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Scientists boycott Elsevier
January 29, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

The Cost of Knowledge lets scientists register their support for a boycott of all Elsevier journals for their support of SOPA, PIPA (tag) and the Research Works Act (previously, WP, MLA, UK, Oz, etc.). It appears the boycott was inspired by Field's medalist Tim Gowers' recent comments describing his personal boycott of Elsevier journals.

Elsevier has always been amongst the most hated academic publishers, largely due to their incredibly high prices (pdf).
posted by jeffburdges (60 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Signed up and then asked to be removed as a reviewer from an Elsevier journal, recommending that the paper be resubmitted to a high-quality online journal...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:14 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm no expert in this area, but I do know Elsevier's been doing this for a long time, certainly for more than a decade. Here's hoping their support for badlaw turns out to be enough to push them off the cliff.
posted by JHarris at 1:15 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


By a coincidence I literally just finished reviewing a paper for an Elsevier journal - I clicked through directly to here from their website.

As a UK academic the problem I have with boycotting them is that it would effectively amount to careeer suicide. If I don't publish in the key journals in my field then I can't get papers with a sufficiently high rating to allow for any career progression, can't properly support bids for new research funding and would generally be screwed. This is pretty much the case for many science and social science acadmics in the UK.
posted by biffa at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


i approve of this so hard. am not in academia anymore but i've never given up on academic research. not having easy access to academic journals is just effing ridiculous ESPECIALLY since these publications do not pay scholars for their work. fuck'em. let them feel the ire of the internets.
posted by liza at 1:18 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is almost nothing good about Elsevier. The Gowers article summarizes it all pretty well, but misses a couple of points that make them even more awful, in my opinion. First, they were one of the slowest and worst at putting their journals online. I can't speak for other disciplines, but it wasn't that long ago that finding a reference to "Physica C" meant a long, time-wasting trip to the library as there was no hope that it would be online if it wasn't from the last couple of years. Also, being a reviewer for them is needlessly painful and unfun.

As biffa mentions, though, they do control key journals in certain fields and it is almost impossible to avoid them. Ugh.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 1:18 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


From 2006:
A Rebellion Erupts Over Journals Of Academia
The nine members of the editorial board of the Oxford University-based mathematics journal Topology have signed a letter expressing their intention to resign on December 31. They cited the price of the journal as well as the general pricing policies of their publisher, Elsevier, as having "a significant and damaging effect on Topology's reputation in the mathematical research community."
The letter of resignation (pdf)
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:21 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


While there are clearly specific issues with Elsevier which make it worse than the rest, the whole world of academic publishing is shocking and needs a complete revolution.

People who write articles don't get paid. The reviewers dont get paid. The distribution nowadays can be completely electronic, and so cost nearly nothing. And yet subscription fees are immense, taking up great amounts of budgets for institutions and making knowledge that should be freely available, inaccessible to individuals.

I can't believe it would be very difficult for a dedicated group of academics to organize a way of completely sidestepping this awful scam. I greatly look forward to it. It would be as important a step in freeing information as Google has managed in its not-evil years.
posted by iotic at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2012 [20 favorites]


@biffa

then there need to be some serious direct action organized against universities that insist in supporting this stupid company. fuck "progressive" change. sometimes you gotta force change, especially when youre dealing with monopolies. Elsevier is basically a knowledge base monopoly that begs to be broken into a million little pieces.
posted by liza at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd support dropping all Elsevier publications from consideration in the RAE myself, biffa, that'd solve your problem rather quickly. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 1:23 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a UK academic the problem I have with boycotting them is that it would effectively amount to career suicide. If I don't publish in the key journals in my field then I can't get papers with a sufficiently high rating to allow for any career progression, can't properly support bids for new research funding and would generally be screwed. This is pretty much the case for many science and social science academics in the UK.

Surely then, if possible, people should cease to cite Elsevier journals? If their value is their impact, then a boycott on citations most easily destroys their value. Such a thing would be hellishly difficult in some fields, I appreciate that, but even reducing it would help.
posted by Jehan at 1:24 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


One could cite only the arxiv.org version in mathematics, physics, etc., Jehan.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:26 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I signed it. I pledged not to submit or edit for Elsevier journals, but not to decline all referee requests -- I can imagine a situation where a young colleague submitted a paper to an Elsevier journal, which I was the most qualified person to referee, so that my refusal to referee would potentially be harmful to the author.

