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Elsevier journal editors resign, start rival open-access journal (insidehighered.com)
940 points by dankohn1 32 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 123 comments

Not too long ago, I had communications with Elsevier's technology team, and through that experience, I also spoke with some of their directors. Let me say that the experience was kind of mind-boggling and surreal.

My impression is that Elsevier is a company locked into the past by a couple of decades. The leadership that I spoke with seemed to have worked in publishing for a very long time. And, probably because of that, they had an old-school publishing mentality with regards to how to reach their customers, provide value, and create revenue.

I sensed that many in the technology team seemed frustrated with their leadership. They had new visions for how to evolve the publishing model to reflect the rise of sci-hub and changes in the industry. However, they were stymied by a very bureaucratic, well-entrenched, and siloed organization.

I expected that the leadership would have some strategy for dealing with this, but it seemed like they were aloof, probably grown fat from decades of near-monopoly. They had a net profit margin of 37% in 2017! Talk about a business ripe for disruption.

Elsevier has been around a very, very long time (wikipedia says 1880), and it shows. I can't imagine getting anything done within that company. So, it's no surprise that some of them are finally leaving to try out a new model. Let's hope for the best.

To be fair, there isn't really anything the leadership can do. The profit margins they are able to attain now are artificial, and anything those in the technology team can think of doing will be very unlikely to achieve those margins. All Elsevier can do is postpone the inevitable for as long as possible, and prepare for the period after that.

(Which they're doing somewhat, btw, but probably not in the way those in that team would envision. They're transforming into an analytics company, primarily by buying up others in that space. The best asset Elsevier has, currently, is money, not its technologists.)

From a networking perspective, Elsevier is like people running SS7/PSTN phone networks who are suddenly surprised that people are making voice calls between each other using whatsapp, facebook messenger, skype, etc. Anything they can try to do at this point won't help them, it's a fundamental business plan/architecture problem akin to polishing the brass doorknobs on the Titanic.

So what do you do if you're Elsevier then? Do you try to pivot? Do you try to fight to hang in there? Do you give up and spin down the company?

I really wonder, especially because they're so old (around since 1880) and so profitable (37% profit margin!)

Kodak and Fujifilm faced a similar dilemma when digital photography emerged. Fuji adapted while Kodak collapsed. But there market forces where at work.

Usually when a company faces issues like this it is very difficult to adapt because existing power structures within the company benefits from the status quo. Usually you need an external force to destabilize the existing system. It has been discussed here on HN that this is very difficult to do in scientific community because of the network effects of scientific publishing : more scientists publishing in currently established journals gives other scientists incentives to publish in the same established journals for the sake of reputation.

Reputable editors starting a new open access journal could improve this situation

I think the situation is somewhat different. Kodak was a regular market leader making regular profit margins. I'm not sure how much of it is true, but I recall reading that they invented the digital camera and then shelved it because it would compete with their own business. That implies that they could've produced it, perhaps at the cost of their analogue business, but at least with the potential of becoming market leader in this new market and reaching similar margins.

For Elsevier, that's simply unlikely to be possible. Even if they manage to successfully transform into an analytics business, the margins they'd be able to achieve would be far lower, because prices would no longer be artificially inflated.

But yes, there are external forces now pressurising them, and I think that's why they're transforming into an analytics company - to survive afterwards. But they're holding on to the old model as long as possible, because they're going to take a loss.

Kodak even began shifting, they produced their own sensors, their own cameras etc, they sold their sensors to top camera makers. They had a good plan. They didn't expect the very sudden disruption of digital cameras though.

Elsevier issue is not primary technological issue, it is issue of power and control. They profits are from being must-publish-in and must-buy-it for most ambitious scientists and institutions. Therefore they are able to charge prices that would not work in competitive market environment.

Afaik, Kodak could adapt, because its issue was technological change at its core.

With Elsevier, the issue is that institutions that actually benefited from being the only one able to pay those high prices (and thus less rich scientific institutions being disadvantaged even more) are not benefiting from that anymore and rebel.

I'm pretty sure that market forces will reach Elsevier soon enough ;) Slowly at first, then all at once.

These were almost definitely not even Elsevier employees. They were editors of an Elsevier journal, but likely were paid only a token amount for their work, and probably not even that.

