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California Tells Elsevier to Take a Hike

The science publishing struggles are not calming down – just the opposite. As of yesterday, the entire University of California system is no longer subscribing to Elsevier journals. That’s a mighty big university system and a mighty big publisher; this is Godzilla vs. Megalon. The dispute is around two mighty big issues as well.

The first one, naturally, is cost. Subscribing to scientific journals has always been expensive (as in, for decades) but the prices have been climbing with great speed and vigor, to the point that many subscribers (especially academic ones) have been feeling the financial pain. Elsevier has been especially notable over the years (since they have so many journals under their umbrella) for pushing subscription plans that require institutions to take a wide range of journals simultaneously rather than a more a-la-carte model. The second issue is open access (OA). The business model of for-profit scientific publishing is the charge money to subscribe to the journal and for access to the archives. Some publishers make older papers open-access, but some don’t, and the definition of “older” varies widely. What the UC system wants to do is have all papers published out of their system be open-access, regardless of the journal they appear in. That’s a laudable goal, but it bangs right into the business model of the Elseviers of the world.

Open-access, of course, can only work if the authors pay costs up front, rather than having the subscribers pay to read the papers when they’re published. (And its that author-pays model that’s left the door open to a lot of shady operators at the low end of the business). The UC folks have apparently been trying to negotiate a deal on what those OA fees would be as part of a subscription agreement, and have been unable to come to terms. So they’ve walked away. Science says that negotiations were underway for eight months, which should have given everyone plenty of time to get their proposals on the table and play all the chicken anyone could want.

This is a big move. The California system accounts for about 10 per cent of all the scientific publications in the US, and they are definitely the largest US academic defection from Elsevier journals. Add this to the ongoing saga of Plan S in Europe, where several national funding agencies are going at the open-access issue with not only Elsevier, but every other for-profit scientific publisher, and it’s clear that begun, these OA wars have.

60 comments on “California Tells Elsevier to Take a Hike”

  1. Anon2 says:

    Perhaps the pendulum swings back. With the CRISPR children and more broadly the US subsidizing tmR&D breaktheoughs for the rest of the world, is this a good time to limit what countries can subscribe to our publications?

    1. ANon3 says:

      I think that comment’s way off the mark and unnecessarily nationalistic.

      1) This is about American academics being able to read articles from all over the world in a Dutch-owned journal, not about keeping US work secret. The reviewers and editors of those journals who give their time for nothing aren’t all Americans.
      2) American journals also exist and make just as much profit as Elsevier.
      3) The only way one country could keep its work secret is to not publish it. Sounds a bit North Korean to me. And I’m not sure the authors of US science papers would thank you for limiting the readership to one narrow geographical area.

    2. loupgarous says:

      The biggest journal in the Elsevier stable is Nature, isn’t it? Most of the journals in Elsevier Group are outside the US, aren’t they?

      They’d be justified in asking “what’s this ‘we’ s–t?”

      1. loupgarous says:

        Wups – bonehead error on my part – Nature and its family of publications have been part of the Springer Nature Group for a long time.

        The rest of my comment stands – European researchers and governments doubtless don’t feel as threatened about the prospect of their research being read by researchers in unfriendly countries as some Americans do.

        Even if a second Cold War is “on”, experience during the First Cold War was that one way or another, Communist bloc researchers had reasonably good access to published information on Western scientific research (genetics possibly excepted during the ascendancy of Trofim Lysenko).

  2. PorkPieHat says:

    Yay! It feels like a 2016 moment (by that I mean, “the system isnt working for us” revolution), a “let them eat cake” moment for the publishers. Hopefully, something that works for everyone comes of this. But the current status was headed for a ‘bust it up and lets start over’ re-calibration.

  3. Emjeff says:

    Leave it to the People’s Republic of California to 1) demand open access for all their papers and 2) balk at actually paying for it. This really is a case of academia, once again, not understanding basic economics.
    We’ll see who blinks first…

    1. a says:

      Leave it to an inane commenter not to read the article and project their own prejudice on how the negotiations took place.