Also, among Elsevier's claims to fame is the journal Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals, which Gowers describes as a "joke," for reasons covered previously on MetaFilter.
posted by escabeche at 1:28 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm having a really hard time with this right now. I'm in neuroscience, and other than Science and Nature (which have painfully short page and figure limits that force far too much into Supplemental Info documents), the big journals are on Cell Press; Cell, Neuron, and Current Biology is pretty good too. If nothing else, citing papers in those journals is absolutely required. Of course, Cell Press is owned by Elsevier, although it started MIT press and was only bought in the nineties. The Trends review journals, also on Cell Press, host some of the best neuroscience reviews out there. I'd be happy to avoid proper Elsevier journals, and I intend to make any paper I get published open access, but on the off chance I can manage a career in science, they own an important imprint. PLoS really needs to get into the review article game.
posted by Schismatic at 1:49 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to admit that trying not to publish in Elsevier would be quite difficult - doubly so since I can't guarantee co-authors would feel the same way as I do. But not reviewing or editing sounds like a fair place to start.
posted by Jimbob at 1:52 PM on January 29, 2012


@biffa It's just biffa.

then there need to be some serious direct action organized against universities that insist in supporting this stupid company. fuck "progressive" change. sometimes you gotta force change, especially when youre dealing with monopolies. Elsevier is basically a knowledge base monopoly that begs to be broken into a million little pieces.

No, it runs a lot deeper than that, the system for awarding research funding to universities in the UK is rooted in rating university research outputs and capability, and that is rooted in academic submitting their four best publications. The quality of a paper is judged based on the impact factor of the journal where the paper is published and the number of citations that the paper gets. Since Elsevier are such a key provider of journals then boycotting them becomes a problem as it undermines the ability of the individual academic to access the places where there work would attract the most value from the perspective of the assessing board and the employing university. Consequently no university is in a position to support a boycott of Elsevier. And since university income depends on the assessment exercise then careers are wound up in getting high rated papers.

Surely then, if possible, people should cease to cite Elsevier journals?

Eventually it would undermine them, but the problem is that this also undermines the scientific process. A referee can't accept a paper which has neglected to draw on the key work relevant to the paper. Plus it would be a pig for academics that need their work to be cited so they can demonstrate to their bosses that their work isn't crap.
posted by biffa at 2:00 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Other reasons to be upset with academic publishers previously.
posted by Winnemac at 2:25 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eventually it would undermine them, but the problem is that this also undermines the scientific process. A referee can't accept a paper which has neglected to draw on the key work relevant to the paper. Plus it would be a pig for academics that need their work to be cited so they can demonstrate to their bosses that their work isn't crap.

I suppose a better way to describe it is to be "stingy" with citations, and only cite what is absolutely necessary from Elsevier journals. If you can cut just one citation, that's a start. Reducing the impact factor of one of their journals will make fellow academics slightly less likely to use it, meaning their will be fewer good articles for you to ignore in the future, reducing the impact factor further. Being openhanded with citations in non–Elsevier journals will also increase their impact factor and give academics somewhere to turn to. Supposedly it would only take two years for the effect to show. Remember, little acorns!
posted by Jehan at 2:28 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Think of it as "work to rule" rather than "strike".
posted by Jehan at 2:29 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sadly, since my career depends on the IF for the journals where I have papers being as high as possible this doesn't really appeal.
posted by biffa at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2012


As a UK academic the problem I have with boycotting them is that it would effectively amount to careeer suicide. If I don't publish in the key journals in my field then I can't get papers with a sufficiently high rating to allow for any career progression, can't properly support bids for new research funding and would generally be screwed. This is pretty much the case for many science and social science acadmics in the UK.
That's pretty much the way it is in the U.S. That's one reason why this stuff takes so long to change. But 20 years out I'm sure things will be fine. PLoS is out there, getting some interesting papers (I guess -- I have no idea what the quality is vs. Nature/Science)
I can't believe it would be very difficult for a dedicated group of academics to organize a way of completely sidestepping this awful scam. I greatly look forward to it. It would be as important a step in freeing information as Google has managed in its not-evil years.
They have. PLoS. The problem is the prestigious journals (Nature, Science) are still prestigious. In order to advance as an academic, the more prestigious the publication, the better. People probably want to cite prestigious journals in their citations as well (I'm not sure about that) but they're definitely going to want to cite the key works, which were probably published in those journals.

So it's a self-reinforcing system.
1) People want to publish in the most prestigious journals,
2) the prestigious journals can pick the best papers to put in them.
3) The best papers, the ones most likely to be cited show up in the journals in 2, this increases the prestige of the journals.
4) Infinite Loop! We never get to 4.
So yeah you need to have a strong counterforce to destabilized the system. People who publish really blockbuster stuff might need to publish elsewhere, since obviously that stuff will get cited.