The world of academic publishing is very strange, almost inconceivably so. The publishers push off most of the substantive work to unpaid academics (reviewers, editors, and of course the actual paper authors) but then charge thousands of dollars for the results. It is a wonder their profit margin is not 100%.

It's somewhat surprising to me that someone hasn't proposed a policy (for private universities) or legislation (for public ones) that require professors to be paid to review articles that are not open access.

Currently UC Berkeley is negotiating their elsevier subscription, if I were cal, I would put that sort of a policy on the table.

It's not just Berkeley, but the entire UC Library system including fairly large university campuses, making it one of the largest university libraries in the world.

Thanks for the clarification!!

Your impression is probably correct. For instance, The Economist magazine's editor is finally learning some science during his retirement[1]. Heaven knows what he thought of their tech quarterly supplement for 50+ years...

I suspect Elsevier's upper management layer is dominated by the PPE set of the Oxbridge upper class.

[1] http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2019/01/10/lea...

Great piece, deserves an HN submission all its own.

Of course, that has to be weighed against the productivity cost associated with encouraging people to visit Derek Lowe's blog for the first time...

Just don't mention the "Things I Won’t Work With" category and they'll be mostly fine

Executives are paid a lot of money, this money comes from the Elsevier business model of high subscription fees. Different business model means probably less revenue hence less executive pay. So they are riding it out as long as it lasts. They are not interested in saving the company and will move on to other high paying jobs in the end.

> I sensed that many in the technology team seemed frustrated with their leadership.

That's an understatement.

Hey, I have a couple questions I'd like to ask you @apfx, but I didn't see an email. Would you mind sending me an email at earl at apolloagriculture dot com, I'd like to hear more.

Who reads all these journals? Let alone pay for them...

In many developed countries (which aren’t huge), most or all publicly funded research universities form some kind of consortium to negotiate a big deal with Elsevier. The institutions pay for access to print journals as well as online access to the archives of current and past papers.

Elsevier (and other typical big journal publishers) operate on a model of bundling where institutions must subscribe to many journals they do not want to get access to journals which they do want.

The big negotiating consortium will go to Elsevier to negotiate. Elsevier will demand a massive price hike. The consortium will push this down, potentially threatening to not subscribe at all, Elsevier will reduce this to merely a large price hike, with maybe some undesired extra journals bundled in. The consortium will not be happy and will consider not subscribing to any Elsevier journals. They will conclude that this is too scary and potentially bad for science, and grudgingly accept the “deal.”

I understand that in Germany relatively recently such a group did in fact refuse Elsevier’s offer and Elsevier essentially continued their online access for free from fear that they might discover that they do not need Elsevier very much.

Some fields need these subscriptions more than others. For example medicine has lots of journals like this which matter whereas in mathematics or computer science most preprints go up on the arXiv and big results may be expanded on long before the paper is even published. Elsevier seems less necessary there, and the value they provide is almost entirely in the prestige of the journal name and the editors who work on the journals.

Furthermore, many funding groups (eg governments) are requiring more and more open access for published research they fund. One can sometimes pay Elsevier a large fee to make a paper published there open access so they can potentially be paid almost entirely for their current assets (a journal name and board of editors) and not for any services they provide (like printing or typesetting)

In Spain it is the State: there is a subscription covering all public universities for quite a few journals (at least in Maths, my job).

I really do not want to know how much we are paying for that.

mostly academics in the relevant fields, largely paid for by the institutions they work at

Institutions in turn funded by some combination of the state, undergrads, or endowments.

Every single scientist in the planet, probably.

I have so much respect for the editors who were willing to make this jump.

I've wondered if there is some cognitive dissonance between the strong feelings I have that scientific journals should be open access and my willingness to buy and use closed source software (even though I run an open source software foundation). But I don't think so.

Fundamentally, I think authors have the right to determine how their work is used. If they want it to be used and available as widely as possible, they should publish it under an open source license and in an open source journal. But when for-profit companies like Elsevier control the journals in which publication is necessary for getting tenure, they are restricting information flow and harming science with no countervailing benefits. Furthermore, many journal articles are supported by government grants, and it's just appalling to me not to have access to the results of research that I am paying for. (If not for https://sci-hub.tw/ obviously.)