    2. Pete says:

      These are papers mainly written by scientists paid out of taxpayer money. They are then refereed by other scientists paid out of taxpayer money (and not by the journal for their reviewing services). The editors generally are also not paid by the journal (though there are exceptions), they are typically also scientists paid out of taxpayer money.

      So what the publisher actually does is typeset the papers (except typically this is also done by the author) and copy-edit (I have never had a journal paper copy-edited which actually improved it; not infrequently the copy-edit process actually introduces errors because the copy-editor decides a different sentence structure would read better, but unfortunately it also means something else. Books are a different matter.) and make the papers publicly available.

      Only the last of these is actually useful. But it is also very cheap – especially if you don’t have a paywall, which is somewhat expensive to manage. There are quite a few examples of open-access free journals; they rely on goodwill of (typically) a university for online hosting costs, but this seems not to be a serious difficulty. It certainly doesn’t justify $30 per article.

      For example, Elsevier’s profit margin is about 40%, essentially all of which is on revenue money coming from the taxpayer (company subscriptions are a small fraction). And as best I understand it, a large part of the 60% that isn’t profit is payment for the sales and legal people.

      1. David Mobley says:

        > Only the last of these is actually useful. But it is also very cheap – especially if you don’t have a paywall, which is somewhat expensive to manage. There are quite a few examples of open-access free journals; they rely on goodwill of (typically) a university for online hosting costs, but this seems not to be a serious difficulty. It certainly doesn’t justify $30 per article.

        Exactly. We’ve recently started a new open access journal (focused on a niche area in computation, but the concept is generalizable) which is fully open access and charges authors just $100 per article (livecomsjournal.org). Authors do their own editing AND retain copyright to the work after publication. It’s super cheap, but then, we’re not out to make money off of it — just to produce stuff valuable to the field and give it the broadest possible audience.

        1. t says:

          Great model for a journal…livecomsjournal. Not only are our current publishing models broken, it’s also antiquated (especially in chemistry). Simply putting paper on glass with a pdf is about as backwards and useless as it gets. It’s just a dead document with dead data. Why not actually take advantage off the internet with publishing. Publishing should be fully interactive online with verified reviewers and running commentary, direct publication of a Juptyr NB, markdown reports, living data sets with shareable models, all measurements tabulated and mineable, raw data linked and traced through analysis and conclusions, ability to continually update, group source, and revert versions, … Imagine how this would advance the field if, say, at the click of a button I could aggregate data from all publications featuring a C-N coupling and then filter data and model at will. It would be great if a journal with a big name actually were so bold to throw their weight and reputation behind this and just do it. It would certainly be more cost effective, especially with semi-automated authoring from templates. Point being is we really need a revolution in how we disseminate, review, and share scientific results and the current business model and platforms are not up to the task.

          1. Cachi says:

            I cannot agree more with you. Its crazy that, being 2019, we haven’t come up with something like this yet.

      2. Ian Malone says:

        > I have never had a journal paper copy-edited which actually improved it; not infrequently the copy-edit process actually introduces errors because the copy-editor decides a different sentence structure would read better, but unfortunately it also means something else.

        I have a personal theory, ever since I had a real word systematically replaced by a non-existent one, that these are Mountweazels. The copyright assignment most journals demand is rather shaky, but they have a better claim to the final copy-edited and typeset version. Introduce a few errors and you can prove someone shared the journal copy rather than their author’s version.

        1. Derek Lowe says:

          Now that’s one that had not occurred to me!

    3. pete says:

      — guess you must’ve learned your “basic economics” elsewhere.

      Outside of academia. Well done.

