The ongoing world protests against SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA have helped inspire a revolt among scientists over the role of academic publisher Elsevier and its business practices. British mathematician Tim Gowers kicked-started the campaign with a scorching blog post outlining numerous complaints against the publisher, which sells …
"the company had no comment at time of this posting"
They're headquartered in Amsterdam, so if you want Official Quotes And Soundbites[tm], you'll have to wait a bit. As despicable as their practices are*, this is a little sloppy. Given that the story broke early enough elsewhere that you could've caught them before the week-end (and the blog post is actually from last saturday) calling them in the middle of their night then claiming "they had no comment" is a rather cheap cop-out, I'd say.
* Appear to be, allegedly, etc. etc. etc. though fairly well-known and not the first time.
C'mon boffins! —write your own journals and publish them cheaply via iBooks new educational books authoring features.
[Missed a trick there, didn't you Reg? See how easy it was to shoe-horn in the obligatory Apple iGadget connection!]
Not a good idea!
Apple's small print would probably mean that anything published by said boffins would be wholly owned by Apple from that point onwards!
and the difference?
So if they publish via iBooks Author, then Apple owns the copyright, but they at least get 70% of the proceeds from their own work. Whereas at the moment, they publish via Elsevier and they get no money, and Elsevier owns the copyright?
Seems the iBooks Author option is at least a bit more beneficial to the authors of the works. A small step in the right direction at least.
You mentioned arXiv.org but didn't mention the other avenue I keep coming across, Public Library of Science, www.plos.org, non-profit publisher. PLoS seems a good outfit, and often referenced at sites I wander about.
Not just PLoS
There is also BioMed Central, publisher of several hundred open access journals, and Frontiers, likewise with a rapidly growing stable of highly regarded publications. The review process is pretty much the same, but the money is collected from the author's institution, not the reader's; there is no print edition and anyone can read it online. So in this field there's really no need at all to sell your soul to the likes of Elseveir any longer. I suspect all of scientific publishing will go this way within the next decade or so.
This has been coming for a long time; I work with many academics and scientists, often on texts that are destined for Elsevier publications, and despite the perceived prestige of many of their titles, their business practices are indeed of serious concern to a great many professionals in a range of fields.
This is perhaps a market just waiting for a bold new entrant...
Note that elsevier is not at all the only one, the competition is just as bad. The ACM did that twisted thing where they make articles available for free while authors link to them from their webpage, which makes them look good but doesn't change a thing.
Open access journals are the only sensible solution. They do exist. The costs are minimal (it costs a university less to maintain an open access site than to subscribe to all those elsevier journals...). But it can't be a company, because that already happened and they were quickly bought by the existing players. Or it would need extremely strong promises in its conditions making it impossible to restrict access in the future, which I can't see a private company doing (except possibly for google, which already knows how to make money from free stuff).
Governments are also quite guilty here, both for not acting against those cartels (there are also conflicts of interest, for instance the ACM SIGs play an important role in funding in the US and refusing to keep publishing with the ACM can have consequences), and for the publish of perish conditions they put on the research community, which forces people to publish *in well established journals*, i.e. those from elsevier&co.
"The ACM did that twisted thing where they make articles available for free while authors link to them from their webpage, which makes them look good but doesn't change a thing."
Can you expand on this? If the articles are free then how does this not change a thing?
Future of Science like Future of Journalism
Cutting cost means cutting quality. No matter how clever people try to get, they never get around this. For science journals this simply means that they are going to go through what newspapers are going through. Peer review will become "fact checking" and will eventually become "outsourced community feedback". There are certainly people who want to put the boot into the Science Citation Index - I bet that's gone within 10 years as well.
As costs approach zero, the old soviet saying "You pretend to pay us and we'll pretend to work" will be proven true in another human field of knowledge.
did you even read the article?
People don't get payed much if they get anything now for peer reviewing so how will a cheaper publisher change anything?
So if reducing the cost reduces the quality, does that mean you're claiming that increasing the cost increases quality? If you increase the cost of a journal to $200 a page, exactly what does that do for the quality over, say, keeping it at a "mere" $100 a page?
C'mon, at some point it's bollocks. If they charged $600 a page, are you saying the quality would become 3 times better?
Judging the quality of a scientific publication by the price is bonkers. Justifying a stratospheric price by saying that if the cost went to 0 it wouldn't be useful any more is even more bonkers.
