Not Just Academics Fed Up With Elsevier: Entire Editorial Staff Resigns En Masse To Start Open Access Journal

from the good-for-them dept

It's really somewhat astounding just how absolutely hated journal publishing giant Elsevier has become in certain academic circles. The company seems to have perfected its role of being about as evil as possible in trying to lock up knowledge and making it expensive and difficult to access. A few years ago, we noted that a bunch of academics were banding together to boycott journals published by the company, as more and more people were looking at open access journals, allowing them to more freely share their research, rather than locking it up. Elsevier's response has been to basically crack down on efforts to share knowledge. The company has been known to charge for open access research -- sometimes even buying up journals and ignoring the open licenses on the works. The company has also been demanding professors takedown copies of their own research. Because how dare anyone actually benefit from knowledge without paying Elsevier its toll. And that's not even mentioning Elsevier's history of publishing fake journals as a way to help giant pharmaceutical companies pretend their treatments were effective.

Basically on the list of companies which really are pushing to get themselves declared "evil," Elsevier has a prime spot.

And now even its employees are revolting. The editorial staff of an Elsevier journal have all resigned to go start an open access journal instead:
All six editors and all 31 editorial board members of Lingua, one of the top journals in linguistics, last week resigned to protest Elsevier's policies on pricing and its refusal to convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online. As soon as January, when the departing editors' noncompete contracts expire, they plan to start a new open-access journal to be called Glossa.

The editors and editorial board members quit, they say, after telling Elsevier of the frustrations of libraries reporting that they could not afford to subscribe to the journal and in some cases couldn't even figure out what it would cost to subscribe. Prices quoted on the Elsevier website suggest that an academic library in the United States with a total student and faculty full-time equivalent number of around 10,000 would pay $2,211 for shared online access, and $1,966 for a print copy.
One of the editors who quit notes that he'd "be better off going to flip burgers" in the time he spent working for the journal, rather than accepting the tiny amount Elsevier pays him.

While this may seem like a specific kind of dispute focused in the academic world, what's incredible is it shows just how far copyright has moved from its original purpose and intent. The original copyright laws were officially focused on this kind of research. The US's first copyright law was specific that it was an act for "the encouragement of learning." And the use of "science" in the Constitutional copyright clause actually meant "learning" at the time it was written. Copyright was supposed to be about encouraging people to share information for educational/learning purposes.

And now it's being used for exactly the opposite. And in these cases it's certainly not (at all) about compensating content creators. Academic authors don't get paid for their research papers -- and in some areas they even have to pay to submit it to these journals. And companies like Elsevier get tons of free or cheap labor as well. Peer review is generally done for free. The article notes that the executive editor of the journal is paid only $5,000 per year. And yet the company wants to charge libraries thousands of dollars to access it?

It's a total scam.

And, worse, it's a scam where all of us are the victims. The sharing of knowledge and the ability to learn from others and to build on their works is a core aspect of how learning, science and education advance. And Elsevier has rejected all of that in favor of fat profits -- something it can only do because of our totally screwed up copyright laws. Having the editorial staff here resign is a really strong public message that hopefully people take notice of.

In the meantime, however, Elsevier should be Exhibit A in how copyright is abused to stifle learning which is completely opposed to its Constitutional purpose.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2015 @ 11:50pm

    something it can only do because of our totally screwed up copyright laws

    Don't forget our totally screwed up academic system that means young academics have huge incentives to publish in "better" journals, which, often, forces elsevier

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 6:02am

      Re:

      This is actually *really* important. As an assistant professor, do I go with solid, less-known open access journals or flashy, well-known journals run by "evil" publishers? Part of the reason Elsevier can get away with these prices is that we use journal names as social cues for ranking each other. If I don't publish in "Cell," how will my colleagues know I'm a rock star?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 11:07am

        Re: Re:

        Pretty silly way to rank someone.

        I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be juged by the content of their work, but by the publishers whom accept their work.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 1:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          This is the above poster, now on a different IP.

