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UCLA asked faculty to consider declining to review for Elsevier journals (chronicle.com)
619 points by faitswulff 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

I think this is great, but another way UCLA could put its money where its mouth is would be to publicly commit to giving higher weight to OA vs Elsevier publications when making hiring/tenure decisions. That is, a potential hire should not be penalized because they opted not to submit their paper to an Elsevier journal.

This has much a much smaller effect than you think (at least in the departments I'm familiar with) because very little attention is paid to venue if it's research older than a few months, in which case citations and your ability to sell the research is taken much more seriously.

Your (unspoken) job as a tenure track professor is to raise money via grants and get students excited to do research and apply to join your group. A professor bringing in 4x the NSF grant money of a professor getting published in top journals/conferences is always going to get the higher priority. That's the reality of academia.

I've worked with professors considered to be the top of their departments who were completely incompetent but they were amazing at grant writing and selling their work. They brought in way more money to the school than anyone else so they were rewarded for it. :/

Aren't hiring decisions usually handled by the department? This seems like it would be hard to implement because the pool of people who are going to make hiring decisions over a span of several years would basically be every professor in the school. I mean the admin could send an email saying "don't penalize OA pubs over Elsevier pubs" but (1) that's a hard rule to follow even if you're trying in earnest, (2) you have to expect a great chunk of hiring committee members aren't going to follow this directive, and it'd be impossible to tell whether they did.

Came here to post this, and saw you already did. Until the incentives actually align against Elsevier, asking faculty to play nice isn't going to work. Tenure is hard enough; just because they say "publish or perish" doesn't mean the "perish" part is optional.

Which they could do by joining the numerous signatories of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.


This is a great suggestion and I hope UCLA follows this.

I'm probably missing some finer points, but I just cannot make sense of the problem here.

Editors of $prestigous_journal are the most prestigious professors in their field themselves, no?

So let's say $prestigious_journal is one of the journals that the university students/faculty get access to from Elsevier. University pays Elsevier, university gets access. Fine.

Now, suppose the editors of $prestigious_journal care about open access. But given the current arrangement with Elsevier they cannot become an open access journal tomorrow.

Is that the problem?

If so, the obvious next chess move I see is this:

Editors of $prestigious_journal resign from $prestigious_journal today. Tomorrow, they start $prestigious_journal1 (modulo some new name-choosing scheme) and post a website or whatever.

Granted I'm biased-- is the problem that the editors don't know how to publish content on a website?

If so, then the obvious chess move is to use whatever turnkey open source journal publishing system exists.

What is it, and why hasn't every prestigious journal already changed its name and started publishing there?

The argument cannot be, "Well, no one would know where to find the new journal." They are the most prestigious editors-- their field will know immediately where they went. Everyone else will follow from there.

The only sticking point I can see is that $prestigious_editors can't take their previously published work with them to redistribute over their new website. But they still get career credit for their previous publications, and they/students/faculty can still access that through Elsevier. And all their new publications can be accessed and redistributed under a liberal license by all, for a publishing fee approaching zero dollars.

We have a rich history of big software projects making much more disruptive changes in a single day. E.g., Mambo became Joomla. The fact that prestigious journal editors haven't done likewise in droves leads me to believe they are saying one thing about open access in public and saying something much more important by doing very little to change the status quo.

This has happened many times, just not enough times yet. Here is a list: http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Journal_declarations_of_indep...

That was a for me surprisingly long list.

No, your premise is mistaken.

The most prestigious journals (Nature and Science) are professionally edited. Editors may have PhDs in the field they edit, but are not professors.

Science and Nature are outliers. The overwhelming majority of scientific papers are in specific journals (as opposed to these generalistic journals) and editors are almost always professors.

By the way, the Science editorial board can be seen here, under "Board of Reviewing Editors". They are professors as well:


Reviewing editors are not editors -- they're more like reviewers on retainer. Reviewing editors exist specifically because the professional editors at Science will often be handling manuscripts they are not qualified to understand.

The parent comment was about $prestigious_journal, not the central example of a scientific journal (which I agree is an academically edited specialist journal).

In my experience, al least the top 3-4 tiers of Springer/Nature journals are professionally edited. I doubt Elsevier is any different. It only gets worse as the publishers continue to generate new branded specialist journals and mega-journals trading on the prestige of the flagship publication.

Neuron’s editors are professional editors as well. As far as I know, that’s the norm for Elsevier journals. (My wife was one for Neuron and many of her work friends were professional editors for her or other journals.)

> Editors of $prestigious_journal resign from $prestigious_journal today. Tomorrow, they start $prestigious_journal1 (modulo some new name-choosing scheme) and post a website or whatever.

This exact thing happened e.g. there https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journal_of_Algebraic_Combinato...

Interesting! thanks for the link

It has been done. For example, a case I know is $prestigious_journal = Lingua, $prestigious_journal1 = Glossa. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=22162

And there have been some more cases, e.g. in mathematics (a field where single authorship is common, see below why this can be relevant).

But why is this the exception and not the rule, at least for now? I can venture several contributing factors (probably not the whole picture, as it's a quite complex issue, but I think these are at least among the most influential factors):

1. As an academic, I can tell you that a universal characteristic of academics (and even more so of those relevant enough to be in prestigious journal editorial boards) is that we are starved of time. Most of us are already quite overworked and there is no way in hell we are going to find time to inform ourselves about web journal publishing systems and set one up.