  4. Jb says:

    What exactly do publishers do? Academics are the ones who have to come up with and idea and spend inordinate amounts of time writing grants to fund it….from taxpayer dollars. Once you have money, grad students getting paid $30,000 per year to work 100 hour weeks have to do years of labor to generate the results. After that, PIs and students have to spend hundreds of hours analyzing the results, making figures and writing up the manuscript. After it is written, other academics are supposed to review the material and provide feedback for free. The paper then gets published and the publisher charges insane amounts of money to access the content they got for free that took years of manpower to generate. What a racket. Only academics are stupid enough to provide their services for free. Business 101 is to get what you can for free while not giving away anything you’re good at away for free. Academics and students have to be idea generators, capital raisers, researchers, graphic designers, authors, and scientific consultants during review all for free. Publishers provide nothing. Everything is also electronic these days, so they don’t even have costs to print on paper. Maybe it is time authors get 50% and institutions receive 25% of revenues from a manuscript while a publisher receives the last quarter of a fee paid to access content. Publishing is a huge reason I left academia. You do all of the work for free while everyone else benefits.

    1. LF Velez says:

      What started as a way for academics to communicate with one another to advance their disciplines — forming small societies of fellow experts and sharing their work in group letters and eventually printed volumes — has become a way for outsiders to profit. Granted, the audiences haven’t enlarged the way those in collegiate sports have, but the situation is similar: most of people who perform are not the ones who get the most direct financial benefits.

      Publishers used to provided quality control and editorial services — not just copy-editing or proofreading [which are different skill sets] — but a range of assessments essential to producing high quality content that is also well presented. Even with the switch to digital formats, there is still work required to design, format, and display scientific material properly, and people should be paid for their efforts. We can, of course, point out that the amount of money spent on the levels of editing and production have probably never matched up with the amount of profit made at some of the larger publishing houses, and that some of the astronomical costs for some scientific articles seems to be based on the same prestige pricing ideas that drove college tuition through the roof. [Is it me, or does the refusal to allow older articles to become OA sound a bit like Pharma gaming their way around allowing generics to A) exist, B) force prices lower?]

      Pretending that editorial/production services are unnecessary has ancillary costs. Newspapers have been suffering from collapsed layers of editorial teams, as managers have decided that it’s “too expensive” to have humans do all the work that needs to be done, and the consequences of not having good editors can be anything from badly written headlines and plagiarism to impressive conflicts of interest that no one points out before press time.

      What seems to happen with some of the OA journals is the worst of both worlds: you pay to publish, as if you are subsidizing all the services provided by a traditional publisher, but you _also_ have to pay in-house for the editorial support that the journals were supposed to be supplying. It is unlikely that every research institution is going to have the funding [or, sadly, even the the honesty] necessary to have in-house editors, image-checkers to detect ‘creative’ uses of data, etc.

      [This post is not meant to cover all the money issues with scholarly publishing. It used to be that publishing would advance a career in ways that would translate into money, but that doesn’t always happen. What does seem reliable is that the larger a business grows, the more adept it becomes at extracting cash and funneling it away.]

      1. JB says:

        Exactly, which all far, far less work than actually obtaining funding, doing the research, analyzing the data, and writing the manuscript. Publishers don’t make the figures or artwork either. Academics do that for free. Publishers spend time laying out an article on a page and playing around with fonts, that’s about it. That’s why I said they should get 25% for their effort, not 100% for taking advantage of academics who gave to do years of work and spend millions of taxpayer dollars to get the data.