"Cutting cost means cutting quality. No matter how clever people try to get, they never get around this. For science journals this simply means that they are going to go through what newspapers are going through. Peer review will become "fact checking" and will eventually become "outsourced community feedback". There are certainly people who want to put the boot into the Science Citation Index - I bet that's gone within 10 years as well.
As costs approach zero, the old soviet saying "You pretend to pay us and we'll pretend to work" will be proven true in another human field of knowledge."
Oh hai. You posting about things you know nothing about? Scientists submit articles to journals and are not paid a penny for them at the moment, and throughout history, and not for peer review either. So the quality is, and always has been, dreadful, by your argument.
I think several of the comentards have missed the point here, or else have no experience with the scientific publishing "industry" - you know something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?
The fact is - and I chose my words carefully here - most researchers are whores. As a researcher you really have to be a whore if you want any kind of success because as an academic you live and die by your "publications" not, in most cases, by the quality of your work or teaching abilities. And Elsevier knows this - hell, everybody knows this - so we all subscribe to the magazines, request that our institutions subscribe (as rates about 10x that of an individual subscription) so that all our colleagues can see our work when it gets published. Because when we get f**ked^H^H^H^H^H^H published we ascend the academic ladder - our reputations enhanced, people come up to talk to us at conferences, we're invited to speak at nice little conferences in hotels in faraway places - and eventually we even get paid better.
Many people serve on peer review boards out of the goodness of their hearts and a desire to provide feedback and help researchers - but there's a good number who serve so that they can scratch their colleagues backs in the sure and certain knowledge that the favor will be returned when it's time to publish. And there's a few folks who serve purely so that they can ensure that one particular colleague, applying for the same grant, doesn't get published or funded. "Peer Review" sounds good but most of the time when I read the "methods" section for papers in my field (published by Elsevier) I can poke holes in the experiment - I'm not saying that they are wrong, just that they haven't actually documented exactly how they did the experiment and taken all the factors into account.
So what's that alternative? Well we could all publish our work on-line and let the world and his wife review it but that's not going to happen because for one thing that means that the average academic would have to get off his back and actually do some real critical work ... and sign their name to it. How far do you think a junior researcher will get if they criticize the department head's work or a friend of their department head? It would be sock-puppet city.
We're all whores and Elsevier's the brothel keeper. I'm going back to bed.
This is about publishing not journalism
The two examples are different. Newspapers pay for the content. Science publishers do not. They do not edit. They do not review. They do not author. And do not believe it when they tell you they copyedit because with a few exceptions they don't.
They distribute. That's it. And now we have the internet.
You're half right - really it's about the review process where a paper is written and then must make it past the reviewers to be published - anyone can post their paper on the Internet .... but without the "critical review approval" it's value to the author is very limited.
To put this into local context - you have perfected a new algorithm that predicts a small range of numbers containing the next highest prime number ... do you publish this in Dr. Dobbs, or the Journal of the ACM?
now that would certainly explain a thing or two
-my lacking room temperature fusion reactor
-my missing invisibility cloak
Right, I'll just get my ...
In Brazil publications are ranked by the scientific community itself and the prestige of the researcher is related to the prestige of the journals he/she have published on.
When grants are proposed the reviewers check the proposer's publications in highly ranked journals. The ranking is flawed: the ranking committee tends to give high marks for journals they publish on; and usually ask their grad students to focus on these journals. Double points if they are members of the reviewing board of said journals. Double again if you have the policy of putting colleague's names on your papers as authors provided they do the same for you.
In this context, publishing on arXiv is a waste of time: in our ranking system it is not considered as a publication at all.
Sorry, the publishers are guilty, but the present system is also very convenient for the scientific elite members. Can't see a way to solve this, but again, I've only 25 years to retire...
A Very Eye Opening Account
I will make no specific comments beyond saying how interesting I found this and how it explains some concerns that I have heard about sharp practice. The ability of a product maker to supply critical funding to what was said to be no critical 'science' should be a concern to all.
"The company has certainly made some controversial decisions. A 2006 legal case in Australia exposed the claim that pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. paid Elsevier to set up the Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine." Raises some grave concerns about bad faith and once again there are mutters of threats to non compliant practitioners, these should likewise be a siren call that scientific accuracy could be threatened by commerce and greed.