2. To officially be a "prestigious" journal in some countries, including mine, you have to be in the ISI JCR impact factor list. And that list is for profit, among other requirements journals have to pay to be there. So there is the additional hurdle of figuring out how to get the money.

3. Even if you can solve points 1 and 2 (which by the way could definitely be done if universities or even states got involved, providing support for open access journals), there is still the problem that establishing "prestige" (impact factor) takes time (a journal takes several years to be indexed). During this time, your community will lose a journal to publish in and get points in your CV. For a senior academic this might not be a big deal, but the problem is that senior academics typically work with PhD students, postdocs, young professors looking for tenure... and for these, the major journal of their specialization suddenly imploding and having to wait 4-5 years for the new one to get an impact factor can be a huge deal for their careers.

Believe me, the overwhelming majority of academics aren't happy about the status quo. After all, we are working for free for these journals, spending hours and hours of our time writing papers, polishing them and especially reviewing, only to see how they reap the profits and even try to charge us to read our colleagues' papers. I don't know any academic who likes that. But in the hyper-competitive arena of academia, where not publishing enough papers can pretty much mean the end of your career (and if you have reached stability, you almost always have other people that depend on you whose career is at stake) they pretty much have us by the guts.

In my view the solution has to be top-down. It has to come from university boards and governments, who are the ones controlling the incentives that make publishing in profiteering journals pretty much mandatory. Set up public open-access journals maintained by universities or states; change the requirements for hiring, tenure, etc. so impact factors issued by private companies are not taken into account and to incentivize publishing in said public journals, and the problem would pretty much be solved. But there doesn't seem to be the political will to do it (although at least the EU and some universities, as seen here, are pushing a bit towards it, which is good news).

I agree with the bulk of your post, but I feel the need to point out your statement that you have to pay to be indexed in ISI and get an impact factor is false. I've never heard of anyone paying for getting a ranking.

I would swear that I was told that a few years ago by someone who managed a journal, but indeed from some Google searches it doesn't look like it's true.

I guess they probably said something else and I misinterpreted. Perhaps they said that getting indexed cost them money in an indirect sense, e.g. because it required more frequent publication and they had to spend money to achieve that, or something similar, and I thought they meant that they had to pay the indexing company.

Sorry for the confusion.

One of the solutions to the €journal-implosion problem is to publish in both €journal as well as the new, open access version and to make this known in the article. Make this an institutional requirement for publishing in €journal in the first place and require Elsevier/Springer/Wiley/... to include the reference to the free version (no reference means no publication in €journal). The versions published in €journal might be better edited (or it might not, depending on the journal) but the science published is identical. Do this for a few years and the open access version will have built up enough of a corpus and a reputation to become a feasible replacement for €journal. Now you can either drop €journal cold-turkey style or start off by having the established names publish exclusively in the open access version while the up-and-coming still have the choice of publishing in both. Once it becomes known that the most revered names exclusively publish in the open access version it'll be game over for €journal. Once this becomes the norm in enough fields it'll be deemed irresponsible to publish through the likes of Elsevier and the world will be a better place.

What you say is kind of being done with open-access repositories like arXiv (minus the requirement to include reference to the free version), and it has been a step forward. But publishing the same article in two journals is severely frowned upon in the scientific community. And even if this changed, journal publishers like Elsevier, Springer, etc. require authors to sign a copyright transfer agreement and forbid publication in any other journal. There is no way they are going to relinquish this.

> publishing the same article in two journals is severely frowned upon

Posting copy to arXiv or similar is a norm and not regarded as publishing in another journal.

In some areas like theoretical physics people read mostly arXiv. It does help to shift content control away from publishers.

> "require Elsevier/Springer/Wiley/... to include the reference to the free version"

And they refuse as long as they can. Because they hold the copyrights and universities have no leverage.

The only way to break it is to help their faculty make their journals academic owned. Unfortunately, no official help to record that far... https://twitter.com/Dmitri145/status/1074571804113399808

Not only does Elsevier have a very permissive preprint policy, but they own a network of preprint servers - SSRN.

Just this morning, I've replied to several factually incorrect statements you've made. What can I do to help you get the right information?

Quote from https://svpow.com/2016/05/22/elseviers-increasing-control-ov...

"it’s simply unrealistic to imagine that Elsevier, in controlling Mendeley and SSRN, will do anything other than what is best for Elsevier."

And here are some responses from editors: https://gitlab.com/publishing-reform/discussion/blob/master/...

There are now also more and more established PIs who do not publish in the "usual suspects" journals any longer. That's all well and good for them. However, it does not work out for the grad students and postdocs.

The way to remove the advantage high impact journals still leverage could instead indeed be achieved by not reviewing for them if you are an eminent figure in your field. If these journals cannot claim to publish "the best science" and highest quality any longer, then what's left? This seems the right, and maybe the only real way that single established researchers can directly work towards a (r)evolution of the publishing system. What that would become remains to be seen, of course.

