Disappointing: Elsevier Buys Open Access Academic Pre-Publisher SSRN

from the this-is-bad-news dept

The vast, vast majority of time when we point to new academic research, we end up linking to the research hosted on SSRN, which stands for the Social Science Research Network. SSRN has been around for a long, long time, and it's basically the go-to place to post research in the legal and economics worlds -- the two research areas we most frequently write about. At this moment, I have about 10 SSRN tabs open on interesting papers that I hope to write about at some point. Technically SSRN is what's known as a "preprint server," where academics can share papers before peer review is completed and the final papers end up in a locked up, paywalled journal. The kind of paywall run by a giant company like Elsevier.

So it's been quite distressing to many this morning to find out that Elsevier has now purchased SSRN. Everyone involved, of course, insists that "nothing will change" and that Elsevier will leave SSRN working as before, but perhaps with some more resources behind it (and, sure, SSRN could use some updates and upgrades). But Elsevier has such a long history of incredibly bad behavior that it's right to be concerned. Elsevier is not just a copyright maximalist (just last week at a hearing I attended involving the Copyright Office, Elsevier advocated for much more powerful takedown powers in copyright). It's not just suing those who make it easier to access academic info. It's not just charging insane amounts for journals. It also has a history of creating fake peer reviewed journals to help pharmaceutical companies make their drugs look better.

And it also has a history of lobbying heavily against open access, while similarly charging for open access research despite knowing it's not supposed to do this.

So, quite obviously, there is reason to be concerned that Elsevier may make some "changes" to SSRN that make it a lot less valuable for the sharing of academic research and papers in the near future.

Some are already suggesting it's time to build a new service (either as a nonprofit or a trust) to take over what SSRN was doing in the past. Or, alternatively, there's talk of getting other preprint servers, like the famed arXiv to start handling social sciences research as well. Another alternative might be just to see if the Internet Archive is willing to take on this kind of project itself.

Once again, though, it shows just how messed up copyright has become. Copyright is not the reason any of these papers gets written, and now copyright is seen as a weapon against the sharing of knowledge. When copyright was first put in place in the US, we were told it was to encourage the sharing of such educational resources. That may have been a lie at the time (it was designed as a tool for publishers), but if we're going to have a copyright system that claims to be about promoting science, at the very least, we should be able to live in a world where it really is easy to share academic research without fear that a copyright claim is going to destroy everything.

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  • identicon
    Kronomex, 18 May 2016 @ 12:18am

    ""nothing will change"" simply means that Elsevier won't be changing any of THEIR business tactics. SSRN, however, will all but disappear as the paywall tentacles of Elsevier spread ever wider.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 12:35am

    "A little tweak here, a minor change there..."

    I imagine it's only a matter of time now until Elsevier starts 'updating' the site until it either becomes too much of a bother to use, becomes no better than their other offerings, or both. A company like that does not buy a competitor out of the goodness of their heart, you can be sure this was entirely profit motivated.

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

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 1:43am

    We need a "non-practicing entity" nation

    Some small island nation with a fast internet pipe and no trade relations with the US to prevent influence. Then just host all of the academic papers on a server there. The expedient way around all this BS of "copyright" on academic papers.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 3:04am

    Academic publishing in the age of Internet Piracy...

    Somebody should get the scientists in touch with the warez scene; those people have long since solved the problems that are plaguing the open access publishing.

    That said, is anybody here with contacts in academia interested in starting sci-torrents site?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 11:18am

      Re: Academic publishing in the age of Internet Piracy...

      I keep picturing tor hidden markets adding 'academic research' to 'weapons, drugs, carding'. Vendor prices are 0 BTC for the papers, and just tip jars to keep things rolling. When someone is forced to go to the black market to find (often publicly-funded) scientific research, it's time to start thinking that maybe we aren't doing 'society' entirely right*.

      _____
      * - Evolution seems to be selecting sociopathy as an ideal environmental adaptation. This is probably not a very good thing. Perhaps we should even be a tad concerned, where 'a tad concerned' is used in the sense of 'Holy shit! We're doomed, aren't we?'

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

  • identicon
    William H. Taft, 18 May 2016 @ 3:38am

    With the power vested in me...

