Apr 7, 2023

The Library of Alexandra

How much does knowledge cost? While that sounds like an abstract question, the answer is surprisingly specific: $3,096,988,440.00. That’s how much the business of publishing scientific and academic research is worth. 

This is the story of one woman’s battle against a global network of academic journals that underlie published scientific research. In 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan had just moved home to Kazakhstan after a disappointing few years trying to study neuroscience in the United States when she landed on an internet forum where a bunch of scientists were all looking for the same thing: access to academic journal articles that were behind paywalls. That’s the moment the very simple, but enormously powerful, website called Sci Hub was born. 

The site holds over 88 million articles and serves up about a million downloads to people in practically every country on the globe. We travel to Kazakhstan to meet the mysterious woman behind it all and to find out what it takes to make everything we know about anything available to anyone anywhere, for free.

Special thanks to Vrindra Bhandari, Balázs Bodó, Stephen Buranyi, Ian Graber-Stiehl, Joel Joseph, Noorain Khalifa, Aparajita Lath, Steve McLaughlin, Marcia McNutt, Randy Scheckman Tanmay Singh, Deborah Harkness, Joe Karaganis, Lawrence Lessig, Glyn Moody, and Steven Press.

Episode Credits:
Reported by - Eli Cohen
Reporting help from - Karishma Mehrotra, Emily Krumberger and Norihelys Ramos
Produced by Simon Adler
with help from - Eli Cohen
Original music and sound designed by - Simon Adler
Mixing by - Jeremy Bloom
Edited by - Alex Neason

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Leadership support for Radiolab’s science programming is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation Initiative, and the John Templeton Foundation. Foundational support for Radiolab was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.


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