I'm optimistic that the author-pays model of funding copy editing will work out and that for-profit journals will be seen in another couple decades as akin to leeching and phrenology.

> Fundamentally, I think authors have the right to determine how their work is used.

Fundamentally, I think TAX PAYERS have a right to access all funded research!

That's very true, but in practice these corporations argue that that particular paper is their copyright, not the research. Thus, just because the general public need to pay to access a particular document, that doesn't mean they are barred from the research.

Which is fine.

Just that the public should demand that all research using public money is done openly, so all data and papers are accessible to the public in perpetuity.

Researchers are welcome to refuse to accept that deal, just so long as they don't take any public money.


For the most part, researchers would prefer to publish open access, and agree with your stance about public money 100%, but with the current state of things, it would have a negative effect on their careers. You have to publish in certain highly-regarded journals to advance.

In some countries this is basically enshrined in law: there's a big table of journals ranked from high to low, and you need a certain number of publications in the high-ranked journals to keep your job with a public institution. Many of the high-ranking journals are closed access, for-profit.

Laws are meaningless though USA has a law but it really just is a hurdle.

NIH Public Access Policy 2008 (Within 12 months the public must have access of all publicly funded research. (NIH = National Institute of Health)

The law is bellow:

"The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, that the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law."

The NIH Public Access Policy is an open access mandate, drafted in 2004 and mandated in 2008,[1] requiring that research papers describing research funded by the National Institutes of Health must be available to the public free through PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. PubMed Central is the self-archiving repository in which authors or their publishers deposit their publications. Copyright is retained by the usual holders, but authors may submit papers with one of the Creative Commons licenses.


Three times Congress has tried to over turn this rule and academic protest keep the law in place. Sadly I still think most don't know about it.

Most of the journals I publish in have a checkbox for NIH/CDC/HHS-related funding, and automatically put things in PubMed Central.

Ironically, it's only the CS/Math-type journals where there's lots of people doing OA advocacy where this is more of a pain because I have to remember to do it myself.

And from the researcher end, if it's not in PMC, I can't claim credit for it on grants.

Wow, seriously? Which countries?

The first explicit reference I found was the Norwegian Scientific Index but I believe other countries have a similar system. Literally, each journal article is worth points, the points are divided among the coauthors, and then the points have a monetary value which is given in grants to the respective institutions.


> Wow, seriously? Which countries?

Pretty much any developed country. Research funding is guided by metrics and publishing is a very strong component. As anyone can create their own personal journal, only the leading and established ones count.

Researchers dont get any money for writing papers in those journals, Infact, researchers have to pay to get their paper published in most of these journals.

Pay out of their research budget with your tax dollars

Not all researchers have thousands of dollars available in grants to cover the types of publishing fees that have become common as the burden of payment shifts from readers to researchers. Graduate students, postdocs or even professors may end up having to pay out of their own pocket to get a publication in a high-profile journal that is necessary to advance their career.

Or not. Or advance the money for a year and, maybe baby, recover the funds one year later... you would be surprised.

> Infact, researchers have to pay to get their paper published in most of these journals.

Is this true? Most Elsevier journals in mathematics (my field) do not have publication fees. In fact, I think of publication fees as one of the hallmarks of an open-access model.

So you're down with your medical records being made public in perpetuity for all intents and purposes?

Because if all my data needs to be made available, identifiable health data is part of that.

Researcher here. That argument is bullshit. Papers are the main method for researchers to communicate their findings. They're written by the researchers themselves, who are often funded by taxpayer dollars, and reviewed by other researchers for free. I hear that sometimes a publisher will do some copy editing at the end, but in my field there's nothing beyond some simple formatting checks.

Which is why you can find all of my "preprints" online.

It is incredibly silly that it's legal for taxpayer-funded research papers to be hidden behind a paywall, which sends money to a corporation that did not fund the authors of the paper.

Former Systems Librarian at a University. My budget was over $80,000 per year just to gain access to the journals. Before this happened we had journals out on racks and boxes with previous journals behind them for as many as I could cram there. Then I had these journals in a backroom which I would have someone go get something for a student maybe two times a month.

