Sci-Hub is blocked in Russia; Founder says she’s been bullied by scientists

Just yesterday I was excited to tell you about CyberLeninka, a large open database of scientific papers, which was backed by a local investor. Today I am sorry to state that Sci-Hub, a very popular archive of illegally downloaded scientific papers, has been banned in Russia.

Aleksandra Elbakyan

Aleksandra Elbakyan. Apneet Jolly/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Project founder, Aleksandra Elbakyan, says that she has been bullied by some Russian scientists for the work that she has been doing. One of them even named a recently discovered insect after Alexandra: Idiogramma elbakyanae. She perceived this as another way of harassing her, though one might see this as honor to get her name cemented forever in science. “To consider this as insulting, means to completely miss the actual meaning of this act”, says Andrey Khalaim, the author of the paper.

Russian users now see this long message from Aleksandra:

Starting from today Sci-Hub stops working in Russian Federation. The reason for this is highly inadequate, abusive behavior towards the founder of the service.

For instance, for two years there has been bullying of Aleksandra in the Russian segment of the Internet by the people, who call themselves as ‘liberal opposition’. For example, they spread the information that Aleksandra is brainsick, and her persona is demonized in various ways. Contrary to her, these people receive public favor, some of them even hold high positions in Russian Academy of Science, and not only receive prestigious science awards, such as ‘for devotedness to science’ and ‘Prosvetitel’ (‘Enlighter’), but also sympathy for abusive words towards Aleksandra. It makes one feel like this is somewhat heroic (probably, soon The Hero of Russia shall be awarded to them for this).

Recently, a member of Russian Academy of Science decided to name a parasitic insect after Aleksandra. Which I see as a total unfairness: because if you analyze the situation with scientific publications, then the real parasites are the science publishers, whereas Sci-Hub fights for the equal access to scientific information and does the good thing.

Considering such public love, it will be wise to stop operating in Russian Federation. The scientists who love Sci-Hub can still access it from another countries, using VPN services, proxies or TOR browser. However, these means are going to become illegal soon. In this case, scientists may use Libgen, which keeps an archive of papers, downloaded from Sci-Hub over years, and its mirrors.

I can also recommend CyberLeninka, which received prestigious award from The Government of Russian Federation in April this year, as the best way for accessing scientific information. The diploma has been awarded by the minister himself.

Float in your shit yourself, and I am tired of this, no Russian science – so much better without you. I will put my efforts into my own research.

As it is now common to say in Russia: All the best. Have a good day, and good health, and lots of Orthodoxy to you. The project will somehow continue to operate, but without you.

Best regards,

Aleksandra,

The founder of Sci-Hub.

The situation here is not that straightforward, I think. On the one hand, of course, Sci-Hub was illegal in terms that it provided copyrighted materials for free. It is never OK to steal something, and we’ve been through it with music, movies and software back in early 2000’s.

On the other hand, as some commentators say, science in Russia is funded by the government, so it is public money, and therefore access to scientific advancements should also be public. Secondly, as far as I know, not so many universities in Russia are funded enough to afford all the necessary official subscriptions. Therefore many Russian scientists have been using Sci-Hub as the only way to keep up with the international advancements, and it is now unclear, what they will do without it. One can overcome the blocks of course, but the tools that allow you to do that are going to be illegal in Russia in the nearest future. Many Russian researchers hope that Aleskandra will change her mind and will open the access for the Russian users again.

Lastly, the most notable part here is that out of 200 000 daily downloads on Sci-Hub, the majority of them were from the USA, Europe and China. Maybe that’s why, oddly enough, one of the most expensive scientific journals – Nature – has even included her name in the list of “Ten people who mattered this year“.

If you liked this post, consider following me on Twitter for more technology stories, news, comments and reviews.

Russian open database of scientific papers get $500k investment

CyberLeninka

Good news this week!  The Russian open database of scientific texts has just received a $500k investment for a 25% stake.