Elsevier has become the poster child of villain publisher. But here’s the problem: Large number of highly respected journals also charge rediculous amount for access and have refused open access on their properties. This includes Nature, Science and IEEE. Are these institutes ok with these journals?

PS: I have no intent to defend Elsevier but it continues to surprise me why these other massively popular journals escape this.

IEEE is a society journal and could stand to improve its practices. But it is ostensibly run for benefit of the professional society.

IEEE charges significant membership fees and still most publications remain closed even to member. Typical rate for merely accessing paper is $33. If author wants to do open access then author gets charged $1500. How a person in poor African country supposed to pay these amounts per paper. A society with a mission of spreading and sharing scientific knowledge should not be doing this.

Can you define "significant membership fees"? I pay less than USD$300 a year for IEEE Computer Society membership in which ~$100 is for the full digital library (and similar for the ACM), so I don't consider that "significant". Sure, I'd rather not pay it, but it's not prohibitively expensive like the other journals are (where it can be thousands of dollars for a single subscription to a single journal).

$300 is significant membership fees for mere privilege of being called member of some society. I'm a member for few years now and have yet to experience any real value provided by IEEE memberships except to get spammed ruthlessly and get some discount to even more expensive conferences of theirs. Remember, even after paying $300 you don't get access to their closed publications (you just get privilege to pay "discounted" price of $13 per paper).

All these tells me this is enormously blotted organization mainly providing vanity and have no real mission. There are tons of non-profits that operate this way with their lavish expenses and highly-compensated officers.

If Elsevier was non-profit with nicely compensated "officers" then would you be ok about their ways?

Are you based in US or a European country? The whole point of projects like Sci-hub is to help people in poor countries where $300 is insane amount of money for getting access to a journal.

Start a campaign to run it if you are a member.

> Some, however, expressed concern about the impact on junior faculty members, who must publish to advance their careers. Elsevier’s journals signal prestige in the academic job market.

> many existing journals have an established brand, community, and track record — all helpful markers for junior scholars in the tenure process.

it seems odd to me that academic prestige isn't controlled by the universities. you'd think that that's something they can create on their own.

>it seems odd to me that academic prestige isn't controlled by the universities. you'd think that that's something they can create on their own.

The older I get, the less I respect published papers, and academia.

Politics over proof, it keeps showing its ugly face in results, in the process of picking a topic to study, and who gets the research money.

How would you define “the university?” A central all powerful administrator? Even in a department, a faculty member is necessarily judged more by their peers on the outside unless a specialty happens to be concentrated.

by "the universities", i meant the rituals and ceremonies performed by academics in general. isn't prestige really just a social construct? the universities literally contain all the individual high-status academics, the privileged social circles, and all the peers required for evaluation of merit. they have all the capital, is what i'm talking about.

Yes, universities are social constructs, so there is no monolithic construct to change.

that seems like a bit of a non sequitur, because monoliths can be constructed. like how game companies create prestige among a disorganized community by sponsoring official tournaments, for example. and you don't necessarily need to deal with a monolith, you just need a popular consensus, which it sounds like there already exists. so my confusion is how did the universities lose the ability to decide their own self-worth. how did this get outsourced.

Universities long ago outsourced faculty evaluations based on the impact of their research measured by conference/journal impact. The system is heavily flawed, but the inability of an expert in A to judge an expert in B is a very real problem, so they just look at their academic impact instead, which is determined mostly by journal acceptance via peer review.

How did the situation in Germany et al work out? Didn't researchers there start this movement? Google News searches have disappointing me.

IIRC, Finland straight up told their scientists to use SciHub.

Well overdue. Actually, go further: ban citations from commercial journals, and make authorship in them after a cut-off date a negative during hiring and promotions.

Make it clear that no serious research is published in Elsevier and co. anymore.

Banning citations goes wayyyy to far. The journals are bad, but the science published in them is not. To ban citations would require either plagarizing or leaving swathes of subjects untouched.

I think the idea is that these journals should be secondary sources, rather than primary sources, for papers. Sure, your paper is in Nature, and that's neat and all and gives it more visibility, but people should be citing the arXiv copy that came out either in parallel to, or before, the for-profit journal copy did. Journals should just be serving as aggregators of content, not hosts of content†.

It's the same idea as how public companies' earliest issuance of any potentially-stock-affecting news, has to be through equal-access public channels that investors can subscribe to for equal-timeliness reaction to news (rather than, y'know, Elon Musk's Twitter feed, where Twitter gets to control who sees what when.)

People should be able to follow a citation from one paper to another, without having to pay to do that. Not being able to doesn't just discourage reading papers, it discourages ad-hoc peer review—the precise point of having journals in the first place. (Specifically, it discourages the part of ad-hoc peer-review where you check a paper's citations to see if the claims you find hard to believe, but which are cited, are actually backed up by something you can believe in the cited paper.) When the citation is to a closed-access journal, you have to happen to coincidentally have a subscription to that journal in order to be able to find out what the citation really says. If the citation's source journal is both for-profit and obscure, then you probably don't have that subscription—so the given citation could have been entirely made-up, and you'll never know.

† Journals being aggregators of content also implies that a paper should be able to be published in as many journals as want to carry it, because none of them "own" the resulting content anyway. In that sense, scientific papers would be a lot like news-wire releases: something that any distributor can pay for the right to print a copy of.

