Academics Push for Alternative to ResearchGate

By Cristina Gallardo 8 November 2017

Original article in RF

A group of academics based in Amsterdam is raising funds to build a social network and open-access repository platform without the financial motivations of ResearchGate.

ScholarlyHub, which launched the first iteration of its site last week, aims to raise €500,000 through crowdfunding to develop an open-access repository and social network that responds to scholars’ needs rather than to financial interests, according to its founder Guy Geltner, a professor of medieval history at the University of Amsterdam.

Speaking to Research Fortnight, Geltner said he wanted to develop an “inclusive and critical” digital environment for scholarly communications, which reflected the culture of learning societies in terms of quality control and altruism.

“This has never been tried before at this level of ambition. The only main attempt [ResearchGate] is backed by venture capitalists, and the only proven thing is that such networks are really important. But it is time for the scholarly communication to back a platform that is not beholden by financial interests but by scholarly ones,” he said.

The funds raised in the next few months will be spent on developing the not-for-profit platform and paying the fees needed to create the repository, Geltner said. In the medium term, ScholarlyHub will rely on membership fees, which will be set at €25 a year, with “large waivers” for students and academics in developing countries.

According to Geltner, ScholarlyHub will be different from other similar platforms in that its business model will free it from the pressure to occupy a large market share to make it attractive to potential purchasers, such as publishing company Elsevier or Yahoo. “These are legitimate capitalist wars, but we need to get out of there. It is a huge strategic threat to the sustainability of scholarly life in the world,” he said.

Another difference will be that ScholarlyHub will not create profiles of academics without them having registered in the platform. “Some scholars don’t want their research to be displayed all over the web,” Geltner said.

The launch of ScholarlyHub comes a month after a group of publishers including Elsevier, Wiley and Wolters Kluwer announced that they would begin to issue takedown notices to the networking website ResearchGate requesting that copyrighted research articles be removed from the site. In the summer, a United States court ruled that pirate website Sci-Hub owed $15 million (£12m) in damages to Elsevier for illegally sharing research articles protected under copyright law.

The team behind ScholarlyHub is considering different models of collaboration that would allow it to publish scientific papers without breaching copyright. One model would consist of a partnership with open-access portals and services. Another way would involve becoming a publishing platform itself and inviting learning societies to publish with it.

A final decision on the model to adopt will depend on the views of ScholarlyHub’s members, Geltner said. Whichever is chosen, he insists that academia needs a bottom-up initiative that does not breach the legislation on copyright and intellectual property.

His way of ensuring this will be to ask users trying to upload a paper whether they hold copyright for it and whether they are respecting intellectual property rights.

“I will be duly diligent about this, and if we are threatened because somebody didn’t have these rights, we will of course take [the paper] down," he said. "I’m not trying to play Robin Hood.”