Being a local equivalent to Google Scholar, CyberLeninka offers access to more than a million articles in more than a thousand peer-reviewed journals. Of course, the majority of them are in Russian, but I guess, they do have a plan of somehow internationalizing it, because this round of funding has only been the first one. As the source says, they are actively working with international investors and probably prepare for launching on the international market.

CyberLeninka uses the name of the largest Russian ‘brick-and-mortar’ library named after Vladimir Lenin (people just call it Leninka). It was established in 2012 by Dmitry Semyachkin, Evgeniy Kislyak and Mikhail Sergeyev. On average, it has 3 million monthly visitors, with an annual figure of 22 million.

As the founders say, they don’t plan to introduce paid access, the content will remain free for all. This is because the license of the journals, which are indexed by CyberLeninka, allows free distribution. Instead, they are working on commercial services for publishers, scientists and the government.

So Russia’s contribution to the global science community is going to grow substantially in the nearest future, and that’s not because President Putin said that Russia will do it, but thanks to people like Dmitry, Evgeniy and Mikhail.

What Putin actually said about AI. TL;DR: Nothing meaningful.

President Putin at the meeting with Students

Source: LIFE News Live Stream via YouTube

President Putin’s meeting with students, otherwise quite boring, caused a global tech media fever. And that’s just because some schoolboy from Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatiya region, mentioned the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ while telling the President about his personal side-project (source, word-by-word translation):

[Student]: We chose and are promoting the project ‘Artificial intelligence based on NBICS’. And this robot, I think, is a small step towards artificial intelligence. Together with my friend Dima, for the third year we are assembling this robot. It measures the radiation level in the environment. Umm… NBICS-based Artificial intelligence, I think, is a pretty good project, which needs promotion. It is the future of Russia.

[President]: Artificial intelligence is not only the future of Russia, it is the future of the entire mankind. It brings colossal opportunities, and hardly foreseeable threats. The one who becomes the leader in this area, will be the ruler of the world. And it is not desirable that this monopoly is concentrated in someone’s hands. Therefore, if we become the leader in this area, we will share this technology with the rest of the world in the same way as we do today with nuclear technologies. But in order not to stay behind, we should start working on it today. And of course it is good that we have such nice young people who express interest in these technologies. Good luck.

The scary NBICS word here stands for “Nano-, Bio-, Info-, Cognitive- and Socio-“, and is just an official Russian term for saying “all that trendy tech stuff”.

The President’s answer was short. So short, in fact, that one just can’t say that the President has put much thought or meaning into it.

Moreover, this was just a tiny bit of the 30+ minutes conversation, which actually wasn’t about AI at all. It was about all modern technologies, and was developing like:

[Student]: I am working on [insert hyped technology name here: IoT, Drones, Nuclear tech, AI, Autonomous vehicles, Personalized medicine, whatever].

[President]: A very good technology, yeah. It can be used for military purposes. But it can also be used for the good of the people. And for making Russia more competitive globally.

So the question is why the global media had put so much stress on the AI part. And moreover, why they started the usual AI-will-cause-WW3 stuff. Putin said that Russia is ready to share their technology. Not that they will open-source it on GitHub, apparently, but I guess by publishing the research papers just the same way other guys from the US, Canada and China do. If this thing had been said by, say, the Prime Minister of Iceland, no one would have ever noticed. But this came from the mouth of the Russian President, and everyone now thinks that he is planning to develop a Russian Skynet. Or at least a single Terminator.

And my advice for Elon Musk (who am I to give him advice, but nevertheless): please come to visit Putin and make him join your OpenAI on the governmental level. I think, given your opinion on how strong computer science in Russia is, this will benefit both parties.

Uberization of your car maintenance

Just a quick note. A Russian startup called Alfred offers a fantastic service: you call them, and they take all the headache of repairing your car for you. Definitely will try them this winter, when the next service for my car is due.