Should anyone be able to buy favourable reviews with the implied threat that they could hide risks?
Because this is not a mass market issue I guess that the competition authorities are happy to sleep on their watch.
"Competition"? Elsevier have bought all the competing companies ... there's hardly any competition left.
I have added this on Tim's blog, but I thought I will also say here, as this is a public forum, that I am no longer submitting to, or refereeing articles for, Elsevier journals. It may be the Springer and Wiley are bad as well, and de Gruyter also charges ridiculous prices. But you attack the worst behaving first, and once Elsevier is dead, you turn to Springer and say "do you feel lucky, punk?"
I don't quite see how Elsiver managed to wangle holding the copyright of the papers written by the academics who published in their journals?
I could see they may well hold the exclusive right to publish in some sort of contract but did the people who published in the older journals really hand over all rights to their work? I can believe this in a way, trusting scientists being naive enough to think it would be OK.
Unless Elsiver is somehow forced to relinquish their rights to older works they have the scientific community over a barrel currently.
If you want to publish in practically any traditional journal, you have to sign a copyright transfer. The main concern for the publisher is that they cover their backsides by having you sign a declaration that you own the copyright initially, and that you transfer it to them. This means that they can show that they acted in good faith should you have committed plagiary.
The conditions vary, but many publishers do allow you to reproduce part or the whole of your work for non-commercial purposes. If you want to reproduce your own or other peoples' graphs in a scientific work (with due reference) it is unheard of that this is refused. IEEE allows you to put entire preprints online, provided it is accompanied by a copyright statement. Springer allows the same for their Lecture Notes in Computer Science, but ask (not demand) that you wait for a year after publication. As they ask nicely, I tend to comply.
What is most peculiar is not copyright transfer, but the pricing. At one stage Elseviers raised subscription prices by 33% in a single year, to compensate for higher printing and e-publishing costs. This is patently nonsense, as the printing costs have been going down, year by year (we know this from the printing costs of PhD theses), and e-publishing is way cheaper than hardcopy publishing.
The journal publishers get all the content for free: authors, reviewers, and editors get nothing (either that or I am editor in the wrong journal). By raising prices they are driving scientists to an alternative publishing model (like PLoS), where the author pays to publish, and subscription is free.
The problem is that as a scientist you do want to publish in good journals, and not just for reasons of prestige. Good journals are read by more people. This means my ideas get a bigger audience. Just like many performer would like to play for a big crowd at some time, I would like my ideas to be read by people. Otherwise articles become my write-only memory.
Good journals generally (not always) give me a better (stricter) class of review. When reviewing, I myself tend to be stricter about a submission to a lower ranking journal than to say IEEE Trans. Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence, in particular in terms of novelty (real errors get flagged anyway!). Stricter reviews are a sterner test of my ideas. If they pass that kind of scrutiny, they may be worthwhile. PLoS and similar journals will take time to gain acceptance. A quicker change would be for existing journals to adopt the new publishing format. IEEE is looking at that.
"because Elsevier holds the copyright"
Which effectively terminates the market, replacing it by monopoly enforced by the guns of the state. The legislation for THAT being maintained and extended through stuffed envelopes handed to lawmakers.
Copyright - not being used to remunerate the crying creative people or sadfrog writers in the El Reg Copyright Defense Corner.
But it's usual practice. Even the IEEE and ACM rape and pillage, and they really should know better: http://www.crypto.com/blog/copywrongs/
I suppose the *length* of copyright is probably less of an issue than elsewhere - even if it was only a matter of a few years, it would still effectively require most potential purchasers to buy before the time expired because it's something that people might /need/ to do their job, not merely some form of entertainment that people may merely /want/.
But then if some system is mandated where free access is guaranteed in a short period of time, who would bother buying a journal at all?
Short of having at least some minimum monopoly period, it's hard to see how paper journals would be obviously sustainable, especially given that many may have fairly small circulations already.
Not that it is necessarily vital that they continue, I guess it depends whether they are thought to actually do anything useful compared to what alternative methods do, or could be made to do.
As far as copyright on a paper is concerned, is there actually anything stopping a researcher effectively writing up their work in different words and [re]publishing it elsewhere, as long as they're not trying to pass it off as a novel publication of new work?
Are there contracts prohibiting the re-description of work elsewhere?