          I agree it's a stupid way to rank people. My post was to note that Elsevier's social function (as a Vetter Of Good Science) is one of the reasons its bizarre monopoly has persisted. Academics need to go after that culture as much as they need to do things like boycott publishing corporations. Fortunately, it's also already getting better, with open source software and other marks of academic work being considered as important contributions for things like tenure.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 6:54am

        SIGNIFICANT

        We'll know you're a rock star. We're smarter than your colleagues, anyway.

        Better looking too.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 1:16pm

        Re: Re:

        By publishing in a journal that doesn't 'edit' the content of articles to fit it's owners flawed beliefs?

        Such as Elsevier editing Climate Change data to fit their denier beliefs?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alan Smithee, 5 Nov 2015 @ 12:32am

    This is badly written - the editoral staff ARE academics - that's part of the whole scam of academic publishing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 7:07am

      Re:

      Not only are they academics, they're presumably unpaid volunteers. They certainly aren't Elsevier employees like this article claims.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Richard (profile), 5 Nov 2015 @ 7:59am

        Re: Re:

        Typically the most senior ones will be paid, often they are academics on sabbatical from their usual job. There will also be some paid administrators associated with each journal. However most of the work is done for free by unpaid volunteers - who do it on the basis that it helps their career.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 3:03am

    academic publishing - a rotten system

    It's the basis of our system of capitalism for companies to "charge what the market will bear" (whle paying as little as possible) as well as try to corner the market and monopolize it -- and Elsevier was doing just that.

    There was a time when these journals were probably worth the high price. The cost of typesetting for a publication that had such few copies printed was obviously a major factor. But modern technology has greatly reduced that factor -- yet the prices went in the exact opposite direction.

    The Internet was supposed to have greatly reduced the impact of companies that have firmly embedded themselves as a tolled gateway between buyers and sellers (or produsers and consumers) in which the only reason why anyone ever goes there ... is because everyone always goes there.

    The academic publishing business is a mess, and the lack of any true competition keeps costs high. Much of this is due to the vanity of the authors, who want to be published in an 'elite' journal or publisher, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Including basically working for free while someone else reaps enormous profits from their work.

    It always confounded me that college professors got very little money (or so they claimed) out of the 3-figure price that their book cost students, a book that all students of the class were required to buy (and presumably no one outside of that class ever bought). It always seemed like it would have been so easy to simply cut out the middleman and everyone would have had more more in their pockets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 5 Nov 2015 @ 5:15am

      Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

      It's the basis of our system of capitalism for companies to ... try to corner the market and monopolize it

      ...which is why it has always needed to be regulated. It's interesting the stuff you find when you actually read what Adam Smith had to say on the subject. (The infamous "invisible hand of the market" that's often quoted to support a laissez-faire policy is completely out of context in such a debate.)

      It's been said that all it takes to destroy a communist system is for one person in the system to fail. On a similar note, all it takes to destroy a capitalist system is for one company in the system to succeed.

      Problematic, no?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 6:35am

        Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

        What it takes to destroy a capitalist system is for a government entity to elevate one company in the system. As opposed to only interfering when an illegal anticompetitive behavior is present and then only to address and regulate the problem.

        When government teams up with corporations its no longer a capitalist system.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 7:13am

        Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

        "...which is why it has always needed to be regulated."

        I could not agree with you more. The government is unmatched in regulating industry, they are terrible at running businesses. Health care, social welfare, retirement, you name it, they are terrible at it. Hand the businesses off to the people that are professional business managers, and let the legislators regulate them in accordance with the will of the people.

        It would work too, if you could find an honest legislator... ha... hahaah... buwahhahahaha!!!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Wendy Cockcroft, 5 Nov 2015 @ 7:44am

          Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

          'Nuff *professional business managers* are terrible at running businesses. Your own healthcare industry is mostly run by and for insurance companies, not for the benefit of the patients.

          And FYI essential services should not be run for profit, but for the good of the people. Hospitals, etc., are not supposed to be businesses.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:25am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

            Your naivety is fascinating. You think because the government is running the system it isn't run by big business? Where exactly do you think the politicians get their money? You still think the governments are for the people? Open your eyes Wendy, it's the same every where. Here in the U.S. it's the corporations, in the U.K. it's the corporations fronted by politicians. Follow the money, it all leads to and from the same places.

