Alexandra Elbakyan
Alexandra Elbakyan
Elbakyan at Harvard University in 2010
Born (1988-11-06) 6 November 1988 (age 35)
Alma materSatbayev Kazakh National Technical University
Years activeCurrently active
Known forSci-Hub
Scientific career
FieldsNeural engineering, Computer science

Alexandra Asanovna Elbakyan (Russian: Алекса́ндра Аса́новна Элбакя́н,[1] born 1988)[2] is a Kazakhstani computer programmer and creator of the website Sci-Hub, which provides free access to research papers and has served over a billion science articles to its visitors since 2011.[3][4][5]

She has been described as an Internet "pirate in hiding"[6] & "Science's Pirate Queen".[7] Nature has listed her in 2016 in the top ten people that mattered in science,[8] Ars Technica has compared her to Aaron Swartz,[9] and The New York Times has compared her to Edward Snowden.[10]


Elbakyan was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan on 6 November 1988.[11][2] She describes herself as being multiracial, of Armenian, Slavic, and Asian descent.[12] Elbakyan undertook university studies in Almaty, where she developed skills in computer hacking.[13] A year working in computer security in Moscow gave her the finances to proceed to Freiburg in 2010 to work on a brain–computer interface project, and she developed an interest in transhumanism, which led her to a summer internship at Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States, where she studied "Neuroscience and Consciousness".[14][15][16] In 2009, she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from the Kazakh National Technical University, specializing in information security.[17][18]

She began Sci-Hub on her return to Kazakhstan in 2011, characterised by Science correspondent John Bohannon as "an awe-inspiring act of altruism or a massive criminal enterprise, depending on whom you ask."[13] Following a lawsuit brought in the US by the publisher Elsevier, Elbakyan is presently in hiding due to the risk of extradition;[19] Elsevier has been granted an injunction against her and $15 million in damages.[20][21] According to a 2016 interview, her neuroscience research is on hold, but she has enrolled in a history of science master’s program at a "small private university" in an undisclosed location. Her thesis focuses on scientific communication.[13] In December 2016, Nature Publishing Group named Alexandra Elbakyan as one of the 10 people who most mattered in science in 2016.[22]

Elbakyan and Sci-Hub were again involved in a US lawsuit in 2017, this time with the American Chemical Society. ACS sued the site for copyright and trademark violations, and conversion.[23] Later that year, the court ruled in favor of ACS, fining Sci-Hub $4,800,000 in damages.[24]

In December 2019, the Washington Post reported that Elbakyan was under investigation by the US Justice Department.[25]

Views and controversies

Elbakyan has stated that she is inspired by communist ideals, although she does not consider herself a strict Marxist.[26] She has stated that she supports a strong state which can stand up to the Western world, and that she does not want "the scientists of Russia and of my native Kazakhstan to share the fates of the scientists of Iraq, Libya, and Syria, that were 'helped' by the USA to become more democratic."[27]

In particular, Elbakyan is strongly critical of the former Dynasty Foundation and its associated figures, believing that the foundation was politicized, tied to Russia's liberal opposition, and fit the legal definition of a "foreign agent"; Dynasty's founder, in her opinion, financed those researchers whose political views agreed with its own.[27] Elbakyan states that after she began to investigate the foundation's activities and published her findings online, she became the target of a cyberharassment campaign by Dynasty's supporters.[28]

In 2017, a species of parasitoid wasps discovered by Russian and Mexican entomologists was named after Elbakyan (Idiogramma elbakyanae).[29] Elbakyan was offended by this, writing, "If you analyse the situation with scientific publications, the real parasites are scientific publishers, and Sci-Hub, on the contrary, fights for equal access to scientific information."[30] Following this event, and in the context of her long-running tense relations with the liberal, pro-Western wing of the Russian scientific community, she blocked access to Sci-Hub for users from the Russian Federation.[31] Sci-Hub access was later restored to Russia and Elbakyan said in an interview that many fans contacted her and convinced her "that the opinion of the so-called 'science popularizers' who attacked me on the Internet cannot be considered the opinion of the scientific community."[32] The Russian entomologist responsible for naming the wasp stated that he supports Sci-Hub, and that in any event, the naming was not an insult, in particular because parasitoids are closer to predators than to parasites.[33]

Elbakyan is a strong supporter of the Open Access movement and claims that Sci-Hub's mission falls perfectly in line with the movement. She argues that websites like Sci-Hub are part of the goal Open Access proponents are striving towards.[34] Elbakyan believes that via this Open Access movement, citizens can become more informed.[35]

In 2018, Elbakyan asked supporters of Sci-Hub to join their local Pirate Party in order to fight for copyright laws to be changed.[36]