Hmmm, the 'journal are aggregators' model sounds really interesting. It essentially captures the concept that the value of journals is 'legitimizing' papers.

> People should be able to follow a citation from one paper to another, without having to pay to do that.

I really like that, but what about citing books? It seems like sources that are paid for should still be used. We shouldn't hamstring science / scientists. Similarly, we shouldn't just pass of ideas from payed sources as our own ideas. Instead I would propose the slightly weaker rule:

'Where available, cite the free version'

This obviously needs to be complemented with strong reasons for people to create free versions.

I see another issue though. Sometimes, there are significant differences between the ArxiV version and the journal version. I've seen stuff where the journal had better figures, etc. In that case, a reader would be better of reading the journal article than the ArxiV version.

Preprints are great & everyone should post a preprint as soon as they're ready to share what they've been working on. That said, there's a big difference between journals and preprints, not just in the production quality or the improvements made after review, but in the whole hidden infrastructure that supports the discovery of artcles, the indexing, preservation, linking, etc.

It's worth pointing out that running a preprint server isn't exactly cheap, either: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/biorxiv-preprint-ser...

> I really like that, but what about citing books?

Public libraries! Good enough to cite, good enough to ask your library system to carry.

The exception is textbooks, but these are 1. frequently also considered secondary sources, and 2. have their own weird economics that are just as bad as that of paid journals, and so need a separate fix.

> Sometimes, there are significant differences between the ArxiV version and the journal version. I've seen stuff where the journal had better figures, etc. In that case, a reader would be better of reading the journal article than the ArxiV version.

Yes, in fact, there are always at least minor differences; this is because, right now, the IP of a journal paper belongs to the publishing journal, so you can't publish exactly the same version of the paper anywhere else. (Just like a freelance writer who sells a short story to a magazine can't also publish that short story on their own website.) Paper authors get around this by publishing pre-prints—literally, the final-minus-one draft of the paper, rather than the final draft. Sometimes the changes between versions N-1 and N are trivial, but sometimes they're substantive and change the citability of the work.

In a world where journals didn't own, but rather licensed, the IP of the papers they "carry", this wouldn't be a problem, and paper authors would be publishing final prints of their papers in arXiv, because they'd have no reason not to. (Specifically, they'd likely publish the pre-print, and then—if there are substantive changes—they'd publish an updated version as well, and modify the metadata for the preprint so the paper's web-indexed DOI-metadata page would mention, and link to, the updated version, as well as the previous version.)

> 'Where available, cite the free version'

> This obviously needs to be complemented with strong reasons for people to create free versions.

And that's the problem, your weaker version removes all incentive for authors to actually change their behaviour. If that wasn't needed then we wouldn't be discussing this now.

After a cut-off date.

We currently cite ArxiV, we cite books out of print, we cite websites, heck we cite 'Mein Kampf' when discussing facism. We cite anything that was used as a source.

Banning citations means either changing the above practice, or banning certain sources from being used by academics. That is sacrificing science for the sake of ideology. We ought to consider sources for their inherent quality, not whether we like their publisher.

I get what you're trying to say here, but this is not about work that has already been done, it is about work that still will be done and to avoid the sharecropping that will inevitably be the result from those citations. By giving ample warning it would be clear that those venues are toxic and that there is a good chance that your work would be better served by seeking an alternative venue for publication.

And then when someone does publish work in that venue, are others doing related research supposed to refuse to acknowledge related published work? That's a pretty serious ethics breach in itself.

Does this date refer to the time of the publishing of the cited work, or the time at which the citation itself was made?

The former I would imagine.

> To ban citations would require either plagarizing

That sounds fine to me. The only people harmed would be the for profit journals.

No, very much no. Plagiarism is not about copyright it is about credit. Plagiarism hurts the scientist being plagiarized because their work is being passed of as someone else's work.

In the academic world, people building on your work is essentially how you get evaluated. If people build of your work without saying so, they are doing two bad things.

- They get recognition for things they did not come up with - The person who did come up with the thing does not get that recognition

Consider the argument between Newton and Leibniz about who invented calculus first. That wasn't about copyright, it was purely about credit and plagiarism.

Yes, and that's the point!

If commercial journals are categorically no longer cited then people whose performance reviews rely on citations will switch to other outlets.

> Plagiarism hurts the scientist being plagiarized because their work is being passed of as someone else's work.

Indeed they would be hurt. If your research is only in the paid for journals, then you would get screwed.

I just don't think this is a bad thing. The only people harmed would be the journal and the scientist who chose to lock up his research behind a paywall.

It sounds like a win to me to screw over people who lock up their research.

and make authorship in them after a cut-off date a negative

It's a good start, but hand-me-down science in open-access journals is no better than putting it into Elsevier. Hindawi instead of Elsevier probably isn't even cheaper! Money is too tight to hand it to a sketchy publisher.