        1. T says:

          Re. “what do publishers do?”. Well I’m a professional editor for an “evil publisher” (not Elsevier). I never “spend time laying out an article on a page and playing around with fonts”; that is what the type-setters do. What I do spend (large amounts) of time doing: evaluating some of the over 1000 submissions we get a month (many totally unsuitable for the journal due to funders’ misuse of impact factors); contacting authors prior to peer review when there is an obvious error or important information is missing; selecting reviewers; reminding/inviting new reviewers when they just don’t answer/don’t deliver the promised report; reminding reviewers; did I mention reminding reviewers?; answering worried authors asking “where is my manuscript” because the reviewers are late/have stopped responding; making decisions based on the referee reports; answering queries from authors and reviewers; making sure the correct materials are uploaded and helping reviewers and authors who are having technical problems (also shared by production department/secretariat); copy-editing (not the kind where you move commas around, the kind where you have to tell the author “er, you refer to Figure 4 here but there is no Figure 4” or “the table shows that x increases with y but the text says it decreases” or “this sentence directly contradicts the one before. Is there a negative missing?”; all this is MUCH more common than I ever thought possible); processing galley proof corrections (sometimes submitted as scans/faxes of barely legible hand-written notes!); dealing with rebuttals/complaints; dealing with ethical issues (like misconduct) and disputes; dealing with corrections/corrigenda/retractions/correspondences.

          I actually agree that may features of the the way publishers charge for subscriptions, for example forcing institutions to buy journal bundles rather than offering individual journals at a reasonable price or pay-per-download packages, is problematic and they need to be forced to change. But when I hear people saying that publishers do absolutely nothing, I’m really tempted to say we should all stop stop writing/responding to emails for a week and watch the complaints come in about the massive problems caused when we stop doing even just that one aspect of our “non-jobs”. Its like people complaining about restaurant prices because they could cook that dish for a tenth of the price at home. There is a lot of work (and expense) going on in the background that you just don’t notice as long as everything is working properly.

          1. b says:

            While I’m not fully in the “what value do publishers/editors actually add?” camp, it would be pretty easy to argue that if publishers took some of their profit margins to actually pay reviewers for the services they provide, said reviewers would be much more likely to complete the task in a timely manner and make your job much easier. And hey, you could even enforce a deadline!

          2. zero says:

            Not answering your collective emails for a week is not going to demonstrate the value-add of a traditional publisher.
            That’s like saying ‘everyone hates traffic and wants trains so bad, why don’t we close every highway in the country for a few days and see how people like their trains then!’. Not meaningful; all you do is show what happens when there is no infrastructure at all vs. what an alternate infrastructure might look like.

            The quality and value-add of traditional publishers covers a wide spectrum.
            It is possible to switch to an open-access model while retaining high quality; it’s also possible to fall into the cesspit of pay-for-publish mills.

            The challenge is to transition to a world that recognizes the power of the internet without being tied to outdated organizations that can’t adapt or compete on level ground. It used to be expensive to publish and transport physical journals. The costs involved made sense, much like how the cost of a cassette tape full of music made sense.

            The price of a digital download no longer makes sense, whether it be a song or a paper. That price can and should include the cost of value-adds like copy editing and other sanity checks (and maybe paid reviewers). If a for-profit company wants to compete then reasonable profits should be on the table as well, but if a nonprofit outcompetes them then we cannot allow anticompetitive practices to be the response.

  5. J Tyson says:

    I hope the funding agencies cut off their supply of new manuscripts.

  6. a says:

    sci-hub usage will go very much up

    1. Hugo says:

      This is also the push some sites need to get all these semi-legally uploaded papers. After the 3rd UC researcher emails you for a manuscript you’re much more likely to take that step.

  7. Eric says:

    So what happens now to all the UC scientists that want to read something published by Elsevier?

    1. Bender says:

      Sci-Hub it like a normal person.

    2. CN says:

      A lot (most?) of pre-2019 publications will still be available. UC scientists won’t have access to any new, non-OA work, as well as the backfiles of a certain journals.

      So yeah, a jump in sci-hub activity seems likely.

    3. truthortruth says:

      PubMed!

  8. NMH says:

    I would love to see CA do the same for ACS pubs. Then there may be a slight chance that ACS pubs staff wont make their obscene million-a-year salaries.