In December 2019, it was reported[25] that the United States Department of Justice is investigating Elbakyan for suspected ties to Russia’s military intelligence arm, the GRU, to steal U.S. military secrets from defense contractors. Elbakyan has denied this, saying that Sci-Hub “is not in any way directly affiliated with Russian or some other country’s intelligence,” but noting that “of course, there could be some indirect help. The same as with donations, anyone can send them; they are completely anonymous, so I do not know who exactly is donating to Sci-Hub.”[37]


See also


  1. ^ "Элбакян Александра Асановна / RUNET-ID". Retrieved 2017-01-07.
  2. ^ a b Coralie Trinh Thi (2016). "Alexandra Elbakyan: la pirate scientifique" (in French). Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Née en 1988 au Kazakhstan, elle est fascinée par « les livres de science soviétiques, qui expliquent scientifiquement tous les miracles attribués aux dieux ou à la magie ». Elle étudie les neurosciences à Astana et son université n'a pas les moyens de payer l'abonnement aux publications des éditeurs scientifiques. Pour son projet de recherche (l'interactivité cerveau-machine), elle aurait dû acheter chaque article autour de 30 dollars – un prix faramineux quand on sait qu'il faut consulter des dizaines ou des centaines d'articles. Elle n'a qu'une solution : les pirater.
  3. ^ "Transcript and translation of Sci-Hub presentation". University of North Texas. Retrieved January 1, 2017. We have a recent addition to our lineup of speakers that we'll start off the day with: Alexandra Elbakyan. As many of you know, Alexandra is a Kazakhstani graduate student, computer programmer, and the creator of the controversial Sci-Hub site.
  4. ^ Dylla, H. Frederick (2016-03-21). "No need for researchers to break the law to access scientific publications". Physics Today. doi:10.1063/PT.5.2031. ISSN 0031-9228.
  5. ^ "sci-hub". Vkontakte. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  6. ^ Rosenwald, Michael S. "Meet the woman who put 50 million stolen articles online so you can read them for free". Independent. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  7. ^ Graber-Stiehl, Ian (2018-02-08). "Science's Pirate Queen". The Verge. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  8. ^ "Nature's 10: Ten people who mattered this year". Nature. 540 (7634): 507–515. 2016-03-12. Bibcode:2016Natur.540..507.. doi:10.1038/540507a. PMID 30905952. In 2009, when she was a graduate student working on her final-year research project in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Elbakyan became frustrated at being unable to read many scholarly papers because she couldn't afford them...
  9. ^ Kravets, David (3 April 2016). "A spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz is angering publishers all over again". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Retrieved 18 April 2016. Just as Swartz did, this hacker is freeing tens of millions of research articles from paywalls, metaphorically hoisting a middle finger to the academic publishing industry, which, by the way, has again reacted with labels like "hacker" and "criminal." Meet Alexandra Elbakyan, the developer of Sci-Hub, a Pirate Bay-like site for the science nerd. It's a portal that offers free and searchable access "to most publishers, especially well-known ones."
  10. ^ "Opinion | Should All Research Papers Be Free?". The New York Times. 2016-03-12. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  11. ^ "Alexandra Elbakyan". (in Russian). Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  12. ^ Elbakyan, Alexandra (February 19, 2016). "Wiki identifies me as ethnic Armenian while I'm multiracial having both armenian, slavic and asian roots. Politics?". Twitter. Archived from the original on 25 August 2020.
  13. ^ a b c Bohannon, John (29 April 2016). "The frustrated science student behind Sci-Hub". Science. 352 (6285): 511. Bibcode:2016Sci...352..511B. doi:10.1126/science.352.6285.511. PMID 27126021.
  14. ^ "People". Georgia Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Alexandra Elbakyan [...] Summer 2010 [...] Programming and data analysis
  15. ^ Gameiro, Denise Neves (June 4, 2016). "This 27-year-old Woman is Shaking up the Scientific Publishing Industry". Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Alexandra Elbakyan, a 27-year-old researcher from Kazakhstan, started out with the same issues. While she was studying 'Neuroscience and Consciousness' in labs at Georgia Tech (US) and University of Freiburg (Germany), she was forced to pirate papers for herself and other researchers.
  16. ^ Peet, Lisa (August 25, 2016). "Sci-Hub Controversy Triggers Publishers' Critique of Librarian". Library Journal. Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Elbakyan, a software developer and neurotechnology researcher, created Sci-Hub originally out of frustration over lack of access to scholarly material in her native Kazakhstan. After studying neuroscience and transhumanism (a futurist movement positing that the human species can evolve through technology) at Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, Elbakyan returned to Kazakhstan, where Internet access was limited, article purchase fees steep, and interlibrary loan periods long. She often located pirated journal articles through online content access communities, and helped procure them for her fellow students; eventually she decided to automate the process and launched Sci-Hub.