Usually the new Journals are not even available in digital for anywhere from 12 to 48 months. So we still had to buy the journals at full price (Looking at you Nature (It's over $100 a month) then pay thousands to get access to journals that would not have ever made a profit before.

Main reason I left the field is Librarian would defend these parasites and bad mouth Open Source projects. I would pay $150,000 for my content management system and portal for version releases and about $40,000 a year maintenance fee. It averaged about $0.50 a year per book to have them in a maintained database and public portal. These systems were absolutely garbage technically (I had to reboot my servers daily according to contract) and the interface was backwards. So glad I left what should have been a position to champion for fair use and equal access but found out that librarian for the most part were the police of copy right and closed source projects. Rant Over

> I hear that sometimes a publisher will do some copy editing at the end, but in my field there's nothing beyond some simple formatting checks.

By "some copy editing", what you surely mean is "a blind search and replace that introduces last-minute errors", which is the main effect of this copy-editing that I've seen.

I've actually had extremely good experiences with both copy editors and layout, including a journal - an Elsevier journal by checking - redoing a figure.

That's good to hear! It's probably my own fault for having fairly complicated TeX code for my files, but it's still frustrating.

It is also highly debatable whether it is a good use of taxpayer funds to cover thousands of dollars in page charges (which is not uncommon for many journals these days). Think how much money could go towards funding more postdocs, graduate students or researchers, but is instead spent paying page charges to journals...

> It is incredibly silly that it's legal for taxpayer-funded research papers to be hidden behind a paywall

I know at least for research funded by the Department of Energy, after 1 year any published articles become freely available regardless of the publisher's access policy (excepting classified material, of course).


> Fundamentally, I think authors have the right to determine how their work is used.

In my view, to think that an individual is the sole author of his intellectual product is a bit egotistic, which is sort of normal given a prevailing culture of "you are what you make". In my opinion, my intellectual product is a product of everyone and everything that's influenced me. An important part of that influence was someone sharing.

Except that leeching has benefits

It does! I wondered if someone would point that out. (Though blood letting does not). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting

Blood-letting also has benefits in some cases! For example, venesection is a standard treatment for haemochromatosis: http://haemochromatosis.org.uk/haemochromatosis/treatment/

But he referred to the notion of how it was widley used in old times and didn't do anything.

Aaron Schwartz would be pleased to see this.

Elsevier, Springer etc. are just syndicates sitting between researchers and consumers.

They have no place in today's world.

Do you mean Aaron Swartz?

RIP Aaron :(

Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques recently published a breakdown of their costs hosting an open journal. Approx. $100 per annum ;)


Last year they published a grand total of 8 articles with the editorial staff doing the copy-editing, and web work for free. It is nice they are doing this but it isn't indicative of the cost of hosting/peer review/copy-editing more substantial journals.

As for "peer review", this has no cost: reviewers are not paid.

Facilitating peer review does have a cost. You would be surprised how much it takes to find referees that are both qualified to assess the paper and do not have too close of a relationship with the authors. Then there is the whole thing of getting them to file their reports.

Here's another example, the Journal of Machine Learning Research, where the cost of publishing an article works out to about $10: https://blogs.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2012/03/06/an-efficient-j... (previous discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15280736)

It is literally just hosting in this case.

However, even if you were to pay the people behind the journal for their work it should be fairly inexpensive as long as they did as little as Elsevier does.

I'd be interested to know if there are any additional costs involved to have the journal listed in the major directories, getting/calculating an impact factor, promoting it to institutions and so forth. This example calls itself a journal but looks a lot like a website and not much more.

Yes, JCGT is fairly small but it does have a pedigree. After the fifth and last of the Graphics Gems books series, the Journal of Graphics Tools was founded in 1996 as a venue to continue publishing gem-like articles. It was a print journal owned and published by A K Peters. Back in 2012, most of the editorial board resigned and immediately refounded as the open access, online Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques. No, it's not as prestigious as, say, Proc. SIGGRAPH. But it is reputable and you can still trace its lineage a good ways back.

(Disclaimer -- I'm co-author on a paper published at JCGT and have been a collaborator with a few members of its editorial board. It's still a highlight of my career have published with Tom Duff of "Duff's Device" fame and had the paper get a nice twitter mention from John Carmack: https://twitter.com/ID_AA_Carmack/status/846525438797086720)

The same thing happened with “Topology”, now “Journal of Topology”. After some years it was bought by Wiley and is no longer free...

