Why have so many academics decided to boycott Elsevier?


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A talk from the Open Science symposium at the European Conference on Visual Perception in 2012

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Why have so many academics decided to boycott Elsevier?

  1. 1. Why have so manyacademics decided to boycott Elsevier? Nick Scott-Samuel Experimental Psychology University of Bristol
  2. 2. Acknowledgements Deborah Apthorp Lee de-Wit Pete Etchells Alex Holcombe Amye Kenall Tim Meese Pete Thompson Jon Peirce Ian Thornton
  3. 3. Why I don’t like symposia Oooh, yes! They’re very Aren’t stripes interesting nice?Everyone’s wearingthem, you know… etc.
  4. 4. This one is different (of course) Why am I here? CVNet post:“Im beginning to feel somewhat undecided about reviewing for journals which arent Open Access, and I wonder if this is an uncertainty shared by the vision community.” Large response (c.75 replies, not all to the list) Majority anti-Elsevier Interesting age profile Discussion diverted into general issues about open access, copyright etc.
  5. 5. A number of issues – all mixed up Broadly, there are issues of principle, and issues about money Naturally they overlap…Principle • Almost all research, directly or indirectly, is publiclyfunded • Access to this research should be free to those who paidfor it • Therefore: open accessMoney • Academics provide free labour and content to publishers • These publishers should pay us, or not make profits from
  6. 6. Issues of principle I’m not really going to talk about these I get the argument, but I don’t find it that compelling I’m not sure how many members of the public have a great interest in what we doOf those that do, I don’t imagine many of them will get much out of a Vision Research or Current Biology paperThese issues of principle may arise elsewhere in this session
  7. 7. A nice analogy for the financial issue From Dorothy Bishop <http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/time-for-academics-to- withdraw-free.html>“Jack is a sheep farmer. He gets some government subsidies, and also works long hours to keep his sheep happy and healthy. When his beasts are ready for slaughter, he offers them to an abattoir. The abattoir is very choosy and may reject Jack’s sheep, which is adisaster for him, as there is no other route to the market. If he is luckythe abattoir will accept the animals, slaughter them and sell them, at a large profit, to the supermarket. Jack does not see any of this money.The populace struggle to afford the price of meat, but the governmenthas no control over this. When Jack feels like a nice piece of lamb, he buys it from the supermarket. Meanwhile, Jack provides his services for free as an inspector of other farmers’ animals.”
  8. 8. The publication process I do some experiments I write them up I submit them to a journal for publication, with a snappy title:“The effect of 3rd-order signals on 1st-order artefacts in 2nd-order motion stimuli” Off it goes!
  9. 9. Production There is usually some editorial work, of variable qualityThis stage is particularly useful for authors for whom English is a second/third/etc. language (although a significant minority of referees will undertake this along with scientific review) There may be some proofing and laying out of the text (less so these days) Figures are generally required to be formatted by the author And then: publication!
  10. 10. Summary of publishing processWho does what: Cost to journal:I do some experiments ZeroI write them up ZeroI submit them to an editor ZeroOut to referees ZeroEditorial decision ZeroProofing by journal SomethingFormatting by journal SomethingPublication by journal Something So on this model of publishing, we academics generate the content, organise the quality control and sometimes format the content All for free
  11. 11. Why boycott only Elsevier?These financial issues are common to all publishing companies The process is pretty much the same wherever you go So what’s so bad about Elsevier? Elsevier exemplifies all the ills of this systemAnd it seems to manage to be a little more obviously worse than everyone else Here’s how…
  12. 12. Why boycott Elsevier? ProfitsOperating profit margin, aka operating margin, aka operating income margin, aka return on sales = operating income / revenue Bigger is better 5% Tesco 7% News Corporation 12% BMW 22% Coca Cola 36% Apple 36% Elsevier
  13. 13. Why boycott Elsevier? Cost Although there’s no obvious dramatic increase in publication and distribution costs, the cost of Elsevier journals keeps rising:“MIT spending on serials increased by 426% over the period 1986-2009, while the number of serials purchased decreased by 16%, and the Consumer Price Index increased by only 96%.” (Arnold & Cohn, 2012 <http://arxiv.org/pdf/1204.1351v1.pdf>)