I think Sci-Hub should compile a set of hard drives that contain the full contents of various journals from day 1 (or some other start date). With 10 terabyte drives being around $400, I wonder how many years of, say Nature or Science could fit? Google say that 10TB would hold 750 million pages. If a journal is 200 pages per issue or about 10,000 per year it looks like it would hold 75,000 years. So the past 40 years or a few hundred journals would fit. SCI-HUB could make a number of journal drives based on Physics, Geology, Biology etc of, say 1 TB size. SCI-HUB could become self financing with these drives. a new one every year could be 1TB, make and sell a few hundred of the large starting drive of 10TB or ?? and the annual ones could be 1 TB. Send them to the stars. The Genii would really be out of the bottle...

These discussions on the evilness of Elsevier and others usually have two components that sometimes get mixed:

1. Output of publicly funded research should be open access;

2. How research is done (how peer-review works, how editors are chosen, how grants, tenure and other awards are awarded, etc) should be modernized.

Goal 2 is not well defined and some ideas for goal 2 are contradictory, it often leads to endless discussions with many "ifs". Goal 1, however, is very clearly defined and I believe the community should focus on solving goal 1, because goal 2 is still not well defined and doing anything about it will meet massive inertia.

Here is a proposal that tries to achieve goal 1 without trying to change anything about the structure of academia and its inertia. There should be a free or ultra-low-cost platform (typically operated as arXiv) that would let any team of editors of non-open access journal duplicate the journal by a few clicks. With a few clicks, current editors of pay-walled journals should be able to create a copy-cat open-access journal, transferring all editors, all associate editors, to the new platform -- no change in humans, only a change in the platform and the name of the journal (for instance, prefix the original journal name with "open"). The change should be effortless for all academics involved in the former pay-walled journal. Once the editors of the former pay-walled journal. The next step is to use the pressure of the involved academics to make sure that no other academics in their field join the former pay-walled journal as editors, associate editors or referees.

If we want academics to move away from paywalled journals, duplicating these successful journals should be as easy as creating a blogpost, without changing the humans involved.

Edit: By the way, the platform used by Elsevier to manage journals and peer-reviews is terrible from a UX perspective. It would not be hard to do better and some teams of Editors/Associat Editors may welcome a more usable alternative.

I like the idea. It has happened before [0], eg the complete editorial board of the (Elsevier) Journal of Algorithms resigned in 2003 and founded the ACM Transactions on Algorithms, effectively taking the prestige and reputation with them. The Journal of Algorithms folded in 2009.

However, this only happened because Journal of Algorithms founder Don Knuth instigated it (because he was disgusted with Elsevier's pricing policies, back then already; see [1] (PDF)). If the process were one-click easy and streamlined, it might happen more often.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsevier#Resignation_of_editor...

[1] http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/joalet.pdf

In the coming years, the number of big shot editors sensitive to the open access will grow fast because they were young researchers when the open access issue became mainstream.

Also, University committees for tenure and other promotions could start rewarding moves like Knuths more aggressively.

but why would the (paid) editors do that and quit their job ? Also i think you have a copyright transfer problem

In many fields (related to math and computer science) editors are paid by universities and their editorial work is unpaid.

these fields dont have an open access problem to begin with (thanks to arxiv).

The goal is to move future papers to a copy-cat, duplicate journal. The copyright of future papers still belong to their authors.

At least for various fields of CS I would really like big tech to come together and start a non-profit organization that manages journals and conferences with 100% open access. The big barrier in leaving Elsevier is having equally reputable alternatives which can consume the outgoing flow.

With regard to my earlier comment aboutcreating a number of10TB (or 1TB etc) that contained as much of the printed journals, scanned to these drives, with a built in browse and search facility built in to be shipped out to many any places to bypass ISP limits. Updates could be added as needed. To be sure specialization will create a cohort of these drives. A math person wants math journals, biology wants bio journals etc, so every small colleg or university in India or Africa can have this facility on their local web.

This is tame; if UCLA really wanted to scare Elsevier they would refuse to pay for subscriptions. Researchers would still find a way to access the papers they want to read after a bit of short-term pain and the school could do something more useful with the money.

This is great news. I hope other universities follow suit.

Without school’s library access to articles, I wouldn’t be able to complete my paper this semester. I did find and cite articles from Open Access so I am all for ditching paywall publications.

If UCLA were serious it would simply walk from the negotiation.

THAT would send a message to all parties. It might actually spur some action on the part of faculty to get off their collective backsides and consider how every day they perpetuate an unsustainable system of scientific communication.

This letter and others like it are moves by third-rate negotiators. Faculty who make publication and review decisions simply don't care about the cost of subscriptions enough. If they did, Elsevier would be on the ropes, not calling the shots.

The letter UCLA sent out will receive widespread acclaim by a vocal minority, and go ignored by everyone else.

> This letter and others like it are moves by third-rate negotiators

They're perfectly fine negotiators. They just aren't negotiating for open access, but using the threat of defection to extract better terms from Elsevier. That is both rational and achieves, in part and indirectly, one of the open access movement's aims: to reduce the power of journals like Elsevier.

The problem is that this tactic actually empowers Elsevier. Without a credible threat to the status quo, nobody at UCLA or any other university has any reason to change what they're doing.

It's hard to imagine anyone at Elsevier falling for this bluff. They probably came in with a 40% increase knowing they'd only get 20%. After the letter, they drop the increase to 20%, then everyone claims victory and goes home.