A journal is not an easy task to manage.

And Wiley / ProjectDEAL just yesterday reached a breakthrough: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/01/groundbreaking-deal-m...

Suprisingly little coverage, but things aren't looking great for Elsevier.

Not quite: see this list of all such journals and events: http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Journal_declarations_of_indep...

The editors of Topology resigned over the high price (apparently it was $1558 in 2004: https://pages.uoregon.edu/dps/journals.php), and started Journal of Topology which at the time of announcement (https://www.lms.ac.uk/sites/lms.ac.uk/files/About_Us/news/20...) was said would be published by LMS (in partnership with OUP), and priced at $570. Looking at the page now, it is still published by LMS (in partnership with Wiley now), and I can't figure out the pricing. It is fully possible that the price has increased, but there has been no change from free to non-free. Back in 2006, "free" was not one of the conventional options for a journal. Now it is.

As for "a journal is not an easy task to manage", my favourite article is about the Journal of Machine Learning Research, the leading journal in the field of machine learning: https://blogs.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2012/03/06/an-efficient-j...

Often, journals aren't founded by the current publishers but instead by people who do actual research in that field. Then, a publisher approaches them and offers them a lot of money. Who would decline such an offer?

You are right, this move might just be a strategic measure to get more money from the publisher.

That's not exactly the story with Journal of Topology. It's published by the LMS, which partnered with Wiley.

> Rooryck, who was editor of Lingua and now leads Glossa, said the most challenging aspect of starting a new open-access journal is securing funding to ensure it survives. He said Glossa is doing well and has more submissions now than Lingua did. Lingua has been described as a “zombie” journal by some scholars, but it continues to receive hundreds of submissions.

Is there a list of "zombie journals" somewhere? Would be interesting to see them all laid out.

Not really.

>Unfortunately, unless black and white lists are updated continuously, they can never keep up with changes in the publication industry. [...] So, the quick answer to the question ‘where shouldn’t I publish?’ is that [...] researchers need to engage in critical enquiry and reflection about a potential publisher. This should not come as a shock – the same advice would have been true long before the end of Beall’s List.


So, as an academic myself, I have been wondering. Why don't some tech-savy people (the kinds that roam around HN) create an open-source publishing platform and offer journals to use their services for free / cheaply? Something like a GitLab for publishing papers. I wouldn't be surprised if the German government would agree to fund such a thing these days. This would make such a jump for willing editorial boards much easier.

The European Commission (EC) has been funding zenodo.org[0] for some years now, which is an open-source publishing platform[1] built on an open-source digital library framework[2]. While its main focus is providing free hosting and serving as a publishing venue for scientific data and results in order to enable reproducibility of the research, it can also be used (by anyone!) to "publish" their research (or just about anything you'd want to publish).

While I guess it's not technically a journal as there's no editorial or review process for what gets published (and absolutely no prestige associated with publishing on it), everything is assigned a DOI number which you could use to uniquely identify it for citation purposes.

The story behind it, as off-handedly told to me by the then-project manager back in 2015 when I was working on it, is that it was created after the EC had mandated that some percentage of EC-funded research results be published in open-access and the instutions which received such funding complained that there existed no proper open-access alternatives for them to publish in.

[0]: http://about.zenodo.org/

[1]: https://github.com/zenodo

[2]: https://github.com/inveniosoftware

Adding to the list of great options here: I'm part of a team based out of MIT that has been building an open-source, hosted journal publishing platform called PubPub: https://pubpub.org

We're part of a group trying to address some of the larger ecosystem problems in knowledge creation and ownership discussed in this thread called the Knowledge Futures Group (https://kfg.mit.edu/). We've just setup a discourse forum for folks interested in working with us (https://discourse.knowledgefutures.org).

Oh, they have. See e.g. https://coko.foundation and https://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs.

The problem is not creating the software. The problem is getting academics, and the people funding them, to recognise alternative publishing outlets as valid, as long as the research they publish is valid.

(Disclosure: I'm working on something addressing that.)

Can you please share more about what it is that you are working on?