Maybe the best thing for researchers to concentrate on is getting a research assessment system in place which isn't meaningfully dependent on publication in expensive monopoly journals - as long as they can get funded, it doesn't necessarily matter to them exactly where they publish, as long as they publish somewhere that can get itself a decent reputation.
david wilson said:
"But then if some system is mandated where free access is guaranteed in a short period of time, who would bother buying a journal at all?"
There are a number of things that are "free", yet people still pay for them, and I think libraries certainly would. For example, there are a whole range of out of copyright books sold by Penguin and lots of people buy them, despite their content being "free". Also a lot of people buy prints of Linux documentation or similar. The content is free, but buying the print makes it easier to handle and more accesible for some.
However, I see the future for this type of think will become digital virtual libraries, and these could be funded by subscriptions from individuals, libraries, institutions, and of course adverts!
>>"There are a number of things that are "free", yet people still pay for them, and I think libraries certainly would. For example, there are a whole range of out of copyright books sold by Penguin and lots of people buy them, despite their content being "free". Also a lot of people buy prints of Linux documentation or similar. The content is free, but buying the print makes it easier to handle and more accessible for some."
True, but if the content is available elsewhere, that puts a fairly heavy lid on how much many people might be prepared to pay for it.
Out-of-copyright classic books might only tend to appear where the sales are predicted to be large enough to make printing worthwhile.
If something is out of copyright but *still* selling, there's a fair chance that sales might be steady enough over the long term to justify printing even if they're not particularly intense.
Academic journals seem likely to be bought fairly soon, or not at all.
A lot of people might buy Linux manuals, but then a lot of people use Linux, and a paper manual can be particularly useful for someone dealing with a machine who doesn't have another one nearby to read an electronic version on, just as a car repair manual might well sell to people who would be doing work somewhere where a computer was inconvenient even if the contents were freely available online.
Libraries might buy paper copies of academic journals, but if free online versions were available with not much of a delay, the amount an academic library might be prepared to pay may be limited.
There's going to be some point where price x sales < costs, especially if sales would be limited even at giveaway prices.
There seems to be a general view
here that the journals do not contribute anything and are just extracting profit for doing nothing. While not to defend Elsevier, and their generally high prices and low standards this is to understimate the work that DOES go into them from the publishing industry.
They ARE edited and copy-edited - and this can be quite extensive, especially in the case of non-native english speakers. Not all journals are primary research only. Reviews journals activley comission content, and can play a part in trying to focus debate etc. Conversly, editors reject papers with no merit before someone has to go the trouble of peer reviewing it. Peer reviewing requires a more input from those organising it than an outline of the process would suggest.
Whatever model you use, these things need to be done. Who by and where in the process is another question.
Editing and Copyediting does not cost anywhere near that much.
I occasionally do this at work, and it does not take anywhere near that much effort.
The only way that could be justified was if they only print a single issue.
They don't. They print a lot.
It's price gouging pure and simple - the typical and predicted result of a monopoly.
Shit product, really high prices.
> the journals do not contribute anything and are just extracting profit for doing nothing.
That is precisely the case.
Authors,. at least in the mathematical sciences, typeset their own papers in LaTeX, for free.
Other academics referee the papers, for free. I have no idea how the author of this story got the idea that reviewers get a fee.
Publishers INTRODUCE errors in the name of copy editing.
$2 billion for copy-editing? Christ, I knew medical school was a mistake.
Maybe mathemeticians do
Congolese doctors working on public health projects don't.
There is more to journal publishing than primary research in hard sciences.
What level of effort?
I don't think one was specified.
A PRICE that Elsevier charge was mentioned. I don't think the price is justified. There is still work to be done that somebody, somewhere in the process needs to do.
Sun headline ..
I sure figured out what the article was from that headline .. :)
"Blog blast births boffin boycott of publisher Elsevier"
Good piece, needs more.
I'd like to see the net profit on that turnover or ROI for share holders. I bet they'd be lucky to be doing anything near ten percent. I seriously doubt this is the only publisher doing this type of thing. There must be ten major global publishers in this business. As far as I know (from experience) it's an expensive business to do journals, loose leaves, etc and turn a profit on a very niche market that rarely exceeds a few hundred worldwide subscriptions. Hence the targeting of libraries and high prices.