Interestingly, the paper with the faster-then-light neutrinos was published on arXiv.org, which anyone can post too. (pdf) -- Obviously if you find stuff particles going faster then the speed of light, that's going to make a big impact regardless of where it's published.
posted by delmoi at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2012


I'm with biffa. A boycott is unworkable. But I'm glad the attempt is being made because it draws attention to the issues.

It's very difficult to ignore relevant papers regardless of where they are published (and a relevant paper published in Cell cannot be dismissed), so the no-citing approach is problematic. If you try, your reviewers will remind you, and they may be all the harsher because you won't appear to have a proper understanding of the field.

Diluting the impact factor of Elsevier journals but putting your best work into non-Elsevier journals will make a difference, but only when the alternative journals have a higher impact factor. Which is where the hope lays, particularly with PLoS. There is a positive feedback loop that propels journals up the ranks. When Nature made Nature Immunology, Immunity (Cell Press i.e. Elsevier) took a massive hit in impact factor. In fact Nature Immunology now outranks Immunity in impact factor where it used to reign supreme.

So it's not all doom and gloom. PLoS has not been on the scene for very long and is already revolutionising a number of scientific fields. Open-access is probably inevitable, it's just not going to happen in the time-frame that people may wish (i.e. many decades).

Have any of the PloS journals reached No. 1 IF in their relative field yet? They certainly haven't in my field (immunology), but PLoS doesn't have a dedicated immunology journal.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:49 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


journals but putting your best = journals by putting your best
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:50 PM on January 29, 2012


Another step is that the impact factor has to go. It's imprecise, it's gamable, and it doesn't really indicate quality, just popularity and access to the clique.* Now, there are some other "citation value" metrics, like the H-index, which are not quite perfect, but do a better job of describing the impact of an author's work. Some kind of metric that would clearly indicate the impact of a paper (perhaps number of citations measured over time, with some sort of "freeze" based on the half-life of papers in that field) with a way of aggregating into statistics for individual researchers, would be far superior, and we have the technology to record, calculate, and display this sort of data.

Actually, the whole idea of a "journal" is seriously in doubt -- I mean, if a publisher has any credibility, surely they have made sure that all their journals are equally well reviewed, right? So the difference between one journal by the same publisher and another is pretty much the topic, which could be easily indicated by tags in the metadata. The only question would be which publishers would be considered "AAA rated" -- I will suggest Elsevier, with their rather shoddy history of buying reviews on Amazon and publishing pharmaceutical company press releases as "journal articles," would be rather lower ranked than, say, a small society publisher with more integrity.**

Anyway, there is no reason why the internet and electronic communication should mean that we are eternally in servitude to commercial publishers. Instead, the Academy could leverage these tools to take our scholarship back.

*I exaggerate, but only slightly.

**In the interest of full disclosure, Crooked Timber generally has a hate-on for Elsevier, so take that into account.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's great to see increased attention from people with the stature of Gowers. Most academics probably support open access in principle, but early-career researchers cannot decide to go open-access on their own. They can only do so if their entire community makes the same decision, which is done most easily with the participation of the community's most visible members. Basically, it's the prisoner's dilemma with thousands of prisoners. If communities are relucant to move in that direction, it's probably due to inertia and fear more than anything. That's why public statements of solidarity like this one are needed.

I count myself extremely fortunate to work in a field where the best venues are open access, so I never have to worry about making the absurd choice between the imprimatur of publication and widespread dissemination of my work. I hope that researchers in many other fields will have the same freedom in the near future, but I'm not naive about how difficult these decisions are on an individual level. It is going to take a long time.

But even if every editorial board of every major journal in every scientific field in the Elsevier catalogue resigned and founded open-access journals tomorrow, Elsevier and their ilk aren't going to just go away. They hold the copyright to vast amounts of mathematical and scientific knowledge produced in the last century, and they are going to do everything possible to collect rent on that knowledge for as long as possible. The only way to remove that leverage from them is to reform our broken copyright system.
posted by alopez at 3:00 PM on January 29, 2012


Although I agree that Elsevier and most of the other journal publishers are problematic, and I am eagerly looking forward to a time where all publishing is Open Access, there is an important tool available to us already today, which nobody has mentioned: Self-archiving. Elsevier actually grants authors automatically the right to self-archive their accepted manuscripts - this means the last manuscript they submit, after peer-review and improvement, but before copy editing and layouting etc.