  9. Silicon says:

    Tax payer money funds most published research, therefore, taxpayers should get access to the research for free; they have already paid for it. Journals charge insane fees for someone to type-set then edit (which let’s be honest, usually makes papers worse or changes the meaning of important sentences) and post it to their website. For profit publishers are the exact opposite of free and open science. They restrict innovation only to those who can pay for the knowledge of previous research. Authors can still send papers to colleagues and other small correspondence, but in essence, the journals own the papers published in their journals, which is insane considering they did none of the work. It’s also nearly impossible now to perform any meaningful research without access to the work published in these journals. We’ve trapped ourselves in a corner where we need access to the information publishers have, but we also need them to publish our work so we can get tenure or graduate.

    I don’t have a great idea in mind to put open access into operation, but we really do need to spend some time to figure out the best way to accomplish an open system where everyone can see the progress tax payer funded science has made.

    1. anon3 says:

      Electronic labnotebooks. Everyone working on taxpayer grants should need to keep their work in an electronic labnotebook, and the notebooks should go public 5 years after an experiment is opened. This wouldn’t overlap with the products offered by journals.

      1. An Old Chemist says:

        Most chemists who I have worked with do not write their lab notebooks well, giving all the details required for reproducing the experiments. Most of them have illegible handwriting. Add to it the fact that the NMR, MS, and HPLCs are stored only electronically.

      2. Ian Malone says:

        Some areas this might work, ran experiment x, mixed a with b, went colour c, recorded d grammes product. But it really doesn’t in the area I work in and I know it’s not the only one. That’s not to say we don’t make our data public, I’m involved in multiple projects where we do provide our results to other groups, or even publish raw data sets, but “just publish your notebooks and that covers everything” really is not sufficient.

        Most research is increasingly complex, and the people who are best placed to interpret and present it are usually the people who have done the work, or their collaborators who understand it. A researcher’s job isn’t just running the experiments, it’s analysing and interpreting them. In any case, say you do just put your raw data out there and do nothing else, at some point somebody (who hopefully knows how) is going to have to make sense of it and communicate that to others.

  10. tk03kg says:

    Throw in the trouble of journal and article citation metrics, then researchers’ game can become really hell-ish.

  11. single payer says:

    For-profit publishing is rent-seeking at it’s absolute purest. Reminds me a lot of private medical insurance companies somehow…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Re: those who gave credit to publishers for typesetting, etc.. How many journals used to require submission of camera-ready copy so they could simply collate, paginate, photo-offset print, and distribute each issue? That was good old Tet Lett and others. Even now, journals have strict mss requirements for submissions, perhaps using a specific Microsoft Word template. (Not even a PDF is acceptable.) Their software processes the .docx format into the nicely typeset final format. It is no longer guys in the printshop adding leading, ems and ens, adjusting widow lines, etc. to get a pretty product. It’s automated and software controlled.

    Academic publishing is one of the most profitable businesses there is. Profit margins of 35%-40% have been reported recently. This long article from The Guardian (link in handle) is one zinger after another: “Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science?” by Stepen Buranyi, The Guardian, 27-June-2017. It has a great history of how Robert Maxwell got into the newly established academic publishing biz in Britain in 1946 and how it took off. Buranyi’s comparisons and analogies are very enlightening for non-scientist readers, e.g., “A 2005 Deutsche Bank report referred to it as a “bizarre” “triple-pay” system, in which “the state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”.”

    Also from that article:

    “Three years earlier [1985], despite scientific funding suffering its first multi-year dip in decades, Pergamon had reported a 47% profit margin.” … “In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year.” … “In 2012 and 2013, Elsevier posted profit margins of more than 40%.” … “[B]ack in 1988, Maxwell predicted that in the future there would only be a handful of immensely powerful publishing companies left, and that they would ply their trade in an electronic age with no printing costs, leading to almost “pure profit”.”

    I think Derek’s Godzilla vs Megalon comparison is good. I’m hoping that Mothra to swoop in and rescue us all.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Oops. Typo. “I’m hoping that Mothra WILL swoop in and rescue us all.” I’d look for more detailed info but there are paywalls on the entomology and other journals I want to check.