But each round in which the OA card is played makes the bluff that much less credible.

> this tactic actually empowers Elsevier

Power and profits are closely entangled. UCLA is extracting better pricing from Elsevier's weakened position as result of open-access competition.

> it's hard to imagine anyone at Elsevier falling for this bluff

What makes you think it was a bluff? When one threatens defection, one doesn't want to defect. That's why the defection is initially threatened, not acted upon.

What do you consider credible?

UCLA and other universities are in trouble because of their own doing. They relied on one publishing system and allowed it to grow so big that now this system is mishandling them for its own profit. Had they been more cautious of implications of their actions they would have avoided current situation.

University should immediately back out of negotiations as what they desire(open access) would never be fulfilled by publisher whose sole mean of income relies on subscription costs and search for/or build an truly open access communication system. Entering into another long-term contract with Elsevier would further delay the much needed reforms in currently unsustainable scientific publication process.

This mixture of self-confidence and uninformedness is somewhat sad.

As but one POI: open access also costs money, and Elsevier runs several open access or mixed journals.

You seem to blame this squarely on the faculty, and yet faculty have the least amount of freedom when it comes to publication venue. It's an unfortunate fact that academic success is inextricably linked to publishing in top journals. I'm not just talking about promotion either -- it's getting grants, compensation, being invited to speak, attracting students and postdocs, ensuring that they get a job later on, having an impact and generally receiving recognition from your peers. All of this is tied to a steady stream of publications in good journals. If Elsevier owns the best journals in your field, your options are to forego all that and hope for the best (works great if you are Tim Gowers or Terry Tao, for the rest of us...) or continue with the status quo. How many people would give up a career they've worked extremely hard to build to stand on principle? Very few. That is what you are asking of faculty here. It's sort of like global warming -- we know very well that the system is broken, but individually are powerless to change it. Concerted action at the national and international level is required.

You say "You seem to blame this squarely on the faculty, and yet faculty have the least amount of freedom when it comes to publication venue"

I assume you are referencing this

> If UCLA were serious it would simply walk from the negotiation. THAT would send a message to all parties. It might actually spur some action on the part of faculty to get off their collective backsides

Then you suggest "Concerted action at the national and international level is required".

Who exactly is supposed to be responsible for organizing national and international action and to do what exactly, disband Elsevier? This is not a practical suggestion. A practical approach would be for the institutions that pay Elsevier for access, i.e the faculty/admins to get better organized and get better at negotiating.

asking faculty to consider the mere act of not reviewing (much less not submitting papers to) these top journals is a third rate negotiating tactic. A strong negotiator would simply walk out at this point. That would send a much stronger message.

Uh no actually referencing these comments:

"It might actually spur some action on the part of faculty to get off their collective backsides and consider how every day they perpetuate an unsustainable system of scientific communication ... Faculty who make publication and review decisions simply don't care about the cost of subscriptions enough."

> asking faculty to consider the mere act of not reviewing

But do you not think that a mandatory "DO NOT REVIEW" is authoritarian and heavy-handed?

If you are negotiating GitHub licenses, you will mandate that your employees do not contribute to open-source GitHub?

It's a tricky problem. The suggestion at hand was UCLA walk from the negotiation. Would that mean faculty at UCLA are given a mandatory "DO NOT REVIEW" order? I would have assumed their free labor would still be most welcome, especially from experts.

If UCLA walks, that would possibly cause other universities to follow suit, and I bet Elsevier would come back to the table with a better offer.

The way I see things, the universities are not organized at all and are being taken to the cleaners because of things like this. It looks like the people doing the negotiating on behalf of the faculty are in way over their heads and don't even realize how the game is played and are being out maneuvered at every turn by a savvy, massively powerful corporation for which this is pretty much all they do all day, every day.

"It's sort of like global warming -- we know very well that the system is broken, but individually are powerless to change it. Concerted action at the national and international level is required."

Unlike global warming I think that some individuals could really make a massive impact in this case. Funnily enough some of those individuals are studying global warming.

There are already moves at (larger than individual) levels to get to grips with this issue and I think that most affected parties are more than capable of getting to the knowledge source somehow through alternative means when required. If not, then they are in the wrong game.

FFS: Studies that are funded by tax payers or charities or whatever should be freely available. Studies that are peer reviewed by unpaid experts in the field should be published freely. I am happy to pay for journalism - that is something different.

"Studies that are peer reviewed by unpaid experts in the field should be published freely"

Unasked question: How does Elsevier a for profit business get away with having salaried UCLA professors review articles for free?

Well I'm on the UCLA faculty and it's definitely being discussed pretty widely amongst my department.

What are drawbacks to their careers from agreeing not to review? I understand that reviewing is really a community service and done without tangible or much intengible compensation. And reviewing is anonymous. For tenured professors, there should be few problems and Elsevier probably wont retaliate, or will they?

What are reasons for the controversay besides academic freedom?

Honestly nothing really. It’s more that there are papers that I am often the best person to review them (because of particular expertise). I often just don’t pay attention to where it’s coming from.

Good to know. How many faculty have indicated in these discussions that they will materially change their behavior?

Email discussion started yesterday; amongst 20 or so faculty half a dozen agreed to not review. We'll probably discuss at the next faculty meeting or the holiday party that's about to start.

