Doctoral Research Study

This page includes relevant information about Lance Eaton’s doctoral research study, Elbow Patches to Eye Patches? Scholarly Practices, Research Literature Access, and Academic Piracy as part of the University of Massachusetts’ Ph.D. program in Higher Education. This page includes general information about the study. Interested parties can also visit the Informed Consent Document, Video Consent Form, and the Investigator Protocol, approved by the UMASS Boston Institutional Review Board in July, 2022.

If you have questions, the primary investigator, PhD Candidate, Lance Eaton can discuss them with you via phone (617-824-0472) or via email ([email protected]).  The Dissertation Chair for this investigator is Professor Jay Dee and can also discuss any questions that you have. His telephone number is 617-287-7694 and email is [email protected].

About this Study

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to illuminate how scholars’ engagement with and acquisition of research literature on academic pirate networks may reflect their conception of their scholarly identity which may include considerations of alienation from, resistance to, or negotiation with demands of the neoliberal academy.

The phenomenographic study will address the following research question:  How do scholars explain their experiences in participating on academic pirate networks?

Study design: This study uses the qualitative methodology known as phenomenography. The focus of phenomenography is using inductive practices to elicit a clearer understanding of second-order thinking (how people understand the world) by a group of people around a particular phenomenon. In this study, the investigator will solicit scholars who participate on the platforms SciHub, LibGen, r/Scholar on Reddit, and the hashtag #ICanHazPDF on Twitter to acquire research literature in order to produce research. Engagement on these sites can be considered (depending on the content acquired) illegal. Therefore, the investigator looks to study how scholars understand these practices in relation to their scholar identity by interview approximately 24 scholars who vary in institutional affiliation, discipline, which platform they use and their level of usage.

Confidentiality Practices: Your participation in this research is as confidential as possible. That is, the information gathered for this project will not be published or presented in a way that would allow anyone to identify you. Information gathered for this project will be password protected on a computer and when stored in the cloud, stored with a server that uses two-factor authentication.

All identifiable information that could directly identify you (e.g., your name, your email, your institutional affiliation) will be removed from the information collected in this study. After removing all identifiers, the information may also be used for future research or shared with other researchers without additional consent.  

The following steps will be in place to maintain confidentiality throughout this study:

  • As part of this process, participants will complete a survey that will include personal details including name, email, and institutional affiliation. This survey will include the consent form. After the researcher has confirmed the participant’s identity, the participant’s answers on the survey will be moved into a different file with a pseudonym. Their survey entry will be deleted.
  • Only questions that ask about the degree of use of certain platforms for research literature acquisition will be asked.   
  • After the participant has engaged in the interview, the researcher will delete any communications (e.g., emails) and the participant’s contact channel (e.g. email address) from the participant’s file.
  • All data about a participant (i.e. de-identified data from the intake survey and their pseudonym) will be kept a text file which does not include file history. 
  • Interviews will be conducted via Zoom and participants will be encouraged to sign out of their Zoom account (if they have one) before entering the Zoom room.
  • Before the recording starts for the interview, the participant will choose a pseudonym for themselves for their display name. 
  • The interview will be recorded with the participant’s video off.
  • After the interview, the researcher will download the transcript and audio recordings to clean up the transcript for data analysis and remove any specific information that might identify the participant (such as their institution or name). 
  • Within 1 week, the transcript will be cleaned up and prepared for data analysis.

At this point, the researcher will do the following:

  1. Delete any records from Zoom including the auto-transcript, audio, and video recording.
  2. Maintain audio recordings for the duration of the dissertation, however, run each recording through a voice-distortion program to further distance the connection between the participant and their transcript.

These practices should make certain that by one week after the interview, the participant’s identity has been anonymized and there will not be a means to connect the participant with the interview. All audio recordings will be deleted at the completion of the dissertation as determined by the dissertation committee and only transcripts will be maintained for possible future research. 