    2. Lawrence E Wolfe says:

      Or, better, the Peanuts will be brought to where Mothra is needed and sing it back in!!

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        Now this is a guy who has seen too many old movies. And I’m apparently one of those guys as well.

      2. Anonymous says:

        Mothra! Hear our plea for open access and affordable journals!

        Mosura ya Mosura
        dongan kasakuyan indoo muu
        rosuto uiraadoa, hanba hanbamuyan
        randa banunradan tounjukanraa
        kasaku yaanmu
        Mosura ya Mosura
        yasashisasae wasure
        arehateta
        hito no kokoro inorinagara
        utai, ai no uta

        Mothra oh Mothra
        Hear our call for you to save us
        over time, over sea
        like a wave you come
        our guardian angel
        Mothra oh Mothra
        the people have forgotten kindness
        their spirit falls to ruin
        we shall pray for the people as we sing
        this song of love

        (Link in handle.)

  13. Peter S. Shenkin says:

    @Derek

    “Plan S in Europe, where several national funding agencies are going at the open-access issue with not only Elsevier, but every other for-profit scientific publisher”

    All my readings about Plan S indicate that it is not limited to for-profit publishers, but to publishers whose articles are behind a paywall. That includes the ACS, as well.

    Though the ACS itself is non-profit, its journals might actually be a profit center, for all I know. But certainly the ACS is not a “for-profit scientific publisher.”

    1. Ian Malone says:

      Plan S is also causing a slightly bizarre situation because of the funding changes, whereby certain funders will not pay for submissions to OA-only publishers, the recommendation being to submit to another (subscription) journal, where OA will still not be paid for.

  14. Andrew Molitor says:

    I dunno man, I feel like publishers do more than you think. The idea that they ‘don’t do anything but typeset and screw things up with copyedits’ is obviously wrong.

    Sure, they’re using a bunch of free labor to sift through a lot of chaff and publish a bunch of stuff that is, well, a lower density of chaff than your average open access mess, if not actually all gold. But that sort of “general contractor” role is a) valuable and b) not free.

    Suppose you’re a hero (and I mean that genuinely) and start a serious open access journal, that’s going to publish only good stuff, no garbage, for reasonable fees. One of two things will happen:

    1) you’ll gradually degenerate and start publishing sloppier and sloppier work for higher and higher fees.

    2) you’ll start charging subscription fees.

    Why? Because being a hero ain’t paying the bills.

    But hey, it’s just speculation. And, sure, Elsevier is probably being too greedy, they probably *could* but a much better deal than they *will* and still come out ahead.

    1. MatthewK says:

      “The idea that they ‘don’t do anything but typeset and screw things up with copyedits’ is obviously wrong.”
      I’ve been an author, a reviewer, and an editor many times, and I have to say there really is little value-add by the journals other than providing a focal point for science of a particular kind. Being in a journal *usually* guarantees a certain level of scientific quality and a topic related to other papers in that journal, but these decisions and evaluations are made by unpaid editors and reviewers. But for example the last article I published required uploading in dated formats to a web interface straight from the late 90s, from which the pubblisher’s software generated layouts which broke the formatting which I’d carefully specified (this was in supplementary and not required to fit the journal’s look, it just took a Word document and spat it back with different fonts, line spacing etc.). Copy edits on the main article introduced typos and changed the sense of the sentences they edited, had to just change them back (*that* was a tactfully worded response, let me tell you). And on the journal side, we had to pay the page charges, *and* assign copyright to them, filling out laborious PDF forms which couldn’t be modified digitally and had to be printed out. And to cap it all off a stream of emails telling us to promote their journal to the library to get our institution to subscribe at their exorbitant rate. This is in a first-quartile biomedical journal. Literally the only benefit for publishing is that our academic KPIs are measured in part by Q1 journal publications (management culture poisoning academia) and because our method will get to the right readership thereby, we hope. What a broken system.