UCLA can't walk out and Elsivier knows it. A University which lacks a library containing the currently published scholarship is going to have a really tough time attracting PhD students. How are they supposed to cite relevant work without being able to read the work?

The UC System should work with other schools to mandate open publishing. The only way to fix this is by removing Elsevier's power.

I doubt any PhD student would consider that as a potential drawback when choosing an institution.

I did my phd in an institution with very minimal access to some of these publishers and while it was annoying I would not take it among the top 50 problems I had in my academic life. I can always request an ILL, or ask one of my friends in other universities if I wanted a paper badly. If however the paper is fairly replaceable as a citation I'd just get some other paper that's sufficient and cite that.

"I doubt any PhD student would consider that as a potential drawback when choosing an institution."

Absolutely. I would be rather unimpressed if someone studying to that level was unable to find alternative routes to the "source". It should be at worse a bit of a pain and at best helping to fix a sodding great travesty that has afflicted publication for decades.

You guys must exist in some alternative universe. In mechanical engineering, no access to journals is definitely a top 5 problem, not top 50.

How do you guys do goose chase research if only one out of five paper titles that catch your interest are immediately available. Inter library loan is bullshit that takes at least one full day to appear. What do you do until then?

Sci-hub. You use sci-hub. That's what I've been doing for years; I'm not affiliated with an institution so I can't afford subscriptions, and I need the articles so I can treat my illness.

When the system's broken beyond repair and the stakes are high, there's no point playing by the rules. That's why sci-hub was founded in the first place.

That's exactly the thing though. My field is niche enough, and it's applied science anyway, meaning that even the seminal papers are missing from scihub, let alone more modern and less-cited research papers. And no way for me to upload my stash.

Let's say your school's subscription ended. Would you throw your hands in the air and give up, or would you and others in your field work out a way to get the papers you need? Maybe you would just email each other asking for papers at first (at least in my field it is not uncommon for papers to be passed around by email despite the ease with which papers are accessed), and eventually someone with the time would just create some kind of unauthorized archive for your niche field (which new grad students would learn about from more senior grad students). There are plenty of other ways it might play out, but I doubt your ability to publish research would be seriously impacted by a lack of subscriptions to journals.

The question isn't so much whether life will move on. I agree with you that it will. The point is that it will be a top 5 problem. All the stuff that you say will almost undoubtedly be a massive impediment in the face of the kind of "I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I'll know it when I see it" types of research that PhD often involves.

I was always fascinated how people used to get access to articles from uncommon journals back in the days before the internet.

In fact I asked a researcher in India that question. He said that they will write a letter to the biggest library in India and attach a check for 10 rupees (like ten cents today) and they will eventually mail a copy of the article after a month.

We are all super used to having instant gratification access to whatever article we need that it can be quite surprising how people used to do (arguably better) research in older days.

For a year or two my University library was particularly bad at getting access to articles and in that time while it was annoying that I couldn't instantly check references I just learned to read the abstract very carefully and only request articles that I really need to read fully.

Besides, if the university is truly trying to be ranked among the best I'm sure they will at least make sure that alternative options are smoother. That's what my uni did - it made ILLs free.

I'm in no way saying that the older days were better. Of course, scientists should have ready access to all the literature they can consume. I'm just saying again that reform in the Grant and tenure process, discrimination, overworking, the graduate student system, lack of mental health support for stressful jobs, lack of permanent jobs other than professorship, shitty metrics by which researchers are evaluated, research misconduct, impact factor based dick measurements, etc are far more important problems for me than journal access.

> ask one of my friends in other universities if I wanted a paper badly

Surely, you see the problem here?

Maybe it is a self correcting problem. Perhaps the moment Elsevier is so out of vogue that you can’t find a library or peer at another university with access is also the inflection point where Elsevier loses its network effect. Why would you license your work to a journal for which your peers and their institutions have no direct access?

If it were ever to reach that point, sure, I'll give you that.

That would only be a problem if sci-hub also didn't exist

First of all, piracy is a workaround and not a legitimate solution to any problem. Second, it doesn't solve the root issue here--somebody has to have paid the inflated cost of an Elsevier subscription. Sci-hub doesn't exist in a vacuum.

piracy is a workaround and not a legitimate solution

Why not?

Piracy is a problem for content generation because somebody needs to get paid to generate the content. Elsevier does not generate content, it's a (parasitic?) gatekeeper using network effects to extract rents.

If content generation would be healthier and more vibrant without Elsevier, then piracy seems an appropriate and just solution. I don't see content creators lining up to defend Elsevier; quite the opposite.

(It's possible that someone could argue that Elsevier adds significant value for their cut, but I haven't heard anyone make that claim)

Why is it not a legitimate solution? Sometimes laws fail to catch up with technology, and copyright is a good example of that. Copyright law is based on the assumption that mass distribution is an industrial activity; today mass distribution can be done by ordinary people using common tools that we carry in our pockets.

I get the idea that skirting the law is not something we should generally encourage as the solution, but let's not get carried away and act like copyrights are some divine commandment and grad students using scihub are a bunch of evildoers.

This is what scihub & libgen are for.

Does UCLA filter scihub?

