Elsevier Launching Rival To Wikipedia By Extracting Scientific Definitions Automatically From Authors' Texts

from the don't-do-as-we-do,-do-as-we-say dept

Elsevier is at it again. It has launched a new (free) service that is likely to undermine open access alternatives by providing Wikipedia-like definitions generated automatically from texts it publishes. As an article on the Times Higher Education site explains, the aim is to stop users of the publishing giant’s ScienceDirect platform from leaving Elsevier’s walled garden and visiting sites like Wikipedia in order to look up definitions of key terms:

Elsevier is hoping to keep researchers on its platform with the launch of a free layer of content called ScienceDirect Topics, offering an initial 80,000 pages of material relating to the life sciences, biomedical sciences and neuroscience. Each offers a quick definition of a key term or topic, details of related terms and relevant excerpts from Elsevier books.

Significantly, this content is not written to order but is extracted from Elsevier’s books, in a process that Sumita Singh, managing director of Elsevier Reference Solutions, described as “completely automated, algorithmically generated and machine-learning based”.

It’s typical of Elsevier’s unbridled ambition that instead of supporting a digital commons like Wikipedia, it wants to compete with it by creating its own redundant versions of the same information, which are proprietary. Even worse, it is drawing that information from books written by academics who have given Elsevier a license — perhaps unwittingly — that allows it to do that. The fact that a commercial outfit mines what are often publicly-funded texts in this way is deeply hypocritical, since Elsevier’s own policy on text and data mining forbids other companies from doing the same. It’s another example of how Elsevier uses its near-monopolistic stranglehold over academic publishing for further competitive advantage. Maybe it’s time anti-trust authorities around the world took a look at what is going on here.

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Comments on “Elsevier Launching Rival To Wikipedia By Extracting Scientific Definitions Automatically From Authors' Texts”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

This call in unique in my memory for Techdirt, which usually claims corporations must be left free to “innovate”, and claims to be for competition.

Again utter inconsistency, that this tiny “walled garden” of definitely voluntary use is a hazard, but global mega-corps such as Google and Facebook must be left entirely free.

What exactly is your hatred for Elsevier based on, that you rail at it for synthesizing definitions and call for it to be officially investigated?

Let’s look at Wikipedia itself — at least TOO: it’s loaded with biases and arbitrary rules, isn’t a commons but is private, one of the many scrapers. As source of information, it’s got the usual globalist / corporatist / NYTimes position, and plays down all others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

Can you point out what is monopolistic about Google? I use Google because they makes a good product but I think in just about everything Google offers, I have at least 2 other alternatives to choose from. The only thing I see that is monopolistic is that everyone uses it, willingly. Windows doesn’t even come with Chrome or Google Search as the default. It is Edge and Bing. Mac and Linux default to Google search but usually they are Safari and Firefox. Elsevier on the other hand is a company that I think shouldn’t even exist in this day and age. Any research that is paid by the government/public should be freely available to everyone and not put behind the paywall of a private company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

“Can you point out what is monopolistic about Google?”

No, they can not – because it is not a monopoly.
Now, if they were to express their disillusionment with the corporate policy making of google or better yet .. the entire gambit of business in general ….

k-h (profile) says:

Re: Re: OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

In my country, we used to have several online shopping sites, until google started downgrading their results and promoting their own. Now it’s very hard to find them in a search. You only get the big online shopping sites, google, amazon, ebay etc. Perhaps oligopoly is a better term here.

Cinema sites are the same. Search for what’s on in the local cinema and now in google, you just get google.

I think you’ll find lot’s of examples like that with small start ups being bought or just dropped by google as google increases its reach.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

Do you have any evidence that Google was deliberately downgrading results for those other sites, as opposed to showing the ‘big’ ones because more people went there? It could very well be that they saw less traffic simply because people in your country switched who they were buying from.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

Elsevier wishes to tax all the worlds knowledge so that people pay every time they want to look something up, to do this they require copyright assignment, and without paying the authors or the editors.

Google wishes to index all the worlds knowledge, and to provide platforms where people can publish knowledge for free, and without assigning copyright to them, so if you want you can publish elsewhere at the same tine, or move your content elsewhere.

Wikipedia want to make all the worlds knowledge available for free.

So that two companies trying to help the world develop new ideas, and one that wants to control the worlds knowledge, and tax everybody trying to improve the world.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: OH, this calls for anti-trust, eh? BUT NEVER GOOGLE???

As source of information, [Wikipedia has] the usual globalist / corporatist / NYTimes position, and plays down all others.

When other positions have factual, independently verifiable information to back them, Wikipedia posts them, whether people like it or not. Just because someone offers a position or a claim on a given subject does not mean their claim should be taken seriously or given credibility by the mere fact that it exists. Plenty of dumb assholes believe the Earth is flat; that does not mean Wikipedia needs to act as if those claims are even remotely credible, let alone worth serious consideration in light of all the evidence that says the Earth is a spheroid.

Anonymous Coward says:

No matter how you feel about Elsevier the article misses a few relevant points that could have been found with a small amount of research.

  1. The content Elsevier has created for this new service can be accessed and cited by anyone either using this page or with a web search.

  2. Wikipedia editors can apply to [The Wikipedia Library(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:The_Wikipedia_Library) for free access to content for research purposes from a number of science publishers including Elsevier.

  3. Databases like [BASE](http://base-search.net] from a university in Germany and Unpaywall [http://unpaywall.org] are doing a lot for making open access versions of paywalled articles easier to access.
Anonymous Coward says:

the aim is to stop users of the publishing giant’s ScienceDirect platform from leaving Elsevier’s walled garden and visiting sites like Wikipedia in order to look up definitions of key terms

LOL, Elsevier doesn’t even know who they’re competing against.

When people want to look something up they don’t wikipedia it, they google it.

Google just happens to point to wikipedia a large amount of the time you look at stuff.

If Elsevier’s site isn’t freely available and able to be found by google it won’t be too successful at stopping this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“successful at stopping this”

What … stopping people from accessing information without paying some toll keeper? – OMG, the horror!

When people want to look up something … they use a search engine … there are several that produce acceptable results.
Google provides links to many sites, some of them are actually relevant to your search criteria.

Peter (profile) says:

Not a Science Wikipedia

The system displays small text snipped linked to paywalled content. This is a catalogue for Elsevier content, not a Wikipedia for Science.

The main purpose seems to be to keep people away from Wikipedia and Google, where they would likely find (free) content from providers other than Elsevier.

Suggested alternative: https://scholar.google.com searches the entire science universe.

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