            "And FYI essential services should not be run for profit, but for the good of the people. Hospitals, etc., are not supposed to be businesses."

            Who is to determine the good of the people? The politicians? You think that's working out for the U.K.? Austerity measures, death panels, cut's in social care due to lack of funding, waste and abuse, you name it, it's falling apart nice and slow, but it's falling apart.

            I can post hundreds of links if you want, try typing in search terms like "U.K. death panels" "Austerity measures" "U.K. health care wait times".

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 10:40am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

              Who is to determine the good of the people?

              How about the people? Any particular reason you can't conceive of not being the whipped property of some aristocrat, or the possibility of an easy, fast way of firing your mommy/daddy BEFORE they take actions against your interests? Or are you an American who has no reason to live without some manufactured earthly incarnation of some ideal or deity and some problem to preserve and whinge about?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 11:26am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

                I'm going to set your childish personal attack and assumptions aside. Let's talk about the point you are trying to make.

                "How about the people? Any particular reason you can't conceive of not being the whipped property of some aristocrat, or the possibility of an easy, fast way of firing your mommy/daddy BEFORE they take actions against your interests? Or are you an American who has no reason to live without some manufactured earthly incarnation of some ideal or deity and some problem to preserve and whinge about?"

                It has nothing to do with any country, religion, or parenting. The reason is human nature. As a race we are consumers. We have never been happy with being equals. Every single society formed on this planet has had some type of class system. You have a handful that think that the Utopian society is possible, and have tried with the best of intentions, but it's never worked, never! You can't name one society comprised of humans that has stood the test of time, much less stood the test of time in such a selfless manor. The balance of power tips towards a lucky few, and it keeps tipping until it collapses. Governments, Dynasties, Tribes, Dictators.. if it's comprised of humans, it will eventually fail, and if there are any of us left, it will reform into something new.

                You give the ability of the few to wield the power of the many and you will eventually achieve corruption. Then failure. You can however, prolong that failure. If the system is monetized, you can control it. If hospitals, social services, and retirement programs make money, they will compete for your business, offering you the best services (or write-offs in the case of charity), because they want your money. If you control that competition through regulation, you can prolong the failure by using human nature "greed", to keep the system afloat. But it too will fail eventually. There is no cure for corruption. It's part of being human.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 11:18am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

              Remember folks - shiny side out

              http://zapatopi.net/afdb/

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:02am

          Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

          ...The government is unmatched in regulating industry...

          Depends. Some regulating bodies are fair to all, some not so fair. Regulations haven't stopped a few from operating without licenses or permits, and only a complaint from a competitor gets any action. Some regulators have legal authority to make unannounced visits to verify regulatory compliance, others don't. Pick any area and you'll find regulations that put everybody on an equal footing and other regulations that favor one over another. You'll also find regulations that are equally enforced while others not enforced at all, or selectively enforced.

          TL;DR: while government may be "unmatched" in regulating, the enforcement isn't always equitable.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:30am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

            I agree whole hardheartedly. You have to create a system that can't be selectively enforced, or it WILL be selectively enforced. People are corruptible. Unless you are able to remove the ability to corrupt entirely, it will happen.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          tracyanne, 5 Nov 2015 @ 11:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

          quote:: The government is unmatched in regulating industry, they are terrible at running businesses. Health care, social welfare, retirement, you name it, they are terrible at it ::quote

          Well all of those things used to work really well over here until commercial interests lobbied the government into handing that sort of stuff off to professional business managers. Now it doesn't work quite so well for those who depend on it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:05am

      Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

      Much of this is due to the vanity of the authors, who want to be published in an 'elite' journal or publisher, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

      No - it is not vanity - it is the mechanisms that are used to assess institutions* combined with a good helping of inertia.

