Hated Science Publisher Elsevier To Help EU Monitor Open Science - Including Open Access

from the conflict-of-interest,-what-conflict-of-interest? dept

Techdirt has written many stories about the publisher Elsevier. They have all been pretty negative: the company seems determined to represent the worst of academic publishing. It's no surprise, then, that many academics loathe the company. Against that background, news that the EU "Open science Monitor" will use Elsevier as a subcontractor is surprising, to say the least. The official notice of the contract has some details of what the project involves:

the contractors will design, draft, execute and deliver a full-fledged monitoring system in order to determine open science scope, nature, impacts on science and scientific knowledge, and its socio-economic impacts. In turn, this will provide an evidence-based view of evolution of open science. It should be able to facilitate policy making.

One of the main academic participants in the project, the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University -- which "stresses the importance of the collaboration with Elsevier" -- explains what is meant by open science in this context:

Open Science is an umbrella concept that embraces the ideas of different open movement such as open source, open access and open data, while embracing trends of open distributed collaboration, data-intensive science and citizen science. Governments are quickly moving towards the open science paradigm (see for instance the Dutch plan on Open Science), while asking for evidence about its reality and impact in the different domains.

An important element of Elsevier's contract will therefore be to help monitor open access. The core aim of open access is to make publicly-funded knowledge freely available to everyone, in a way that is as cost-efficient as possible given the limited resources that can be brought to bear on the problem. One of the issues with the current academic publishing system is the high level of costs for educational institutions, reflected in the level of profits notched up by companies like Elsevier. For many years these have typically been in the 35% to 40% range, well in excess of most other industries.

The fact that Elsevier will be paid to help monitor the dysfunctional publishing world it has helped to create and strives to sustain seems an insensitive decision. Moreover, the contract specifically calls for the "socio-economic impacts" to be evaluated in order to "facilitate policy making". This means that Elsevier will be providing data to guide EU policy decisions that it stands to gain from materially in significant ways. The obvious conflict of interest here should have disqualified the company immediately. But the main contractors seem to have no issues with ignoring this glaring problem, or with the fact that many EU researchers will regard Elsevier as the last organization on the planet that should be involved in any way.

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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Apr 2018 @ 7:26pm

    And the money goes round and round

    Elsevier is going to be ever so joyful that they have an actual contract that allows, nay demands, that they scour open scientific data and papers and etc. for easy pickings. What can we lock up now?

    Just what the hell is this commission thinking? They are supposed to be for opening the flow of information and they give a contract to a major player in the staunching of information flow, or rather profiting off the flow of information in such a way that it really isn't all that open.

    It certainly leaves open the consideration as to what consideration was offered for the assignment of that contract choice.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2018 @ 8:24pm

    April Fools Day article a bit late? Surely?

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2018 @ 10:01pm

    This is great news for Britain! There were going to lose most of the scientific research after Brexit, but now they will be looking pretty good.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2018 @ 10:51pm

    turd in the punchbowl

    "conflict of interest" seems an understatement. As Elsevier will surely defile any "open science" project it touches, perhaps another boycott is in order.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2018 @ 11:12pm

    You know Elsevier is on track to be the worlds leading Open Access publisher don’t you....?

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    • identicon
      Jeroen Bosman, 4 Apr 2018 @ 10:58am

      Re:

      That depends: if you count absolute numbers of open access articles and the amount of money earned in APCs to make them open, then yes. However, in relative terms (share of their products that are open) not at at all. In terms of leading with open innovation also not at all. Which also shows that it is always important to look exactly at what and how to measure. Because there's a big chance that Elsevier is involved just because of its (proprietary) data on scholarly communication, they can quite probably influence what gets measured and how. That's why its crucial to convince the consortium to work in a fully open and transparent way.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Apr 2018 @ 1:42am

    I can see it now...

    "It's bad, all of it, except for the part we control. That part is great, and we obviously need more funding for it."

    I can't tell offhand if such blatant conflict of interest is a case of corruption or incompetence, though neither exactly look good.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 2:33am

      Re: I can see it now...