The problem is that most authors don't bother to do so. My institution has an institutional repository, and I guess at least 50% of all the articles published are automatically eligible for self-archiving, but very few actually do so, because they can access it, and all their colleagues at top-level institutions can access them...

If you are an academic, or a PhD student, check if your own or your supervisors publications are eligibile (Sherpa/Romeo is great), and get archiving! Google Scholar is quite good at picking up multiple versions of the same paper, and will ensure that a little PDF icon will pop up when people search for your article.
posted by shaklev at 3:16 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's simple, but then again, it's not. I'm all for hating Elsevier, but I also know a bit about publishing journals. The thing is, even if they are online and the editors and reviewers work for free, there is still a cost to publishing them. And though Elsevier's pricing is grotesque, the cost is a lot higher than most people think - specially if you have to deal with rights to images.
If your business is publishing scientific journals, you will need to be tough on access and price, and the bundling business is an obvious way to get some of the less interesting stuff sold.
In my view, the ideal solution would be earning your money through some other activity - like being a university, or a broader publishing house. But the rules are against that. Political and business emphasis on bibliometrical measurements as the main indicator of quality in research puts pressure on universities to force their researchers to publish in "independent" (not-university-owned) journals, and journals from well-established academic publishers.
I like publishing work-in-progress stuff through my university, because it's fast and relatively cheap, and lets me communicate with my peers right away. I also like similar publications from like-minded institutions. And now and then I write a piece for a small local publisher, because he's a nice guy and his books are so pretty. But all of this doesn't count when our institution is reviewed. Which is maybe a good thing, because some of my colleagues hadn't published anything for 20+ years before the pressure arrived, let alone published in international, peer-reviewed journals... aaargh - complicated, unresolved issues. Take them away
posted by mumimor at 3:21 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Although I agree that Elsevier and most of the other journal publishers are problematic, and I am eagerly looking forward to a time where all publishing is Open Access, there is an important tool available to us already today, which nobody has mentioned: Self-archiving.

Technically, this is Open Access, which comes in two flavors, more or less:

Green Open Access, where the researcher's institution maintains a copy.*

Gold Open Access, where the journal takes a larger or smaller fee up front to make the material freely available (there are a variety of models available).

I prefer Green Open Access, myself, because Gold, I think will just be a setback in the escalating price wars and the moving of budgets from library serials acquisition to paying for publication,** which is unlikely to save institutions money in the long run, nor, particularly, free scholarly publishing from its commercial woes. Also, there are increasing numbers of scam "Open Access journals" out there, so the already dodgy journal business has actually gotten worse. And, anyway, since the work of writing and reviewing the material is already done by academics for free, and hosting is getting cheaper, we can leave the publishers the discovery tools, where they can actually add value, and keep the content free.

*Harvard, and some other institutions, have mandated authors insisting on retaining repository rights (although usually with an easy out for the author), based on the idea that, since the institution paid for the research, they should have first crack at any of the fruits of that research, and commercial publish can stand in line.

**There is nothing sacred about journal subscription budgets,, but moving the budget item to a different location doesn't really solve the problem
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:31 PM on January 29, 2012


mumimor: It's simple, but then again, it's not. I'm all for hating Elsevier, but I also know a bit about publishing journals. The thing is, even if they are online and the editors and reviewers work for free, there is still a cost to publishing them. And though Elsevier's pricing is grotesque, the cost is a lot higher than most people think - specially if you have to deal with rights to images.
Yeah, of course there are costs involved in publishing academic journals, and we have to be realistic about those. But at the same time, what Elsevier is doing is really enclosing the commons—taking publicly funded research and selling it back at grossly inflated rates to the institutions that actually produced the research, while walling a vast amount of stuff off from the public at large through price and access barriers. It's almost pure rent-seeking, and its part of a trend that threatens to separate academia ever further from the societies that fund them and of which they (should be) an integral part.

So the costs of publishing need to be weighed against the costs (cultural, economic, intellectual) of the university sector essentially having to rent back research it has already paid for, while effectively secluding the academic conversation from the public sphere. It's an unsustainable scandal, and one that in the long term could be extremely dangerous for universities if they want to, you know, survive in an increasingly austere, suspicious, and resource-starved world.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:36 PM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's simple, but then again, it's not. I'm all for hating Elsevier, but I also know a bit about publishing journals. The thing is, even if they are online and the editors and reviewers work for free, there is still a cost to publishing them. And though Elsevier's pricing is grotesque, the cost is a lot higher than most people think - specially if you have to deal with rights to images.