Significance of research question/purpose: Currently, there is limited research on scholars’ uses of platforms that illegally acquire and share academic research literature, even though millions of downloads of research literature occurs each year (Andročec, 2017; Badke, 2017; Bohannon, 2016, Crissinger, 2017). Most research available is largely quantitative and focuses on types of research acquired on these platforms (Andročec; 2019; Greshake, 2017). Other research explores in general ways the benefits acquired from using these platforms (Chesler et al., 2016; Gardner & Gardner, 2017; Oakley, 2016). This proposed study will develop a clearer understanding of experiences, motivations, and thoughts by scholars participating in this practice that has yet to be considered.  

Given where research literature acquisition sits within academia, this study will be of particular importance to libraries and scholarly communication communities, scholarly societies, and scholars. It provides opportunities for libraries and scholarly communication entities to better understand why and where in scholars’ search efforts might they abandon traditional and legal approaches for illegal ones.  Scholarly societies will be better suited to understand the needs of scholars and how access restrictions might be impeding the opportunities for growth in a given discipline.  

For scholars, this research raises questions about their ability to produce knowledge and their roles in perpetuating this knowledge regime. Furthermore, scholars’ understanding of the vast differences in knowledge access might better contextualize why some scholars find it necessary to acquire research literature illegally or encourage scholars to work harder to make their scholarship more easily available. Costly knowledge limits that which scholars can potentially find, use, or personally afford for research at lower-tiered institutions or by independent scholars and therefore, limits scholars’ abilities to contribute to their disciplines. In turn, this limits their personal and institutional prestige, which limits the opportunities for funding or promotion for the institution or individual. 

As knowledge becomes increasingly costly and institutions face other financial challenges, they will need to consider the price associated with perpetuating the current knowledge regime and contributing to a situation wherein scholars in the pursuit of knowledge find it necessary to break the law. Thus, this research has implications for administrators in considering the priorities of the institution and how the cost of knowledge in the current publishing market may augment or limit the full execution of those priorities. Administrators may also need to consider the legal implications of scholars participating in these pirate networks either as users or contributors. 

However, the implications go much further than that; society is impacted by the artificially-high cost of knowledge. With much of the research of the 20th and early 21st century secured behind paywalls, access to that knowledge comes not at a singular price, but an exponentially repeated price that individual institutions, companies, and taxpayers pay again and again. Two-thirds of U.S. higher education research is funded with federal or state dollars, and the finished product (the article or book) is usually put behind the paywall (University Science & Engineering R&D Funding by Source, 1990-2013). Thus, individual colleges, companies, and organizations pay billions of dollars (Ware & Mabe, 2018) annually for the same knowledge that they have already paid to produce. If higher education can find ways to address the need of scholars committing academic piracy, then hospitals, law firms, biomedical companies, independent scholars, and everyone who seeks out knowledge may also reap significant financial savings and intellectual opportunities.


  • Andročec, D. (2017). Analysis of Sci-Hub downloads of computer science papers. Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Informatica, 9(1), 83–96
  • Badke, W. (2017). Sci-Hub and the Researcher. Online Searcher, 41(2), 56–58.
  • Bohannon, J. (2016). Who’s downloading pirated papers? Everyone. Science, 352(6285), 508–512. 
  • Chesler, A., Ahlberg, S., Gardner, C. C., & Wilson, H. (2016). Who’s Faster, a Pirate or a Librarian? Charleston Conference: Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition. Charleston.
  • Crissinger, S. (2017). Access to research and Sci-Hub: Creating opportunities for campus conversations on open access and ethics. College & Research Libraries News, 78(2), 86–95.
  • Gardner, C. C., & Gardner, G. J. (2017). Fast and Furious (at Publishers): The Motivations behind Crowdsourced Research Sharing. College & Research Libraries, 78(2), 131–149.
  • Greshake, B. (2017). Looking into Pandora’s Box: The Content of Sci-Hub and its Usage. F1000Research, 6(May), 541
  • Oakley, Meg. “Online Piracy: Why Sci-Hub is Disrupting Scholarly Publishing.” Georgetown University Library.
  • University Science & Engineering R&D Funding by Source, 1990-2014. (2015). Retrieved July 1, 2017, from
  • Ware, M., & Mabe, M. (2018). The STM Report: An overview of scientific and scholarly publishing, 5th Edition. International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers, Oxford.