The link's in my profile, but in a nutshell: it's taking the stamps of approval peer reviewers currently give, and removing the journal as its intermediary. So when researchers read an article that is not published in the traditional outlets (e.g. on a preprint server like arXiv), and they find that that article is up to scientific standards, they can publicly endorse that article right there to inform other potential readers and funders of that.

It's still early days and we're still testing the concept, but I think there's potential. I've got a newsletter that I haven't sent a mail to for a while, but if you're interested I'll eventually send an update there when there's more to share: https://tinyletter.com/Flockademic

Recognition/prestige is what the journals offer. Hosting is incidental. Editing and reviewing too.

I mean, github does too. Some projects have 0 stars, some have 16k; some have 0 contribs, some have thousands; some have no forks, some have hundred. You know what I mean ? All these variables are a pretty good measure of recognition, I check them every time I add dependencies to my projects. And just like any other measure, it isn't perfect and is hackable in ways I haven't imagined yet.

Forks are similar to citations in a way. It's not the same, there are many differences, but there are some similarities in my opinion. By the way, wouldn't it be great to be able to contribute to papers, and their assets (figures, code, equations) ? I don't know how a system like that might work in practice, it must be non trivial to govern, like any other sizable community - but I can see how it could work.

Does science really need to pay for recognition and prestige today ? It used to be the these journals allowed more people to have access to quality research, now it restricts them. Non free journals are dead a parellel universe Nietzsche might write.

The number of stars on GitHub is significant because most people whose opinion you’d care about are on GitHub, they wouldn’t star project that they were not interested in and there aren’t widespread fake accounts.

I don’t believe that there is an equivalent in academia, one that would capture the h-index dynamic (copied by PageRank) that a star from a prestigious professor is worth a lot more. It’s trivial to build, but “growth hacking” for lack of a better word, is hard, especially in areas where actual growth hacking would be frowned upon.

That’s why, for instance, Facebook celebrates its billion of users so much: it’s genuinely hard to make that. Hosting them too, but not in the same way.

In case you're interested: I'm working with eLife and the Center for Open Science on creating something just like that. Having those two organisations as partners has really boosted the profile, leading to others jumping on board.

There's still ways to go, but I think we're on the right track. But you're right: it's really hard, and it took me a year to even get here.

You've made an argument for looking through the projects which people whose opinion you care about have starred, not an argument for why GitHub stars are significant. Simply looking at number of stars doesn't provide you with much meaningful information.

It's also worth considering when someone starred a project. In my experience, people don't usually won't go and update their old stars, so it shouldn't be taken as endorsement. You don't know what state the project was in at the time it was starred. It's common for project to evolve over time, and it's not always for the positive.

The significance of starring a project is also poorly defined. Many people use GitHub stars as a form of bookmarking. You generally don't know the reason why someone starred a project. For example, just because someone has starred a library doesn't mean that they'd use it in production.

> The number of stars on GitHub is significant because most people whose opinion you’d care about are on GitHub, they wouldn’t star project that they were not interested in and there aren’t widespread fake accounts.

I am on Github and have been active in FOSS for years and yet I rarely star any projects at all, Github stars to me seem like vanity (just like likes on Facebook) indicative of perhaps hype but not of value.

Fully agree. But whenever an editorial board (like the one here) is fed up, they might be more likely to make the jump. I believe we may be about to reach a critical mass behind open access, but publishers won't make this easy.

Agreed that it could be useful to have a "go to" project to rally around.

Arxiv.org is very successful for pre-prints, at least in some fields like computer science. Maybe a modern "journal" offering review and editing could be built on top of that? It would utilize open reviews instead of the traditional anonymous private reviews. Once a certain bar has been reached with reviews, the paper can be nominated for appearing in a journal, which editors can decide on.

The usual parlance for that is an "overlay journal", and there are quite a few of those now. Many of them use Scholastica [1].

[1] https://scholasticahq.com/

Yep. Discrete Analysis is perhaps one of the best known of those.



there are many open source solutions for running a journal. and even low cost publishers that run them.


for manuscript submission systems, github has a dozen of projects. Elseviers manuscript system is not sophisticated in any way.

but that is not enough to make a new journal successful

Your idea has merit however, if a well known name such as google offered something like a "free journal platofm"

do any such submission systems feature (basic) bloat detection? like go through all images, calculate bits per paper area, look at color histogram to detect if vector graphics, like plots or system diagrams or other drawings were submitted as raster images instead of vector graphics in order to prompt the submitter to ask if he still has the original vector graphics format, and then build lists of typical file formats which need converters to standard vector graphics formats etc?

i have no idea. You are asking for features that make sense for dead tree journals, but i dont think these should be relevant anymore.