  14. 14. Why boycott Elsevier? Bundling“Bundling” is putting journals you want with journals you don’t into a sales packageYour librarians end up paying for the dross along with the good stuff “Elsevier is among a handful of journal publishers whose commercial bundling practices are squeezing library budgets. Theirlicensing programs require libraries to maintain large, fixed levels of expenditure, without the ability to cancel unneeded subscriptions.” (Sidney Verba, Director of the University Library, Harvard University, 2004)
  15. 15. Why boycott Elsevier? Secrecy There’s a lack of transparency about pricing This allows Elsevier to charge different institutions differing amounts for the same thing "Elsevier put a confidentiality clause in its contract with Imperial so my librarian can’t tell me how much their subscriptions cost!” Stephen Curry, Imperial College, 2012<http://blog.mysciencework.com/en/2012/08/20/stephen-curry- on-open-access-post-finch.html>To be fair, this is by no means uncommon in business – there are plenty of other companies that do the same thingBut I don’t like it, and see no reason why business norms need to
  16. 16. Why boycott Elsevier? Deceit The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine • Looks like a peer-reviewed journal but isn’t • No peer review – reprints or summaries • All with favourable data about Merck products • One review article had two references in it… • It appears to be a camouflaged marketing device for Merck “It turns out that Elsevier put out six such journals, sponsored by industry. The Elsevier chief executive, Michael Hansen, has now admitted that they were made to look like journals, and lackedproper disclosure. “This was an unacceptable practice and we regret that it took place,” he said.” <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/09/bad- science-medical-journals-companies>
  17. 17. How did this situation arise? It’s a historical artefact If publishing itself is expensive and difficult… …a small cartel can can control itIf you own the only printing press in town, you have a nice monopoly on publication BUT Most of us read things online nowadays Publishing is cheaper, faster, easier
  18. 18. Is a boycott the right approach?In mathematics, whole editorial boards have resigned and set up alternatives to Elsevier journals Journal of Logic Programming (1999) Journal of Algorithms (2003) Topology (2006)
  19. 19. Has the boycott had any effect?In February this year, Elsevier withdrew its support for the Research Works Act (this would have prohibited open access mandates for government-funded research in the United States) There were enough online signatures to force the White House to incorporate the Federal Research Public Access Act into policy discussion; the act would require open access for work funded by large US government agenciesElsevier is (slowly) opening up its back catalogue for some journalsFrom April 2013, work from UK research council funding must be open access within six months of publication
  20. 20. A caveatLast I heard, Elsevier charges $3600 to make a Vis Res paper open access So they can still rake in the money…
  21. 21. Problems The change to open access as a form of Prisoners’ Dilemma It needs everyone to switchIf some people don’t change over, then their path to high-impact, non open access publications could be eased by the absence of (some) competition So there will be a transition period, where things are awkward But I think it’s the future
  22. 22. Hits on Web of Knowledge (searched on 31 August 2012) Vis Res Vis Res PLoS since ONE 2006“visual search” 312 70 148“second-order motion” 161 5 44“binocular rivalry” 190 36 76“biological motion” 42 42 23“eye movements” 1641 218 418“face processing” 36 47 30“colo(u)r constancy” 52 0 13“spatial vision” 240 4 49“object tracking” 15 8 12
  23. 23. Not just Vis Res vs. PLoS ONE There are an ever increasing number of open access journals e.g. JoV, PLoS ONE, Frontiers, iPerception Some make profits, some claim they don’t Early days: quality is sometimes hard to judge(many newer ones won’t have an impact factor yet, for example)Also journals that make things open access reasonably quickly e.g. Proc R Soc B Elsevier doesn’t just publish Vis Res There’s also Current Biology, Cognition, TICS, TINS …
  24. 24. Problems Publishing costs moneyOpen access just changes who pays: the authors, not the readersSo if we move to open access, we need to find the cash to do so* * but note PLoS policyDivert library funds previously used for journal subscriptions to pay for open access authors’ charges? Sounds appealing, but does it add up?
  25. 25. http://thecostofknowledge.com/ Options: won’t publish won’t referee won’t do editorial work How many here have been to the website? How many signed? 12,649 and counting