Yeah, this is why major mainstream publications like the New Yorker and Time, each chock full of photos and variously-written and sourced articles, charge so much for subscriptions. scoff scoff

Corporations benefit from the discrepancy between the attitudes of people who want to give them an even break, and their corporate mandate to aggressively seek out every particle of profit available to them. Because of this, it doesn't make sense to defend a corporation based on what you suspect or assume their costs to be. They try to keep their business numbers secret in part so people will have to acknowledge they might assume wrong, and give them the benefit of the doubt concerning how great the distance between their costs and revenue actually is.

Shed no tears for Elsevier: in the view of their board, each precious drop of saline has a real monetary value, and to their ears they clatter like coins as they hit the ground.
posted by JHarris at 3:47 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


(EDIT: d'oh, the New Yorker has few photos, I changed one of my example magazines in an edit and forgot to account for that.)
posted by JHarris at 3:48 PM on January 29, 2012


There are no such useful sideline activities for publishers in mathematics, physics, comp. sci., etc., mumimor. Authors already did all the typesetting work by writing in LaTeX. All the figures were constructed specifically for that article. etc. Afaik, chemists and biologists don't publish other people's pictures much either, although admittedly they write articles in Word, which doesn't produce publishable output easily.

We should probably find some method to lower the IF for Elsevier's journals across the board, perhaps simply citing the arXiv.org or self-archived version only, maybe worth writing a LaTeX package to simplify this.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:55 PM on January 29, 2012


Yeah, this is why major mainstream publications like the New Yorker and Time, each chock full of photos and variously-written and sourced articles, charge so much for subscriptions. scoff scoff

Also, there are often page charges, even in for-profit journals, where the author pays for (at least some of) the costs of layout. Generally, these costs are higher if there are images and higher still for color images.

There are costs involved in producing and maintaining journals, I would never dispute that; however they do not come close to matching the subscription costs.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 PM on January 29, 2012


The problem, to be blunt, is the wholesale cowardice of the academic profession in allowing governments and managerialism to erode tenure over the last two decades. A fear-paralyzed, or bought-outright, faculty cannot deliver its core function of prioritising scholarship over anything else, with the results that we see here (and let's not look too hard at the content...)

Publication is just printing (this has a small cost, and online distribution saves much of that), syndicating and archiving - everything else is just deviation from the point. PLoS is a step in the right direction but it's still obsessed with citation metrics and plays the impact factor game as hard as any other journal.

It could be all be free, to author and to reader, but the quid pro quo is the freedom to say anything, irrespective of worrying if anyone is listening right now.
posted by cromagnon at 4:01 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Political and business emphasis on bibliometrical measurements as the main indicator of quality in research puts pressure on universities to force their researchers to publish in "independent" (not-university-owned) journals, and journals from well-established academic publishers.

I'm honestly confused about what you mean here. In mathematics, many of the highest-quality journals are published by universities or professional societies. What would prevent that from being the case in other fields?
posted by escabeche at 4:07 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sonny Jim, I agree completely.

JHarris: the difference between mainstream publications and scientific publications is scale and advertising. What is simple for the NYTimes is extremely complicated for a journal, both in terms of cost and manpower. As I wrote above, and meant - hate on Elsevier, they deserve it because they really push the boundaries beyond fairness. But don't imagine it is easy to change the state of things.
Generally, I'm not imagining stuff. A friend of mine worked with Elsevier on a new journal some years ago, and I learnt from her. Now, I am in the middle of reorganizing an established journal with great backers from 8 universities (not an Elsevier journal), and somewhat shocked to discover the real costs of just about everything. One surprise: even if the images are made by the researchers and admitted as part of the article, copyright laws apply as if they were independent artworks. The cost isn't in the royalty for the images (pennies), but in the administration of this royalty. This is why I wrote about images above.
Distribution, even when it is online, is another puzzle to be solved.

cromagnon: "just" printing, syndicating and archiving is something. It takes time and costs money. Which is why a lot of great new journals die when their editors get a life, like children, or a real job. But still, I agree with your basic premise. We should never had let ourselves scare out of our core values.

escabeche: at least where I work, a university press has to validate that it does not solely (or even primarily) cater to the university's own staff, if the articles published are to get full credit. The project I'm working on now is a collaboration between several universities, and it has been necessary to find an independent academic publisher in order to make all parties comfortable that the journal will be independent and at the highest possible international level.
posted by mumimor at 4:14 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Have any of the PloS journals reached No. 1 IF in their relative field yet? They certainly haven't in my field (immunology), but PLoS doesn't have a dedicated immunology journal.