      * Actually it is the institutions perception of this mechanism that is the problem.
      The documentation for latest research assessment in the UK specified explicitly that publication venue would not be used as a criterion - but some institutions still insist on publication in well known journals for staff that are entered into the exercise.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 4:59am

      Re: academic publishing - a rotten system

      It's not vanity that makes academics want to be published in elite journals: this is how we're evaluated at our work for promotion, pay, etc. It's our job to try to publish things in elite journals. The problem is that malicious rent-seekers like Elsevier have managed to insert themselves into the role of gatekeepers for many of these journals. You're right about cutting out the middleman (though I think 'rent-seeker' is a more evocative term), which is exactly what the folks at Lingua are trying to do, but it turns out that it's not as easy as one might have imagined. We're working on it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 4:49am

    They could have leaked some stuff on the way out the door...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 5:51am

      Re:

      It would have been much too obvious that they did it, and Elsevier would retaliate. (They probably will anyway: I expect them to seek a restraining order against publication of this new journal before it even really gets started. The bullies and thugs running Elsevier don't care about science or education or anything else: they care about profits.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 5 Nov 2015 @ 5:31am

    Copyright is needed as an incentive to create

    I think in this case Copyright is doing exactly what Congress intends it to do. To create incentives for creative new troll gates that limit access to works the troll didn't author.

    After all, Elsevier has costs. Thieving pirates shouldn't expect Elsevier to build and maintain a troll gate for free do you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:03am

    A previous poster guessed that at one time the journals had significant expenses such as typesetting.

    That must have been a long time ago. When I was first exposed to the system in the mid-1980s, journals expected camera-ready copy. That was only starting to become easy for authors with roff, troff and later TeX. Less technically advanced schools and departments had to pay for their writings to be typeset and printed before submission.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:19am

    Just because something says it has been created for "the encouragement of learning." does not at all mean this intention was real. What counts is what they do, not what they say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 8:30am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Nov 5th, 2015 @ 8:19am

      Even when that "someone" is the Constitution?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Richard (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 4:37am

        Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Nov 5th, 2015 @ 8:19am

        Even when that "someone" is the Constitution?

        Yes because your constitution simply copied the preamble of the Staute of Anne - and that preamble was based on propaganda written by the London Company of Stationers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jonathan, 5 Nov 2015 @ 12:46pm

    As a race we are consumers.

    No, YOU are consumers. Take your neoliberal evangelism and pay someone to shove it up your consumer choice of orifice. Don't you EVER tell me what I am or am not, and especially don't EVER project your pathetic American psychoses onto me.

    I know full well there's no cure for corruption. Yet such as you would have us keep the corruption to a "minumum" by making sure it all flows in the direction of you and your friends?

    People generally try to do the right thing when they're not jammed into crowded cages and taught to gladiate for their supper. Look upon YOUR works, authoritarian nutjob, and despair. And don't look at me to convict the one who strings your boot-licking chump face up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 4:45am

      Re:

      Your pathetic Jonathan. Not only did you not post in the right spot, your acting like a 12 year old. I'm not making this up. I don't believe in religion, I've lived in several countries, and my "psychoses" is not American. Your assumptions are baseless and pointless.

      Using human nature to control the population has been going on for thousands of years. I didn't invent it, I'm just pointing it out. I'm not part of the 1%. I work 50 hours a week for a modest paycheck. I control the flow paperwork that comes across my desk, and that's about it.

      I do enjoy reading about past societies and civilizations. If you take the time to study a few, even modern ones, you can start to see patterns of behavior. You can almost pinpoint the tipping point where they start to fail, and most of them fail for the same reason. Greed and corruption.

      The mindset that we can have equal access to services, and those services should not be for profit, is not going to work. It's never worked, humans won't let it work. We will never be satisfied with being equals, it's not in our nature.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jonathan, 5 Nov 2015 @ 12:48pm

    Actually, there is a cure for corruption. The Inuit used to push their psychopaths and greedy ones off the ice. Precious liberal societies are too soft to root out the psychopaths from their midst, and like I said, look upon YOUR market-fundie works and despair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2015 @ 11:09pm

    Aaron Swartz's mission was exactly to counter scumbag IP trolls like Elsevier. Too bad the feds persecuted him to the point of suicide by siding with the paranoid and greedy "content creator" lobby.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ANON, 13 Nov 2015 @ 12:35am

    >content creators
    I'm an author, not a "content creator". Those are the monkeys making tabloids.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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