      1. MatthewK says:

        please excuse doubled or missing “b”s, typing this on a 2017 MacBook Pro, say no more.

        1. Anonymous (another one) says:

          The problem with the “journals should be much cheaper” is that that’s what PLOS has been trying to do with significant support (at least initially – grant support for infrastructure) and not much dedicated employment, and yet their journals cost (authors) $1500 (not the $30 or $100 cited). Their whole mission is to make open access available and affordable, and so pricing the journals higher than they can afford to makes no sense. If this (the author cost of publication in PLOS) is accurate, then even though journals have a lot of unpaid labor involved in their creation (content and also peer review), there must be costs that aren’t being accounted for in the above calculations. This doesn’t mean that Elsevier or other publishers aren’t charging too much, but that there is likely a significantly higher floor to journal costs (unless there is a disruptive technology) than assumed.

          The selection aspect of journals is kind of important – no one has the time to read everything, and so people have to make value judgments or trust others to do so. Looking at a certain groups’ research is in part because someone else looked at them and decided their work was useful and important to read. Aggregation is also helpful. You don’t need money for aggregation, but it is helpful, and needs some resources in order to be done.

          If it’s that cheap to publish, then it seems like Gates, Wellcome, etc., could publish their own journals. Scientists receiving their grants are likely good, so the loss of impact on publishing in their journals should be minimal, and they could render the publications open access while not having access to the research controlled by government (the potential fear of government being the publisher of law or choice for government-funded research).

  15. jbosch says:

    Elsevier tells CA Universities to publish elsewhere.

    I wonder how painful it will be for CA Pi’s to decide where to publish. Unfortunately Elsevier has quite a few good journals under their umbrella.

  16. Red Fiona says:

    Not least because I spend an unnerving amount of time having issues with journal websites, I appreciate the giggle that Star Wars reference gave me.

  17. t says:

    I hope journal publishers like Elsevier become the next Blickbuster Video

  18. UC chemist says:

    Just looked at the list of Elsevier chemistry journals and, to be honest, I think I can do without them. Now ACS journals, that’s a different story, but I don’t think I need Tetrahedron. In the event that I’m dying for an Elsevier article I’m sure I can find a another way.

  19. UC chemist says:

    On a side note, why don’t my Tetrahedron articles show up in pubmed?

    1. Wayne Mascarella says:

      Per the NLM catalog record for Tetrahedron Letters:
      PubMed: Apr. 1965-Jan. 1971; selected citations only after this date.

      1. UC chemist says:

        Thanks Wayne. If Tetrahedron papers don’t generally show up in pubmed and since pubmed citations are used for my NIH applications, then isn’t this a big disincentive to publish there?

  20. loupgarous says:

    Before we decide that U of C researchers will get hosed on this deal, let’s read the wikipedia article on Elsevier. The exciiting reading’s from the part of the article dealing with Elsevier’s pricing strructure, on downwards

    “In the 21st century, the subscription rates charged by the company for its journals have been criticized; some very large journals (with more than 5,000 articles) charge subscription prices as high as £9,634, far above average, and many British universities pay more than a million pounds to Elsevier annually. The company has been criticized not only by advocates of a switch to the open-access publication model, but also by universities whose library budgets make it difficult for them to afford current journal prices…. “For example, a resolution by Stanford University’s senate singled out Elsevier’s journals as being “disproportionately expensive compared to their educational and research value”, which librarians should consider dropping, and encouraged its faculty “not to contribute articles or editorial or review efforts to publishers and journals that engage in exploitive or exorbitant pricing”. Similar guidelines and criticism of Elsevier’s pricing policies have been passed by the University of California, Harvard University, and Duke University.”

    Which goes to show it’s not just the U of C system singing the Elsevier blues.

    It gets better.