There are several PLoS journals which rank #1 (or near the top in their fields) according to impact factor.

A sample:
PLoS Biology is #1 out of 86 journals in the Biology category for the 2010 (latest year available) Journal Citation Reports rankings.
PLoS Computational Biology is #1 out of 37 journals in Mathematical and Computational Biology.
PLoS Pathogens is #1 in both the Virology and the Parasitology categories.
posted by medeine at 4:24 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sadly, since my career depends on the IF for the journals where I have papers being as high as possible this doesn't really appeal.

It's important you take a stand, as I can't, and nor can millions of your fellow citizens who are not academics. Our influence on this problem is tiny and indirect, whereas you're one of the engineers who can work on the machine itself. We're relying on you to open up academic publishing and help the spread of knowledge—part of the trust we have when we fund universities and research for the common good. Look at the Large Hadron Collidor at CERN: €7.5 billion so you can do the research you want. Doesn't that show the level of belief the public has in you? We love knowledge enough to make it possible for you. We've done our best to put you above money, so please don't put money above us, but realize that your impact and your career spread far beyond academic confines and into the minds of everybody.
posted by Jehan at 4:26 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


GenjiandProust: Yes, I am aware of the two flavors of OA. I'm all for doing everything we can to get access more widespread right now, while at the same time working on reforming the system. I am involved in some open education stuff (P2PU - kind of similar to Reddit University), and here it's crucial to be able to find OA versions of papers, since many of the learners do not have access to university libraries.

However, my ideal is still gold OA (OA journals), because I am really interested in innovation in the entire scholarly dissemination field - think XML instead of PDFs, unique author IDs, unique paper IDs (available as DOI right now, but expensive and only some journals use them), semantic markup, integrated data, etc... Every repository I have seen just offers a way of uploading PDFs, and most of the innovation I've seen has come from journals, like PLoS.
posted by shaklev at 4:29 PM on January 29, 2012


If their value is their impact, then a boycott on citations most easily destroys their value.

Part of getting a paper published is showing how your work improves on past work by others in your field. It will be tough to get a paper past reviewers with fewer citations of said work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:29 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, I am aware of the two flavors of OA.

Not everyone is, though. Certainly most of my faculty aren't. Of course, many of my faculty seem to think magic ponies deliver content. Fortunately, more faculty seem willing to learn.

However, my ideal is still gold OA (OA journals)

Fair enough, and some of that is very nice, but it's still basically gilding the contents, and, as I said above, most Gold OA just moves the costs to the other side of the purchase stream, which will not solve the problem in the long run. It may well hurt, since the institutions producing the bulk of the articles will also be paying for the bulk of the publishing, which seems a trifle unfair....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:45 PM on January 29, 2012


There isn't any conflict between destroying Elsevier's IF and enforcing correct citations, about which I'm picky, btw. Academic fields should establish a cut off year like 2010 after which they avoid citing Elsevier journals by name. Instead, we cite the exact same publication on preprint servers like arxiv.org when they exists and rot13 the journal name. Voila, the historical record remains impeccable, even for publications not present on preprint servers, but Elsevier's journal's IF plummets.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2012


So why don't more hard scientists post their preprints online? This probably sounds like a naïve question, but I'm just a rube from the social sciences, so humor me: Don't they care about getting their stuff read?

I mean, when someone in linguistics publishes a new paper, it goes up on their website right away, plus a copy on academia.edu, plus links to it on their blog and twitter and anywhere else they can think of. If you visit a linguist's website, especially a junior professor or a grad student, you just expect to see a whole bunch of links to their work — and if you don't, it's sort of like "Okay, either they aren't working on anything interesting, or they're just treating this like a hobby."
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for adding a lot of nuance and insight to this issue, mumimor.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:49 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


JHarris: the difference between mainstream publications and scientific publications is scale and advertising. What is simple for the NYTimes is extremely complicated for a journal, both in terms of cost and manpower. As I wrote above, and meant - hate on Elsevier, they deserve it because they really push the boundaries beyond fairness. But don't imagine it is easy to change the state of things.

Yeah, I'm going to continue to scoff. It's not simple for the NYTimes for one thing, but they do it anyway. As I said, or at least tried to imply, above, other industries have found solutions around this, and while some of them have much greater volumes than journal publishing, others have just as much or even less.