      What conflict of interest? Politicians are about control, Elsevier is about control, while open publishing is about escaping control. Looked at it in that fashion, this is a match made in Heaven.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 4:10am

    Like so many other things that are going on in the EU, companies and industries that have a personal interest in the way a new law is crafted are being used. This has been brought about by the EU Commission, I believe. The while since is to lock up copyright and benefit the various sections, be it music, movies, books or whatever, leaving out the public and ensuring this biggest section of people get nothing!. The ultimate aim is to lock up everything, in particular the Internet, so money can be made for doing nothing except preventing the free distribution of as much as possible! Anyone other than those industries and the people in high places who have been bribed, think this is a good way for the world to go? I don't! We're being ruled by the super rich/elite again in charge of what is basically the Entertainment Industry and getting nothing, while those few get everything! What a prospect. Ruled by an make-believe!

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 6:48am

    This makes as much sense as having the DEA help shape cannabis legalization policy.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 7:26am

    Err.. all of this is dumb

    Write paper -> export to pdf or whatever universal format you prefer -> put on web server -> include credentials and comments of peer reviewers.
    Publishing complete and monitored

    Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University you can send my presumably massive check to whyareacademicssodumb@getaclue

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 7:30am

      Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

      Sorry to reply to myself but seriously?! this exact problem is why the web was designed in the FIRST PLACE! to share research FFS!

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      • icon
        Sharur (profile), 4 Apr 2018 @ 8:31am

        Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

        That works for publishing, but not the "anonymous" reviews prior to publishing by verified experts to verify the quality of the work, which are also central to the current academic model.

        Then again, perhaps the current academic model needs to be reviewed and reinvented as well.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 9:39am

          Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

          "perhaps the current academic model needs to be reviewed and reinvented as well."

          Do you suggest academia should be disallowed from sharing data? ... even amongst themselves?

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 9:56am

          Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

          Err.. Anonymous reviews should not be allowed in peer review, is that seriously allowed?, if so, see where they should send my check above.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 12:16pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

            The reviewers are other academics in the same field as the person that submitted the paper, and the roles might be reversed with another paper, so anonymity during the review process, and keeping the reviewers anonymous afterwards makes sense. The editors of the journals, other academics in the same field, oversee the process.

            The same process is used for the open journals, but not the pre-print journals, and acceptance by a journal has become the main ways of advancing an academic career.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 12:35pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

              "The reviewers are other academics in the same field as the person that submitted the paper, and the roles might be reversed with another paper, so anonymity during the review process, and keeping the reviewers anonymous afterwards makes sense."

              Really why is that?, you had to defend you findings for your PhD, for your funding why not have to defend your criticism, seems to me this is how it was in the original version of peer review which was a forum, you had to do it in person like defending your doctoral thesis, sorry but if your a tenured prof. that just completed a 3 year study on Air breathing mollusk basket weavers or whatever you have time to defend your results, debate and conflict is how science is advanced not blind acceptance and unknown "experts", that still have the ability to sabotage or advance careers with no consideration of merit or knowledge, peer review is to insure that your not lying or mental or just plain wrong, confrontation is necessary or the whole process is meaningless

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 1:15pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                Having reviewed a paper or three across the years, the anonymity is essential. I have reviewed papers of leading figures in my research area, people who may be making editorial decisions on my next paper, people who may be reviewing my next funding application, people who may be interviewing me for my next job or promotion, or even people I may wish to collaborate with. If my name was known to the author, I wouldn't have reviewed the paper. There is already no specific benefit to the reviewer (discussion for a different day). If you add a potential cost over and above the time involved, you shut down the system (not a bad thing, but should be done carefully and deliberately), or, even worse, you encourage meaningless positivity.

                In many of my papers, I've received great feedback which has improved my papers. Some has been quite critical, and that's OK. I'd hate for the reviewers to self-censor because they lost anonymity.

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                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 2:04pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                  "Having reviewed a paper or three across the years, the anonymity is essential. I have reviewed papers of leading figures in my research area, people who may be making editorial decisions on my next paper, people who may be reviewing my next funding application, people who may be interviewing me for my next job or promotion, or even people I may wish to collaborate with. If my name was known to the author, I wouldn't have reviewed the paper. "

                  I think I see the problem right there, If you cannot withstand opposition or challenge defeats the purpose of peer review.

                  If their criticism was so constructive, why is it hidden? it just disguises the rivalry and petty human stupidity that infests academia and limits human knowledge because ... reasons, ego, status, who am I kidding ..MONEY.

                  Your describing a broken system that leads to computer generated nonsense being accepted as real research by real journals.
                  Open..Transparent, these are simple concepts understood by pre-schoolers

                  If your not willing to put your reputation or credibility on the line don't review, if your not willing to be wrong DON'T DO SCIENCE.

