Elsevier Continues Its Efforts To Stifle The Sharing Of Knowledge To Pump Up Its Own Profits

from the anti-science dept

In the academic publishing world, I’m not sure if there’s any company quite as hated as Elsevier. You may recall the big campaign by academics to boycott Elsevier over its opposition to rules that would make federally funded research publicly available at some time period (six months to a year) after the original publication. Or the time they removed free access to journals in Bangladesh (until academics made enough noise and Elsevier brought them back). Or, how about the fact that Elsevier had an entire division devoted to publishing fake medical journals that were used by big pharmaceutical companies to write ad copy which they could then pretend was from a prestigious medical journal that was really just junk science made to look nice. Oh, and then there was the time Elsevier was caught publishing ghostwritten articles by the pharmaceutical industry that were supposed to be “reviews” of all the research about certain treatments, but which instead played down the negative research and played up the positive kinds.

And then there’s just the general concept of the way Elsevier and a number of academic journals work in general. They don’t pay their writers, the academics who submit articles (for some journals in some fields, academics actually have to pay significant sums to submit articles), they don’t have to pay the peer reviewers who do such reviews for free. So they get content and a certain type of editing entirely for free. Then, they charge obscene sums of money to universities for subscriptions and try to block off all kinds of other access to research if people don’t pay up — which is especially troubling when the research is federally funded. Oh yeah, they also claim the copyright on any research submitted. A professor I know, who was trying to do followup research on some initially published research, actually had to recreate the original results, because the journal that published the original work wouldn’t let him reuse the results of his original study, claiming that it was covered by copyright. In other words, they use copyright to make it that much harder to share knowledge and build on the works of others.

The one “crack” in this kind of academic publishing is that many academic journals would “look the other way” if an academic decided to post a pdf of their own research. At least some journals were even willing to put into their contracts that the authors can post a pdf to their own website, or to public collections of journal articles like SSRN.

However, it appears that Elsevier has started cracking down on this practice as well. Bijan Sabet alerts us to the news that Elsevier has suddenly started demanding that copies of research posted to Academia.edu get taken down. Here’s one example from bioinformatician Guy Leonard, who posted a copy of his letter from Academia.edu, who clearly isn’t happy about this turn of events either:

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Hi Guy

Unfortunately, we had to remove your paper, Resolving the question of trypanosome monophyly: a comparative genomics approach using whole genome data sets with low taxon sampling, due to a take-down notice from Elsevier.

Academia.edu is committed to enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature. Elsevier takes a different view, and is currently upping the ante in its opposition to academics sharing their own papers online.

Over the last year, more than 13,000 professors have signed a petition voicing displeasure at Elsevier’s business practices at www.thecostofknowledge.com. If you have any comments or thoughts, we would be glad to hear them.

The Academia.edu Team

Mike Taylor’s writeup of this situation (linked above) notes that many academics are pissed off about this and are complaining about it on Twitter. He also notes that there are some good folks at Elsevier who seem to recognize the importance of access to information and who, themselves, are probably pissed off about this. But, really, it seems that it’s in Elsevier’s general DNA to try to privatize knowledge, research and understanding. What a shameful company.

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Companies: academia.edu, elsevier

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Comments on “Elsevier Continues Its Efforts To Stifle The Sharing Of Knowledge To Pump Up Its Own Profits”

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out_of_the_blue says:

No good just saying "shameful", Mike! What's your solution?

C’mon, got ANYTHING at all to advise? — That’s a main reason why after fifteen years you haven’t changed a thing! You can’t beat moneyed interests by merely trotting out some pejoratives. They don’t care what names you call so long as the money keeps pouring in.

Even if Mike is absolutely right about problems, he has no solutions to even suggest.

10:02:41[l-5-5] [ This suppresses the kids from fraud of using my screen name. ]

Anonymous Coward says:

No way eh... Why do I always thing about beers when I read about Elsevier....

Must be an uncanny resemblance to a fictional brewing company that was bent on world domination in a classic movie….

Or was that movie really fiction (I mean the plot was so believable and the characters so lifelike), perhaps it would have just been too boring to have Bob and Doug look for “infringing” articles all day while strange music played….

Earl Jim (profile) says:

Another option?

Why don’t we create a new division of the Govt Printing Office to publish federally-funded research? The peer-review crew work for free, so it seems that coordinating the effort and arranging for final publication shouldn’t be a big deal. Perhaps appoint an academic overseer to see that everything is done to proper standards?

Stevan Harnad (profile) says:

Don't (just) boycott or fulminate: Deposit!

Elsevier may have enough clout with take-down notices to 3rd-party service providers (and might be able to weather the backlash blizzard that will follow) — but not with institutions self-archiving their own research output.

I take this as yet another cue to push 100% for immediate institutional deposit mandates and the Button from all institutions and funders.

Since 2004 Elsevier formally recognizes their authors’ right to do immediate, unembargoed OA self-archiving on their institutional website.

And even if they ever do try to rescind that, closed-access deposit is immune to take-down notices.

(But I don’t think Elsevier will dare arouse that global backlash by rescinding its 9-year policy of endorsing unembargoed Green OA — they will instead try to hope that they can either bluff authors off with their empty-double-talk about “systematicity” and “voluntariness” or buy their institutions off by sweetening their publication deal on condition they don’t mandate Green OA?)

That One Guy (profile) says:


Why is anyone still doing business or involved with a company this odious?

‘Many academics are complaining about it on twitter’? That’s nice, I’m sure if the company they are complaining about looks hard enough, they might be able to find a shred of care.

It’s simple, if a company is acting this bad, claiming ownership over the work done by others, stop submitting papers to them. This is the age of the internet and global connectivity, there are other options, time to use them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Boycotting elsevier

there are three main boycotting routes I’ve seen:
1) submitting to alternative non-elsevier journals (ease depends on discipline)
2) refusing to peer-review for elsevier titles (academics typically get essentially nothing for doing peer-review work — it’s service to the profession)
3) moving journals that are sponsored or supported by academic organizations to other publishers (limited list, takes time and committees)

Robert Jacobson says:

People are boycotting Elsevier

For those people wondering why nobody is boycotting Elsevier, the answer is that people ARE boycotting Elsevier. See http://thecostofknowledge.com for details.

Some commenters are wondering why academic institutions aren’t just creating their own alternatives to Elsevier journals. Again, the answer is that plenty of groups ARE creating alternatives.

The problem, though, is that Elsevier enjoys a huge amount of momentum. They own a significant number of very prestigious journals, and those journals are important for people’s careers. They aren’t going to go away over night.

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