  17. ^ Elbakyan, Alexandra (January 27, 2015). "Brain-Computer Interfacing, Consciousness, and the Global Brain: Towards the Technological Enlightenment". Archived from the original on January 11, 2017. Alexandra Elbakyan is a neurotechnology researcher and advocate, and a software developer. Alexandra holds a BS in CS from Kazakh National Technical University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, specializing in information security. During the last year of her study, she worked on a security system that would recognize individuals by their brainwaves. After obtaining her BS she worked for a while with the Human Media Interaction Group at the University of Twente on the mind-controlled game Bacteria Hunt. Later she joined the Human Higher Nervous Activity Lab dedicated to the study of consciousness. Currently she is working in The Brain Machine Interfacing Initiative at Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg on the development of ECoG-based hand prostheses
  18. ^ "Bacteria Hunt:A multimodal, multiparadigm BCI game" (PDF). University of Twente. p. 22. Alexandra A. Elbakyan graduated from KazNTU with a bachelor's degree in IT in June 2009. She conducted a study regarding person identification by EEG in her final year thesis. She is going to continue her research in brain-computer interfaces and brain implants
  19. ^ Bohannon, John (29 April 2016). "Who's downloading pirated papers? Everyone". Science. 352 (6285): 508–512. doi:10.1126/science.aaf5664. Elbakyan also answered nearly every question I had about her operation of the website, interaction with users, and even her personal life. Among the few things she would not disclose is her current location, because she is at risk of financial ruin, extradition, and imprisonment because of a lawsuit launched by Elsevier last year.
  20. ^ Schiermeier, Quirin (22 June 2017). "US court grants Elsevier millions in damages from Sci-Hub". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2017.22196.
  21. ^ Buranyi, Stephen (27 June 2017). "Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Nature's 10". Nature. 540 (7634): 507–515. 2016-12-22. Bibcode:2016Natur.540..507.. doi:10.1038/540507a. PMID 30905952.
  23. ^ United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, American Chemical Society vs. JOHN DOEs 1–99, Case 1:17-cv-00726-LMB-JFA, Document 1, Filed June 23, 2017, pp. 1–21.
  24. ^ United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, American Chemical Society vs. Sci-Hub d/b/a, John Does 1–99, Civil Action No, 1:17cv0726 (LMB/JFA), Document 22, Filed Sept. 28, 2017, pp. 1–16.
  25. ^ a b "Justice Department investigates Sci-Hub founder on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence". The Washington Post. 2019-12-19. Retrieved 2019-12-20.
  26. ^ Кузнецов, Даниил (23 December 2016). "Пиратка года: До Сноудена или Ассанжа мне пока далеко" (in Russian). Life. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  27. ^ a b Владимиров, Василий. "Политизация популяризации науки в современной России: о фонде "Династия"" (in Russian). APN. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  28. ^ Зораб, Руслан (6 September 2017). "Александра Элбакян: о либералах, троллинге и блокировке Sci-Hub в России" (in Russian). Naked Science. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  29. ^ Khalaim, Andrey I.; Ruíz-Cancino, Enrique (31 August 2017). "Ichneumonidae (Hymenoptera) associated with xyelid sawflies (Hymenoptera, Xyelidae) in Mexico". Journal of Hymenoptera Research. 58: 17–27. doi:10.3897/jhr.58.12919.
  30. ^ Elbakyan pulls Sci-Hub from Russia, 7 September 2017
  31. ^ Sivcova, Alexandra (6 September 2017). "Именем создателя бесплатной базы научных публикаций назвали насекомое. Она пожаловалась на травлю и заблокировала сайт для ученых из России — Meduza" [The 'Edward Snowden' of pirated scholarly literature has banned Russian Internet users because of a personal grudge]. Meduza (in Russian). Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  32. ^ "Вернуть Sci-Hub". Status Prаеsens (in Russian). 2017-09-12. Retrieved 2017-09-12.
  33. ^ Котляр, Павел (5 September 2017). "Варитесь в своем дерьме сами" (in Russian). Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  34. ^ Ojala, Marydee (May 2016). "Sci-Hub, Elsevier, Piracy, and the Future of Scholarly Publishing". Information Today. 33: 122–125.
  35. ^ "Alexandra Elbakyan – Science Should be Open to all Not Behind Paywalls -".
  36. ^ "Why Sci-Hub is illegal, and what you can do about it". 2018-07-07.
  37. ^ Rohrlich, Justin (23 December 2019). "The "Robin Hood of science" says she's not a Russian asset". Quartz. Retrieved 21 January 2020.

Further reading