Nuance is generally good, but sometimes an excess of little nuance fails to really add up to anything, but in the aggregate succeeds in becoming a huge drain on people's will to affect real and necessary change. Whatever publication comes along to replace them will have to solve problem and pay costs, sure, and of course some things will be worse without them, but on the whole it'll still be a great improvement, not the least reason for which being by upending the settled relationships that have formed the niche that Elsevier has colonized.

One surprise: even if the images are made by the researchers and admitted as part of the article, copyright laws apply as if they were independent artworks. The cost isn't in the royalty for the images (pennies), but in the administration of this royalty.

I'm not surprised at all. But then, why not try to negotiate a royalty-free license, paying them more directly upfront than they would receive under the pennies system, in order to eliminate the greater royalty administration cost?

Anyway, my argument isn't that it is easy, but that some things are hard but are worth doing anyway, because this is the only way real good ever gets done in the world. There's probably profits in it too, even for someone not trying to wring libraries for the absolute maximum financial benefit theoretically possible.

Distribution, even when it is online, is another puzzle to be solved.

Yeah sure. It's a puzzle wrapped in an enigma sitting atop a mystery that lives next door to a conundrum that's best friends with a sudoku.

Sigh. My words are probably too strong to come from someone without a direct stake in this, so I'm going to bow out of this thread. At least, I DID get to use the "best friends with a sudoku" joke I've been sitting on for a couple of years though....
posted by JHarris at 5:39 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


GenjiandProust: I think we should separate between gold and green OA, and the question of who pays. Nobody is contending that publishing is completely free (although it might well be made cheaper than it is today), even Arxiv is struggling to fund itself.

Currently, most Open Access Journals do not charge publication fees (source). The journals which do so are often in fields where it is common to receive large grants, of which a small portion is earmarked "dissemination" (participation in conferences, etc). This could be used to pay author fees... Yes larger institutions would pay more, but they also pay more for lab fees, salaries etc - because they do more research. And they receive more research funding.

Anyway there are a number of ways of funding journals, some of which are being experimented with currently, and many of which, I am sure, will be experimented with in the future.
posted by shaklev at 7:19 PM on January 29, 2012


So why don't more hard scientists post their preprints online? This probably sounds like a naïve question, but I'm just a rube from the social sciences, so humor me: Don't they care about getting their stuff read?

I mean, when someone in linguistics publishes a new paper, it goes up on their website right away, plus a copy on academia.edu, plus links to it on their blog and twitter and anywhere else they can think of. If you visit a linguist's website, especially a junior professor or a grad student, you just expect to see a whole bunch of links to their work — and if you don't, it's sort of like "Okay, either they aren't working on anything interesting, or they're just treating this like a hobby."


I (a linguist) got a take down request the other day, for a copy of one of my papers I had posted on academia.edu. I eventually managed to find the small print in the contract with the journal where it said I was allowed to put a copy on my professional website (after a certain amount of time had elapsed) and sent that back to the editor. It turned out the editorial board had changed and the new ones didn't know (and couldn't believe) that posting preprints was allowed.

Most other linguists I have spoken to also don't believe it's allowed until you show them the small print. (Amazingly, most journals DO allow it). Most of my colleagues think they are cheating the system by putting up their papers, although many of them do it anyway.

On another topic, I went looking last week for a list of open-access linguistics journals. I found quite a good list on a website, and one by one clicked on the links or googled the journals. I'd say 75% of the journals were dead, having only lasted for a year or two and then stopped publishing. All of the rest looked kind of scammy - no editorial names I recognised, and the papers didn't look high quality at a brief glance. Two journals on the list had been open access when they started, but have now switched to closed models.

I would LOVE to publish in open access journals, if anyone can find me one that still exists, puts out regular issues, and has well regarded editorial board members and/or good quality articles.

I like the idea of boycotting Elsevier journals, but as others have said, I can't not cite them, because reviewers will complain that I haven't read the relevant literature. And I can't not publish in them, because some of the best respected journals that publish stuff exactly like my work are Elsevier. But I guess if I'm asked to review something for them, I'm happy to decline and give my reason.
posted by lollusc at 7:20 PM on January 29, 2012


I am the Interlibrary Loan Coordinator for a small liberal arts college, and I have paid Elsevier/the Copyright Clearance Center large amounts of money for recent journal articles (they're also not great about licensing ILL, as far as I can tell.) This is a very interesting concept, if for no other reason than it will be great to have more informed scientists and professors on the realities of the costs and problems with the current journal model. Soon, we will have our own institutional repository, which will hopefully help, though I will be interested to see how much buy-in there is among different departments, and whether there is any commentary from journal publishers. Elsevier's costs are not an insignificant total of the library's collections budget, and honestly, I wonder how long they (and others) imagine that they can keep escalating the costs.