    “According to the BBC, “the firm [Elsevier] offered a £17.25 Amazon voucher to academics who contributed to the textbook Clinical Psychology if they would go on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble (a large US books retailer) and give it five stars.” Elsevier said that “encouraging interested parties to post book reviews isn’t outside the norm in scholarly publishing, nor is it wrong to offer to nominally compensate people for their time. But in all instances the request should be unbiased, with no incentives for a positive review, and that’s where this particular e-mail went too far”, and that it was a mistake by a marketing employee.”

    Uh huh.

    (Faithful readers of this blog will remember it was some unnamed hoplite at Springer who told an industrial researcher who’d submitted, along with some academic colleagues, an article to Leukemia

    “After confirming with the editorial team, the journal discourages submissions from industry and we are sorry not to be able to assist further.”

    Un-named employees have massive influence in biomedical publishing, apparently.)

    Elsevier’s had its share of the slings and arrows that open access publishers and proprietors of small, inadequately policed journals are heir to, as well as defections by editorial boards, libraries (by no means were the U of C system’s university libraries the first to drop their subscriptions), authors and (after Plan S) even the Swiss bank UBS, which advised its customers to sell their Elsevier stock over its pricing practices.

    At some point, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that Elsevier dug a deep hole for themselves over exorbitant subscription and article access fees. Although, if that surgeon had done neurosurgical research, he’d probably consider other publishers’ journals.

    The proposals here for Internet-based publishing on various open access economic models sound good. While vigilance against predatory journal practices is still essential, the controversy surrounding a former editor of an Elsevier journal publishing 322 papers through the journal while editor shows that you have to look out for questionable scientific publication practices, no matter how much you pay for access to the journal article you’re reading.

  21. J Tyson says:

    The University of California’s Declaration of Rights and Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication can be found here:
    https://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/committees/ucolasc/scholcommprinciples-20180425.pdf

  22. The Lunatic says:

    Once upon a time, I’d hoped that Google would just buy Reed Elsevier, throw the journals open under Google Scholar, set up a general access approach to Lexis and Nexis, and sell off the other pieces.

    Of course, that once-upon-a-time was back when Google wasn’t a generalized tech company making phones and laptops and self-driving cars, but a seller of advertising that used that money to support information search/access initiatives like Google Search, Google Scholar, Google Print, and Google News.

  23. T says:

    “The business model of for-profit scientific publishing is the charge money to subscribe to the journal “: that should really be a business model not the business model. Open access can also be highly profitable, and there is plenty of quality-eroding profiteering on the OA side too. Even when you remove the blatant predatory journals, you have outfits like the Frontiers journals, with their “publish absolutely everything we can charge for (including AIDS denialism), even over the editorial board’s protests” model:

    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/05/open-access-publisher-sacks-31-editors-amid-fierce-row-over-independence

    https://retractionwatch.com/2015/02/24/frontiers-lets-hiv-denier-article-stand-reclassifies-it-as-opinion/

    https://forbetterscience.com/2016/08/08/frontiers-reviewer-told-dont-be-strict-endorse-paper-reports-giulia-liberati/

  24. MTK says:

    Not only do publishers offer very little value add, whatever value they did add, i.e. journal name recognition, field of focus, etc. has also been diminished by the internets.

    I honestly can’t remember the last time I looked at an issue of a journal and perused the titles. I have standing searches and alerts that keep up with the latest and cover vast more of the literature than I could every possibly try to do myself. That may mean I miss something I might otherwise be interested in not within my field, but it also means I rarely miss something that in my field.

    When keeping up with the literature in this fashion, the name of the journal doesn’t mean a flip. You judge the work based on the work and as a standalone report. The fact that it or isn’t in a name journal or the quality or subject matter of the other articles in that issue are irrelevent.

  25. On elsevier getting less money from tax payers: Burn baby Burn.

    Sci-Hub Fo-Life!!!

  26. DTX says:

    PLOS is a good example because even with the $1500 fee they lost $1.7 m in 2016. The $1,495 to $2,900 they charge isn’t enough to cover their operations. (maybe someone has their most recent numbers?)

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