    I hereby nominate Elsevier for Biggest Asshole in the Universe awards.

    Those Dutch cocksuckers* can rot in hell for all I care.

    *A statement of opinion, not fact. Although it may indeed be a fact, just not provable as such, yet circumstantial evidence may point to it being indeed a fact. But, really, just a statement of opinion.

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

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 18 May 2016 @ 7:38am

      Re: With the power vested in me...

      "just not provable as such"

      Give it time.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 11:56am

      Re: With the power vested in me...

      Honorable mention at best. Compared to the sociopaths in pharma who blatantly admit that they don't make life saving drugs for those that can't afford them(they just use their labor to create said drugs), a parasite like Elsevier doesn't even come close.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 12:54pm

        Re: Re: With the power vested in me...

        My vote goes to Monsanto. Their business plan is basically "Control food. All food. Everywhere. Humanity will serve us, or be laid waste." Now that, that, is what I call a good bid for global hegemony.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 3:45am

    Elsevier is an enemy of the human race

    It's difficult to imagine that kind of incredibly vile people who would work there, but they certainly all deserve to be prosecuted as war criminals, and if found guilty, executed.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 11:40am

      Re: Elsevier is an enemy of the human race

      Funny thing is, we've come far enough that I didn't think of your comment as hyperbolic. We shouldn't execute them though: life in prison is enough, but with all commissary items priced in multiples of ten million euros (billions for TP). Maybe medical care consisting of a pharma rep giving out a handful of random crap from his sample case every day to each prisoner (with 'medical care' being compulsory). Toss in cable TV with 500 channels, all of which play commercials 24/7.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 4:22am

    Where's LulzSec, When You Need' Em?

    I think Elsevier just needs an introduction to cyber-warfare [ https://asu.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/introduction-to-cyber-warfare ].

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 12:21pm

      Re: Where's LulzSec, When You Need' Em?

      From the cyber warfare abstract, I started poking around & checked out the main page of their SCOPUS abstract & citation database system. There's a statement in that sales pitch that sounds ominous and threatening when you think about what Elsevier is and does internationally:

      As research becomes increasingly global, interdisciplinary and collaborative, you can make sure that critical research from around the world is not missed when you choose Scopus.
      Something about that mention of global, interdisciplinary collaboration makes me think Elsevier's hinting that it will always have some inroad into any and all research, allowing it to interfere with it anywhere, anytime. 'Join us or be destroyed.' Hmm. Thinking about it, I guess threats might be the only marketing tactic needed for a company that's that big.

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

  • identicon
    Jason, 18 May 2016 @ 5:31am

    Open Journal of Astrophysics

    An astrophysicist whose blog I visit occasionally has been putting together an open access journal for his field, and it went live a few months ago:

    https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2016/02/25/the-open-journal-of-astrophysics-update/

    So, things are happening. Clearly there is room (and desire) for "alternative" systems.

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

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 18 May 2016 @ 8:27am

    When copyright was first put in place in the US, we were told it was to encourage the sharing of such educational resources. That may have been a lie at the time (it was designed as a tool for publishers),

    Where are you getting this from? That's the exact opposite of the truth; copyright was designed as a tool to keep abusive publishers in line. And it worked surprisingly well throughout most of its history--just not the parts that most of us lived in. The 1970s is when it really started getting turned on its head and perverted into a tool for publishers to use to further abuse people.

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

  • identicon
    Federico, 18 May 2016 @ 3:41pm

    Who's the seller?

    Who is going to profit from this pact with the devil? Who has deceived researchers for twenty years only in order to reap huge profits? There is very little information online on Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc.

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

  • identicon
    Docrailgun, 18 May 2016 @ 4:20pm

    Feel free...

    ... to buy companies like SSRN to keep them free.
    MST3K made millions of dollars on Kickstarter to make new episodes of a show making fun of movies. Surely there are many more people willing to put their money where there supposedly progressive mouths are to keep things like SSRN open?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 7:53pm

    Won't someone please think of the moneys?

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

  • identicon
    Markus Roth, 3 Jun 2016 @ 11:22am

    There are alternatives, e.g.
    www.science-media.org

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


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