                  These are easy human problems that simply require people to be responsible for their own idea's and actions, I know an alien concept for academia.

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                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 6:39pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                    I didn't say the system isn't broken. Overhauling the system would be great. Of course, the dominant voices in the discussion are the ones who benefit from the status quo, so, y'know, any system overhaul may be as effective as letting RIAA/MPAA overhaul copyright.

                    That aside, academics are human. Possessed of all the same human frailties as anyone else. In an anonymous review, would I give the same review to someone I didn't know, a friend of 20 years or a leader in the field? Yes, absolutely. If my name is seen by them, would I subconsciously change language and conclusions if the authors were likely to have future power over me and my career? How would I prove that I haven't? Losing anonymity benefits established players, who are even more likely to get softer reviews than they currently do. It's not about putting your reputation on the line. You do that every time you publish a paper or give a presentation. It is about acknowledging an existing power structure and trying to limit the potential for harms either way.

                    I've had negative reviews, even ones where I thought the reviewer doesn't know what they're talking about. I'd rather not know who they are, because it means they can be fully honest.

                    And the review process isn't a simple matter of "this is right or wrong". A good reviewer will suggest ways the work can be improved or holes filled in. This will usually mean more work around the periphery that may or may not be of benefit. It is judgement calls all round.

                    And I do love that a fellow anonymous coward is criticising anonymity in another forum!

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                    • identicon
                      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 9:25pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                      Your describing a system that is defective by design, be a better person, if you won't who will you expect people that are ripping people off to be?, if no one will take responsibility why should anyone publish anything but gibberish? it's been demonstrated that journals don't know or care about the difference, sure I published 500 papers last month why not, science itself becomes meaningless under that system you describe which is I guess why there is so much quantum healing by dr po boy going around in all fields.

                      As for criticizing AC I'm not reviewing your work I'm arguing an ethical position, there is a difference there I dearly hope you can see.

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                      • identicon
                        Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2018 @ 4:47am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                        Defective, yes, but not by design. But the anonymity is by no means the worst feature.

                        The anonymity is there to mitigate against some of the worst potentials for abuse. Ultimately, between the editors and the reviewers, not as much gibberish gets through as in many other possible systems. But the issue isn't gibberish getting through. It is mediocre or flawed science getting through. I would argue that less gets through because of anonymity than would otherwise. As far as I can tell, your argument is that a reviewer sticking their name publicly to the review means they stick their reputation on their review. My argument is that their fear of negative effects from an author who definitely knows who they are outweighs any potential fear of loss of reputation from publication of their review. After all, the editors aren't anonymous and a paper has to be Andrew Wakefield level bad before they even get the tiniest blowback.

                        As for AC, you are engaging with and rebutting my arguments. You choose to do so anonymously. I respect your right to do so. Putting your name to it may mean you choose different words or self-censor. I choose to write comments anonymously because it means I face no repercussions for criticising systems I may need to work with. I don't write things I disagree with, but it may not always be politically smart to have my name associated with (a discussion on anonymity in the peer review process isn't one, but a habit is a habit)

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                        • identicon
                          Paul T Jackson, 6 Apr 2018 @ 12:00pm

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                          I've found peer review, anonymous or not, a total waste of time. Reviewers had no interest in learning what my article was about, they thought I should be writing about something other than what the article was about; how to research in a specific area. Elsevier could go under as academia loses funding. Taylor & Francis could as well when asking me for $3900 for an article I wrote for them for free. I no longer write for academic journals, and the publishers are asking those that do to pay for the privilege of getting published (seems a conflict there, as well, no more editor reviews, just money?) Dumb and dumbest publishers. They asked for a cite for my own statement in the article!

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                          • identicon
                            Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2018 @ 7:39pm

                            Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Err.. all of this is dumb

                            It varies. I've found some good reviewers who have asked challenging questions or made useful suggestions that have led to improved papers. I've also had reviewers criticise irrelevant things like my (student's) writing style, which isn't their job (in as much as it matters, that is a job for the editors).

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2018 @ 11:46am

    Queue the law suits...

    How long after "monitoring" the open source community will it be before Elsiver sues someone for 'something' that they claim to own (meaning someone else paid them to publish it 85 years ago, so they own it for the next 915 years (give or take)...)?

    /s

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


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