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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 29 Sep 2017 @ 3:55pm

    Department of Redundancy Dept.

    completely automated, algorithmically generated and machine-learning based

    This is repetitive, redundant, and repeats itself.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 4:02pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 4:15pm

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2017 @ 7:30am

        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 ....

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2017 @ 7:14pm

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

          Sure, Google isn't a monopoly... it's the Big Brother.

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

      • identicon
        k-h, 1 Oct 2017 @ 6:18pm

        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.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 2:29am

          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.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 10:53am

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

          Perhaps you misunderstand the google algorithm

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 4:35pm

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 4:52pm

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

      "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."

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Sep 2017 @ 5:03pm

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 5:24pm

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

      Someone's still angry that Wikipedia blacked itself out in protest of SOPA, I see. Get over it. SOPA is dead.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 4:10pm

    No way, eh

    I always knew that brewery was up to no good, if Bob and Doug hadn't stumbled in and saved the world...

    Oh wait, wrong Elsevier, and no Bob and Doug to save us this time.

    We are doomed, eh. No way hoser, someone will step up and do the right thing... hahahahaha

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 5:41pm

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2017 @ 7:24pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2017 @ 7:40am

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 4:13am

      Re:

      These pages are freely available and indexed by google.

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

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 30 Sep 2017 @ 12:42am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2017 @ 3:40am

    I'm ready to pirate the entire thing

    I think it'll work nicely as a torrent, with new versions once a month or so.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2017 @ 4:53am

    Wikipedia sucks anyway.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 1 Oct 2017 @ 9:03am

    Starve the leech

    The way to deal with a money pit like Elsevier is to support alternatives like The Center for Open Science.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Oct 2017 @ 9:33am

      Re: Starve the leech

      The problem is that that tar pit holds many foundational papers for various areas of study, and which are needed by people wishing to work in the area.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 1 Oct 2017 @ 2:11pm

        Re: Re: Starve the leech

        So you 'leave' them those papers, but refuse to add any more if at all possible. As more and more papers come out that they don't control their position will gradually weaken and they will lose the power they currently hold as gatekeeper.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.