I am very much against the "huge and stringest" requirements that journals have about formatting. It is a huge time waster for researchers and their students that offers next to zero benefit. About time we switch to HTML formatting & simple microdata for references.

You may be interested in what Birkbeck has been developing: https://github.com/BirkbeckCTP/janeway

Very interesting - thanks! For completeness' sake: GitHub-based publishing is possible too: http://www.theoj.org

Looked into it in the past. The work required would not be trivial so for funding would be required. Funding can be difficult - especially in Europe - to get for taking on a pure technical project (would have to add blockchain right now). It's more like you have to find an initial smaller business problem to tackle first and tackle the bigger problem indirectly.

Other people have addressed the catch about prestige which makes this difficult. There is often some amount of cost, even if editors 'donate their time for free' (which, of course, is usually the case even for the traditional journals - the copy-editors are paid, but the content editors often do it for free, because it's a prestige economy). But individuals have created true open journals, like Glossa (mentioned in the article) and Semantics & Pragmatics ( http://semprag.org/ ), which are in fact prestigious.

See http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Free_and_open-source_journal_... for a list of journal publishing software that exist. I think there are a few more; looking at prominent open-access journals might give some idea. See also http://sparc.arl.org/resources/publishers/journal-management

Hurra, Elsevier are a band of crooks, they have way more profit margin than giants like google and apple, science does good by moving away from them.

Basically we want a similar system but at rates where profit is c. 0 (zero) and wages are around the median?

But doesn't that translate to other "industries"? Or, is it recognition that science has a fundamentally greater importance to humanity ... it's that true though, arts are pretty fundamental too, medicine certainly is, housing, food, water supply, sewerage, ... Why do we accept rent-seeking and profiteering and excessive wages and whatever in these other things?

Aside: Seems to me "science must seize [some of] the 'means of production'" is pretty communist.

We should improve society somewhat.

> Aside: Seems to me "science must seize [some of] the 'means of production'" is pretty communist.

When the research is funded by the state it seems reasonable.

So only industries that get government support - like rail, electricity supply in UK? Food production in USA? Farming across the EU?

Then there's the premise that "private property is theft", so perhaps all industries that use land ownership or natural resources owe their utility to the public too?

The board's letter is linked in the article.


There appear to have been multiple complaints:

1. Ownership of the journal is non-negotiable.

2. Article Publishing Charges (APC) are non-negotiable. APC is the charge paid by an author to get an article published under the journal's current Open Access policy.

3. Unwillingness to participate in an initiative to freely publish article citation data (I4OC): https://i4oc.org

Many journals have instituted author-pays Open Access policies. In my view, this model is just as unsustainable as reader-pays (or more accurately, library-pays).

The crux of this entire problem is that nobody knows how much it really costs to run a journal in the digital age. Or at least they're not telling. I'm not talking about costs excluding unpaid volunteers. I mean the full cost.

I suspect the board of JOI will find out for sure. It will be interesting to see: (a) whether it charges APCs; and (b) if it does, how they compare to those Elsevier charges.

> The crux of this entire problem is that nobody knows how much it really costs to run a journal in the digital age. Or at least they're not telling. I'm not talking about costs excluding unpaid volunteers. I mean the full cost.

I know you're asking about the full cost including the time of the people working for free, which you're right, is an impossible number to get. But I fail to fully see your point. The new journal that's going to be run by MIT Press isn't going to start paying editors and reviewers any differently than Elsevier (meaning not paying them).

To answer one of your questions, the article mentions they are indeed going to try to charge less for APCs ($600-800 instead of $1,800), and they're going to be fully OA, but those are the only major changes.