PS: Please post articles academia.edu and Open Access databases for your field/uni and your own websites, professors! Especially for recent works! Many of your colleagues, trust me, do not.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:41 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just fyi, arXiv.org is the server of record for all mathematical sciences. You post it on arXiv if you want it read, you want to claim the result first, etc. We search arxiv.org before journal sites. We post research level books there. etc.

There aren't any refereeing services provided by arXiv but they certainly disabuse any concerns about image copyrights or any other services people imagine publishers provide.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:50 PM on January 29, 2012


Call me cynical, but I don't see academia.edu as a solution to a parasitic business model. Just a more effective one. We don't need them.
posted by cromagnon at 7:52 PM on January 29, 2012


Look at the Large Hadron Collidor at CERN: €7.5 billion so you can do the research you want. Doesn't that show the level of belief the public has in you?

To be fair, High Energy Particle physicists and theoretical physicists already use the arxiv more extensively than almost any other field.
posted by atrazine at 12:36 AM on January 30, 2012


I post everything on the arXiv. The two major journals in my field are published on behalf of learned societies or University Presses. Not all such arrangements are good for the scholarship, but some are — and they are certainly less bad than Elsevier, Springer, et al. As far I can tell, Elsevier mostly ignores my field. Nevertheless, I have signed the pledge.

One of the big problems with academic publishing is that it is a dysfunctional market in the economic sense: the consumers (academics) and the purchasers (librarians) are not the same people. So the normal pressures that would prevent obscenities like Elsevier's subscription packaging, or the cost of a subscription to Cell, don't exist.
posted by caek at 2:51 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's important you take a stand, as I can't, and nor can millions of your fellow citizens who are not academics. Our influence on this problem is tiny and indirect, whereas you're one of the engineers who can work on the machine itself. We're relying on you to open up academic publishing and help the spread of knowledge—part of the trust we have when we fund universities and research for the common good.

The idea of going into research is to try and influence others by specialising in a particualr field and trying to move forward understanding in that field, I have worked for 15 years to try and produce something useful and to contribute to making the world a better place. Now I should throw myself into the machine, give up on the work I have done and my future in my field to make some point about the economics of publication?

We've done our best to put you above money, so please don't put money above us, but realize that your impact and your career spread far beyond academic confines and into the minds of everybody

Getting stuff out to change things beyond the confines of academia is the plan, but I happen to think assisting in the transition to a sustainable future is more important than trying to effect some sort of change to the economic model for publishing. If I was more interested in publishing I guess I would have gone into publishing.

Look at the Large Hadron Collidor at CERN: €7.5 billion so you can do the research you want.

I'm a social scientist, so not really.

We've done our best to put you above money

Oh please, research has been first against the wall in the recession here, the university sector has had massive cuts in public funding.
posted by biffa at 5:50 AM on January 30, 2012


I'm a social scientist, so not really.

You think too small. Just imagine what we could learn by accelerating population groups to near light-speeds! Science!

Oh please, research has been first against the wall in the recession here, the university sector has had massive cuts in public funding.

This doubled. In the US, state funding for higher education has been dropping for the past 20 years, if not longer. The Baby Boom, having benefited from cheap public education, was very eager to pull that ladder up behind them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:00 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Baby Boom, having benefited from cheap public education, was very eager to pull that ladder up behind them.

State schools charge more tuition to out-of-state students. A probably unintended side effect of funding cuts is that these schools have put cutoffs on in-state enrollment numbers, favoring out-of-staters who pay more. But that's what the locals voted for, so that's what they got.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:39 PM on January 30, 2012


Researchers feel pressure to cite superfluous papers
posted by jeffburdges at 7:20 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Richard Poynder provides a lot of details in this comprehensive blog post about the controversy, including excerpts from his interview with Elsevier’s director of universal access, Alicia Wise. (full interview available here as a PDF)
posted by Toekneesan at 7:25 AM on February 8, 2012


A new bill's been proposed that would expand the open-access requirements for publicly funded research. No idea how much of a chance it's got, but it would be a step in the right direction if it passed.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:21 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Elsevier has withdrawn support for the RWA.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:01 AM on February 27, 2012


Cosponsors bail out: "As such, we want Americans concerned about access to research and other participants in this debate to know we will not be taking legislative action on HR 3699, the Research Works Act."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2012


Just saw the news through email... w00t!
posted by kaibutsu at 11:55 AM on February 27, 2012


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