog post….
“CORE is thrilled to announce that it currently provides 5 million open access full-text papers.”
And that’s after CORE’s great difficulties in successfully finding and harvesting full-text (running at around 30%, last I heard) from cantankerous repositories.
Consider also that the DOAJ currently lists just over 10,000 OA journals, even after its recent/ongoing clean-up of titles.
Given numbers like these, bloggers and journalists should be wary of glancing at this new PeerJ Preprints article and making claims such as: ‘Sci-Hub shown to provide access to nearly half of all OA articles!’
How to explain the mis-match? It appears to be a result of the article’s authors using a database which is very partial in its OA coverage…
“To define the extent of the scholarly literature, we relied on DOIs from the Crossref database”.
After cleaning that haul…
“our catalog consisted of 22,193 journals encompassing 57,074,208 articles. Of these journals, 4,345 (19.6%) were inactive (i.e. no longer publishing articles), and 2,650 were open access (11.9%). Only two journals were inactive and also open access.”
Well now, that last point is interesting in its own right. Is CrossRef throwing out all inactive OA journals? It looks like it. If so, then that seems a bit unfair on OA — but perhaps it’s happening because a CrossRef bot is just automatically tracking the journals in the DOAJ. It’s well known that the DOAJ removes a journal as soon as it ceases or takes a break from publishing, and that would seem to neatly explain the apparent lack of inactive OA journals in CrossRef.
(If that’s the case then I’d also suspect CrossRef may not even be tracking all of the DOAJ: since the journals of ‘the top 10 publishers’ in the DOAJ currently stand at 2,282 OA journal titles. Add a few worthy niche publishers and ‘learned association’ titles, and I’d be willing to bet that CrossRef’s 2,650 OA total would be matched fairly neatly. CrossRef’s title .XLS is here, if anyone cares to do a more precise tally against the DOAJ’s .XLS and then sort the results by publisher).
Which means Sci-Hub is still a long way, probably a very long way (15%?), from useful coverage of all OA journal articles. And it may never offer the claimed… “access to nearly all scholarly literature”. Partly because pirates have little or no interest in pirating ‘free’, and indeed usually take professional pride in shunning ‘free’. Even if they were aiming to pro-actively include OA, neither Sci-Hub or LibGen would be able to provide the public with Google’s speed, relevancy ranking, up-time, traffic management etc. Nor could they remove dead links in the same speedy way as Google does — and I doubt they want to try to mirror the entire OA corpus locally (although they might harvest and ingest things like the CORE full-text, fairly easily). More likely that they will start to detect a DOI request as being OA, and then bounce the user to the public full-text without re-hosting it themselves. In which case I don’t see a Sci-Hub/LibGen combo becoming “the one box to rule them all”.
Which isn’t to say that there won’t one day be some whizzy Web browser addon that provides all sorts of sophisticated automated overlays and injections into your Google Search results, far beyond a basic “article has DOI, look it up on Sci-Hub” button for those too lazy to do a manual copy/paste lookup. In which case it might be possible to approximate a melding of Google Search and Sci-Hub on a single page of results.