Elsevier's backpedalling not stopping scientist strike
What do we want? Open science access
Dutch publishing house Elsevier is facing increasing pressure from the scientific community, with the company's 2,000 journals now being blacklisted by over 8,600 academics.
In January, following an angry blog post by British mathematician Tom Gowers, academics started to sign a public petition refusing to submit, edit, or approve articles for publication in Elsevier's extensive stable of titles, which includes The Lancet and Cell.
The petition protested against the high prices Elsevier charges for its journals, its practice of requiring subscribers to buy bundles of publications rather than individual subscriptions, and the company's support for the Research Works Act (RWA) in the US Congress, which would close access to publicly-funded research.
The movement quickly caught on with academics, and within days over a thousand of them had signed up. Elsevier relies on academics to submit papers for publications, as well as others to proof, edit and peer-review research, so the strike struck at the heart of the publisher's business model.
Elsevier has turned down repeated requests for interview from El Reg on the issue, but in February the campaign brought an official response from the company: "While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area, Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Work Act itself," the company said in a statement on February 27. "We hope this will address some of the concerns expressed and help create a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoing discussions with research funders."
Entirely coincidentally, we must assume with tongue firmly in cheek, the RWA legislation was dropped shortly afterwards by its sponsors, representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif). This latter sponsor was surprising, since Issa was at the forefront of moves to defeat the infamous SOPA and PIPA legislation.
EL Reg can only assume that he
saw which way the wind was blowing was stricken with an attack of conscience.
However, the backdown by Elsevier and Washington seems to have had little effect. The strikers have struck off the RWA section on the petition-site's demands, but their numbers are growing every day and the cause has inspired moves in Australia to completely open up research based on public funds.
Elsevier has said that it is open to suggestions on the publishing front, and has helpfully suggested that scientists might like to pay it to get their research printed. This seems unlikely to garner much support, but in the meantime the company is losing the workforce it relies on for its fat profit margins, and the strike shows no sign of weakening. ®
So I publish my research on my blog - does anyone see it?
How do i get it 'peer reviewed' - a comment section like the reg, a star rating like Amazon?
How do I get it into citation index scores
There are some solutions. 100 years ago university departments published their own journals and exchanged them with other institutions, and handled the reviewing - that's why you have university presses.
Then they were persuaded that it was an expensive extravagance that would be better handled by commercial publishers with their own printing presses.
Now that you don't need a printing press and many universities own a web server you could return to the "proceedings of the institute of XYZ"
Speaking as a semi-academic at a UK university, I do see why sheer inertia keeps the current business model of scientific publishers working, but it's such a rip-off that it must change in the long run. Here's the procedure by which a scientific article gets into a university library.
1) A scientist or group of scientists do some research. They are employed by a university, possibly with additional money from government funding bodies (EPSRC/BBSRC, etc. in UK, NSF/DoE/DoD,... in the US). They write up their results in an article.
2) They submit this article to a scientific journal. The main criterion in choosing a journal is how widely it is read in the community of researchers who might be interested. Actually, they submit it to a scientific editor. This is an academic who does this job because it adds to his standing in the academic community, not because he might be paid for it.
3) This editor, after sifting out any totally hopeless submissions, sends the article to 2-4 other academics in the same field for peer review.
4) The reviewers read the article and write a report, recommending to reject it, accept it, or demand changes. There is little advantage for them in doing this (for one thing, they remain anonymous), but it's part of what's expected from an academic. Abuses do happen at this point, but in my experience they are rare.
5) Based on these reports, the scientific editor accepts or rejects the article. If accepted, the (non-scientific, even though they usually have a degree in the field) editors of the journal create a publication-ready layout. This is the first step in the process that's paid by the publisher. Until a few years ago, this involved combining separately submitted text, figures and tables in a readable form. Nowadays journals require submission in the final publication format, so it's barely any work.
6) This publication-ready "proof" is sent back to the authors, who check for final typos and misspellings. These are sent back to the journal. For free, of course.
7) The article appears online. Web hosting needs to be paid by the publisher.
8) The paper appears in the next issue of the journal, which is sent out to subscribers (university libraries and very flush companies). This is a waste of dead trees. I'm doing literature search on a daily basis, but haven't looked at a bound copy of a scientific journal in years. But we have access to the online archive because we pay for the paper subscription...
- What the publisher pays for: Cursory editing. Web hosting. Paper, printing and postage.
- What the publisher charges: tens of thousands of pounds/dollars per year and institution. Having a de-facto monopoly on an important journal, they bundle it with less popular publications to hide the price.
The alternative: Open access journals. Drawback: It doesn't work.
The model: the author pays for being published. It's a few thousand pounds per article, which an academic without a grant just doesn't have. If you do apply for a grant, there is provision for it, but at the same time you are supposed to keep the cost down. And if you do get the money, you are tempted to spend it on something more useful and publish with Elsevier.
The solution:Beats me. Either a wholesale switch to open access (with changes in funding to allow/enforce this), or a slow drift to slightly more reasonable publishers.
Thanks for the update! Nice to hear the boycott is starting to work.