But to part of your question about the cost of publishing, PLOS publishes their financials [1], as does eLife [2]. eLife published 1,307 papers in 2017 and had total expenses of 5.3m GBP (~6.9m USD) for an average per-article expense of $5,244. PLOS published ~27,000 articles in 2016 [3] and had total expenses of $42.8m USD for an average per-article expense of ~$1,500. These of course aren't apples to apples comparisons, since what they're trying to do with this journal isn't the same as what PLOS does or what eLife does. But I think those are some good ballparks to understand what the range kind of looks like.

[1] https://www.plos.org/financial-overview

[2] https://elifesciences.org/inside-elife/50d52087/annual-repor...

[3] https://www.plos.org/files/PLOS-Annual-Update-2016-online.pd...

This is awesome.

I'm working on something that would VERY much benefit from open access journals:


With Polar you maintain all your research in one place and can annotate and share with other users.

One thing I want to add is the ability to sync up with open access sources to fetch PDFs, get metadata for them, find related PDFs and research, etc.

Going to go heads down into this today.

You probably know about it already, but you'll probably want to use Unpaywall: https://unpaywall.org/

It catalogues Open Access links given a DOI, provides an API, and also provides links to direct PDFs (or web pages containing the complete article, if available).

Interesting app idea, I installed, but couldn't figure out how to create an annotation.

Making academic journals more accessible is a problem that I’ve been working on the last few years with my project, Scholastica. We provide software that allows journals to manage their entire toolchain from peer-review to publication.



Two journals that use our software: https://www.surveypractice.org (OA journal published by American Association for Public Opinion Research)

https://discreteanalysisjournal.com (arxiv overlay journal started by Fields Medal winner Tim Gowers)

Heh, I mentioned you above :)


Thanks, I really appreciate it :D

There seems to be an even more effective solution to closed journals than just telling scientists that if they take money their paper needs to be in an open journal.

Also tell them that when they apply for funding only scientific research which is available in open journals will be considered.

You'd then get people not only submitting new research in open journals, but making all their backlog available as well to increase their odds of getting funding.

That would chip away even more at the moat of companies like Elsevier since presumably much of their funding is from universities who'll need access to historical research for a long time.

One problem this does is it shifts the costs of this to individual projects.

In my field, the average OA field is probably around $3000.

Assuming a five year project that produces 5 papers a year (not unreasonable), you get $75,000.

That's almost exactly what it costs, with salary, tuition, and fringe, to support two graduate students. So funders would have to accept getting less productivity from the same projects.

It also favors large labs with senior PIs that have the funding to absorb those costs.

Exactly, this is a major issue that non-academics always miss when talking about OA. The replacement to charging readers seems to have become a shift of costs to researchers, with an expectation they'll have lots of grants that are willing to pay huge publishing fees.

The only effective way I see to get around this is for granting agencies to start putting massive caps on what they are willing to pay for journal articles. If they mandate $200 max per article, no one is going to be able to afford a $5000 article anymore. Journals would be forced to adapt.

Your lab only has to pay grad students $7,500 a year? Seems like that might be the number that’s out of whack in the equation. To be fair, I live in the Bay Area, where $7,500 only gets you like 3-4 months rent.

^For a year. Which is still a significant loss, but yeah.

The OA is a scam. Publishing on Arxiv or putting the article on github, are much better free alternatives.

Yeah...see neither one of those is going to let me keep my job or secure more funding, so no.

Also, putting something on Github or Arxiv isn't publishing. Peer review or it didn't happen.

Yes, but this too is difficult. Funders outsource the decision of whom to fund to other academics, and despite quite a few of them already encouraging them to ignore things like the Journal Impact Factor and have signed DORA [1], old habits die hard.

[1] https://sfdora.org/

If you have the means to do so, can I suggest you sponsor one paper that you like to support for open access? It's $600m, which is a significant sum, but if you feel that your career has been helped in a significant way by research performed by others that freely available to you, and if you have the means to do so, this would be a good way to start giving back to the community. Now I just wonder if any of the journals allow such individual contributions.

JOI is a great journal. I hope they manage to keep QSS top tier.

I had a crooter approach me about a software position at Elsevier once. I told her no, and that you can't spell Elsevier without E-V-I-L.

As a shameless plug, we are hiring right now (we’re a small remote team) working on this exact problem - neliti.com/careers

Imagine if they had signed the ubiquitous non-competes we have in the tech-world outside California.

Elsevier has editors?

This is great.

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