Peer review! What an academic fantasy that is! It's there to stop the journal/publisher loosing face and protect subscriptions and so shareholders. Additionally, one only has to look at climategate and the CRU at Essex, the fools in political circles that then "reviewed" and passed judgement on it to see how the whole process is, well, bull turds.
The sooner academics get beyond themselves, if possible understand the economics of publishing, and the, mostly, rubbish they come up with the better. I for one became very skeptical of the whole process. I found myself puking up before going in to my poorly paid publishing job and having to adjust my attitude towards over paid academic twits to get that pay cheque.
If you're so damn smart, why don't you do your own science?
Don't be silly...
he doesn't believe in science. Science is run by the same people who use HAARP to do mind control and crash ruski space probes. Who'd trust those people, least of all to review each others work!
me likey likey
>>"Yes that's right folks they gave them all the game plans and attack profiles.... before the attacks happened."
Well, if I was running a conspiracy which I wanted to stay secret, *I'd* certainly go out of my way to involve lots of extra people who had nothing to contribute to the conspiracy.
And *then* I'd make sure that the guy I'd hired to make all those people suspicious went on a chat show to talk about it all.
Universities are in Bed with These Guys
The education milieu has been changing with the Internet. In the past, one had to be close to a University library to actually learn anything, because out in the sticks you simply could not access the academic journals. With the Internet, information is much more available.
Think about it. Only University libraries can afford nosebleed journal prices. Ergo, the medieval construct lives on-- to gain access to the information in Elsevier and ilk journals in any kind of affordable fashion, one has to be close to a University library. Great for the library, many of which don't allow in riff raff, commoners, and most ElReg personnel. So one has to be somehow affiliated with said University and therefore a direct or indirect money supply.
It is all very cozy.
Most university libraries allow walk-in use of electronic journals, even by riff-raff. This is because of a concern that the move to electronic had removed the access afforded to non-university users who had previously used paper copies on shelves. Granted, you do still have to be close to (well, in) the library to benefit.
The government seems to be losing its marbles. First it pays for research, then gives all rights to any monetization of the research to the researcher, and now they want to charge the people who paid for the research (the taxpayers) a fee to access the research they paid for in addition to paying potentially fat royalties to the researcher for any products developed (which, in turn, is paid by the taxpayer who buys the product).
At least the government ought to allow any taxpayer who actually pays any tax, to have free access to "government paid for" research. In the age of computers, this would be easy to do, but in the age of the American dumbed down and bespoke Congress, unlikely to happen.
...Western Style Capitalism.
Libraries should fund journals themselves
There is obviously *some* administrative work in organizing a journal. University libraries should set up non-profit organizations to do that work, or take it internal to themselves, and then charge actual cost in the subscriptions for other people who want access. Right now they are the ones who are paying most of the journal subscription costs to companies like Elsevier, so they are the ones to see the savings by removing the middlemen.
The key thing a good journal does is filter out crap. Scientists have a limited amount of time to read articles written by others, and they should not spend it reading garbage. The journal editors (who are usually academics themselves) are the first level filter, rejecting submissions not up to some quality standard, and then reviewers who are versed in the field make comments on anything they find wrong in a prospective article. Those comments go back to the author to improve the article. So those levels of filtering ensure some level of quality in what gets published. Any replacement publishing system needs a way to filter out the bad articles, or you risk ending up with garbage being published.
So Elsivier is like BSkyB?
Isn't that the same deal where you get some good channels and have to accept a bunch of rubbish ones as well.
However *unlike* Sky I don't think there is any *serious* way you can avoid having to subscribe to them if you want to be a serious researcher in these fields.
It's a situation Rupert can only *dream* of.
If in 2009 there were making net profits of ~10%, one wonders how much they'd make if they were cheaper and/or enforced fewer unwanted bundling deals?
Are they pissing away loads of money internally, or are they in a business that's not ridiculously profitable?
Is the academic sector necessarily one where they'd sell a lot more units if the price went down?
Possibly they'd get more business from cash-strapped places who can't currently afford to buy at all, but would that make up for lost profit from existing customers?
Academic journals publishing is a scam
The idea of peer reviewed journals is great, but in practice it's an industry totally owned by a handful of publishers making huge profits. The customers (mainly libraries) and workers (authors) get totally shafted in the process.
If you think the authors get shafted
you should see what happens to the journal staff.