A better solution to the closed access problem would be to only cite open access articles. Sometimes that would mean not citing the original article but some open access meta article that made the findings publicly accessible.

I actually think it’s fair to not cite articles that you cannot reach with reasonable effort. It’s the authors choice to make it inaccessible.

Moreover, it is my understanding that if there's a good paper you want to get, you can often just contact one of the authors and get sent a copy.

It is slower and less convenient, but maybe not $10 million a year less convenient...

People regularly don’t respond to those emails. For older publications it might be hard to even find the email.

In the UK, you can order a photocopy of any journal paper via inter library loans. These often come from the British library, which has everything. I’d assume elsewhere similar solutions exist.

Spending money on automating that process, and you might put most journals out of business.

"In the UK, you can order a photocopy of any journal paper via inter library loans. These often come from the British library, which has everything. I’d assume elsewhere similar solutions exist."

I'm sure I saw a device called a scanner somewhere. It seemed to transcend the worlds of paper and electronics.

I'm also from the UK and am old enough to remember life before "Brentrance" (newly minted term by me - meaning should be obvious) This issue of publication freedom is way more important or at least comparable, to Brexit in my opinion.

I'm not too sure what the perfect knowledgebase would look like but it probably is not the current one. For me it might be something like a curated MediaWiki (the software behind WikiPedia) - for me the killer feature is that an article in a wiki is just text and a few formatting hints. Text is first, formatting and other distractions come second.

I studied Civil Engineering in the UK around 1990ish. We had lots of closed off sources and refs (ISIS and others - from memory) - rubbish!

I've heard of many scenarios where the author loses access to their own paper. After moving on from a project it's easy to leave stuff on a school's server or on some hard drive in a closet.

I've asked several professors for scientific research and always got a paper back, although it was sometimes very slow.

> Does UCLA filter scihub?

I work at another UC, and we don't filter Scihub in any way.

Sweden, all of it, walked out in July and we’re doing fine. I doubt any PhD students avoid our institutions because of it, and we somehow manage to get the papers we need anyway. Asking on twitter is effective, or directly from authors. And there’s always scihub...

Is scihub openly encouraged by faculty or librarians?

>>How are they supposed to cite relevant work without being able to read the work?


"A University which lacks a library containing the currently published scholarship"

When I was a PhD student I don't think I used the university's library to access a single paper. It is not at all hard to find papers on the Internet and the money paid for subscriptions is basically a waste. Even in fields where this is a shocking concept I suspect people would figure it out if they needed to do so.

UCLA can and absolutely should walk out of the negotiations, and put Elsevier in their place (the dustbin of history). The academic publishing system that exists today is based on the premise that wide distribution of scientific writing is something that requires industrial equipment, and that is just not true these days. Elsevier's power is an illusion; they are part of an obsolete industry that future generations will have forgotten and they know it.

How are they supposed to cite relevant work without being able to read the work?

#icanhazpdf? It's perfectly good manners to ask a colleague for a reprint.

This is what's getting to me at the moment; I'm a student at a university, so I'm thankful to be getting a lot of the stuff I search for quickly available through my university (Shibboleth login etc.) but what I don't like is the fact that for anyone else, they literally can't see what I'm talking about. Before I was a student, I gave up trying to learn about my area of interest just because every single article was behind a paywall. Maybe it let me read the abstract and see a diagram.

I may have fallen out of touch with what sci-hub offers, since I only ever use it to find books now (books which contain articles which one can't find outside the books) but the last time I used it, it didn't have many of the articles I wanted to see.

I hate to think that there are others like me who want to get into diverse research only to be stumped at not even being able to read it. This problem seems to be larger in philosophy/Marxian economics/etc. in which you really do have to read the paper to get the argument, simply knowing the results provided isn't nearly enough, because the results often can't be condensed down to data.

On the flip side elsiver wouldn't be getting papers published from UCLA right? I don't know how that situation works. But UCLA is pretty big, so I would think they would be losing access to papers also.

> How are they supposed to cite relevant work without being able to read the work?

With sites like sci-hub, of course!

Pirating is basically never enforced against the downloaders. (It is more the uploaders that companies go after).

this has barely anything to do with the lack of library access. The point is that if they refuse reviews emphatically it might reflect badly in future submissions they make to elsevier's journals.

UCLA may not have the power to walk away completely by itself. Outside research grants depend on publications in top journals and a single university still need those names.

What if bigger entities negotiate together? European nations, NIH, NSF, major foundations and UC system can propose creating top journals to compete with Elsevier. Or direct their grant recipients to publish in alternative open access journals.

Funders hold research money and universities grant prestige and job security. Elsevier is a big gatekeeper for both. If funders and universities work together, they can topple the status quo.

I think you are misreading the situation. Rather than a weak move, this is a small step in a long march. They are killing Elsevier but slowly enough to avoid disruption.

What percentage of Elsevier documents are published there exclusively but otherwise public domain or freely license.

I think part of the problem is discovery.


Polar is an app that people use for PDF and document annotation (supports web content too).

I'm shipping cloud support early next week.

Anyway, one of the features that's going to come out soon is social document discovery.

I'd like to use your friends to discover what PDFs to read and this would bypass the paywall problem.

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