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UC terminates subscriptions with Elsevier in push for open access (universityofcalifornia.edu)
1743 points by tingletech on Feb 28, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 233 comments

One of the reasons you are probably seeing this happen are budget cuts. Major university systems have seen their funding be cut by state governments. Elsevier charges an obscene amount of money to access information that is often publicly funded.

If money were no object, you'd probably see less university systems rejecting Elsevier. But money is becoming a bigger issue.

Ultimately, this is starting to put major university systems in line with individual users, and we should see an explosion of open-access information in the next decade.

Remember when Harvard University said it can't afford journal publishers' price: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/apr/24/harvard-univ...

Well... the other reason might be that the German Universities got together to negotiate with the big publishers. While agreements are in reach or have been reached with most of them, Elsevier continued to try to throw it's weight around leading to most German academic institutions letting the subscription to Elsevier journals lapse (or cancelled) at the end of 2017, with the remaining important ones following suite at the end of 2018.

Currently almost no academic institution in Germany is subscribed to Elsevier. Here is the full list of German Universities and Labs currently not subscribed to Elsevier:


Elsevier did not actually shut down access to its journals for German institutions.

Wiley on the other hand has just signed a contract with DEAL, and negotiations with Springer Nature are going well enough so interim contracts are in place until they are concluded.


Actually, the overall budgets of universities have increased substantially— they've more than made up for the lost state funding by raising tuition and other fundraising.

U.C. Berkeley, for instance, has increased its overall operating budget by from $1.6B in 2006 to $2.7B in 2018. That's a 68% increase over just the last 12 years! [1]

Universities are spending, and taking in, more than ever.

Even with all this cash, Elsevier's subscriptions are not cheap. The estimated cost for U.C. Berkeley is $1.15M per year. [2]

[1] https://controller.berkeley.edu/home/uc-berkeley-financial-r...

[2] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-cost-for-a-university-subs...

Just for reference, and this does not diminish the parent's point significantly, inflation accounts for approximately 24% of that increase. That's still a 36% real increase in operating budget assuming student size held constant.

> assuming student size held constant

It did not: https://pages.github.berkeley.edu/OPA/our-berkeley/enroll-hi... During this period, the undergraduate student population grew about 20%.

I was at Berkeley during most of this period. The undergraduate population swelled at the same time that the university was dealing with difficult budget cuts. The growth was significant enough that many students had, and still have, difficulty signing up for the courses they needed.

(I believe the cuts and the student population increase were related: admitting more students, especially out of state students, brought in more revenue. But there could have been other factors, like more students wanting a college degree after the financial crisis.)

To color this even further, at UC Berkeley I had intro courses with 1,200 students.

Perhaps, and budget cuts can justify more risk taking. No one wants to be accused of taking political stances that go against student interests, but budget cuts are budget cuts.

In my field, where being Free Software based is a selling argument, I like to joke that recessions are good for our field, and economic booms are good for our field (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgUA1tluVmE). I just adjust my pitch depending on the circumstances (save money or invest in a more powerful platform).

The other reason is of course Scihub. You pretty much can't do research without access to Elsevier's journal, so before Scihub, university libraries just didn't have a choice. Now they do.

Of course, none of them are ever going to say in a million years "Yeah our researchers don't mind so much now that they can get any paper illegally. Extortion over.", but it doesn't take much reading between the lines.

> Of course, none of them are ever going to say in a million years "Yeah our researchers don't mind so much now that they can get any paper illegally. Extortion over.

Not only do universities not openly admit to SciHub usage, but there are even university administrations that still warn their students and staff against using SciHub.

I recently read through a fairly prominent European university’s freshly-revised course for undergraduates on how basic use of the library and research methods (I saw this as part of my job, so naturally I won’t name the institution). Among the course content on how to find journal articles in JSTOR and Web of Science, how to properly cite your sources, etc. were admonitions not to use SciHub because it “is illegal”, and warnings that use of SciHub can lead to failing a course or having one’s student status revoked.

From that information, I would actively want to check SciHub out if I had never heard of it. Academia + notoriety sounds novel and useful.

Part of why SciHub has succeeded is just how easy it is. Copy/pasting an arbitrary DOI from any source will always beat most journals arcane login systems (especially on mobile) and their divine mission of obscuring "Download PDF" buttons.

SciHub is amazing. I'm not in academia or industry, and I was working on trying to find some eutectics of simple ionic halide mixtures with some software that was missing some of the activation energy coefficients for some of the ion interactions. Must have looked at at least 30+ papers, which if university-publishing house cartel have their way, would have cost me thousands of dollars just to look at. Between sci-hub and all the open source code from labs and individuals around the world, it's just breathtaking what can be explored now outside the confines of academia.

Curious what the application was?

Mostly exploring molten salt mixtures for thermal energy storage with a larger working temperature range and a reasonable melting point compared to what's used typically.

Do you work at a molten salt energy storage company? What's the industry landscape there like? Like still primarily R&D, or is it mostly about production now.

No I don't, just a renewable energy hobbyist since about a decade ago when I interned at P&G chemicals researching transesterifcation/industrial processes for biodiesel production. I mostly want to experiment my own micro CSP system, but never really had to tools to explore salt combinations theoretically in a way that was fun for me.

On the other hand I have seen a guide from a Swedish university library with a "the dark side" section recommending Scihub, #icanhazpdf and /r/scholar. The contract between Elsevier and pretty much all Swedish universities was canceled a year ago and they seem to be fine.

Oh please. Everybody I know personally and everybody I know of through these people use scihub. It's such an incredibly useful tool that it's now ubiquitous throughout academia. Of course universities aren't 'officially' advising its use, but informally, it's pretty much accepted.

Warning people not to use sci-hub, mentioning it by name as something that you shouldn't use, is a plausibly deniable way to spread the word about it.

Oh, I can assure you that this particular university is dead serious about SciHub use being undesirable. The course I mentioned dedicates significant space to respecting copyright, not only as something expected of researchers, but as a moral duty.

Also, inter-library loan is a source of income for the university library, that is, if the library does not have access to a particular journal in the databases it subscribes to, then it will obtain the journal article from elsewhere but at a hefty fee, so perhaps this is another reason they would prefer students avoid SciHub.

Enlightened morality often means being mindful of tradeoffs.

Not doing an exhaustive search of academic literature because it is prohibitively expensive or time-consuming is a clear negative -- doing so may result in lower-quality research.

I personally see many good reasons to distinguish general intellectual property theft from using SciHub for academic research.

Which university is this? If anything involving copyright is "moral," it's breaking it.

Who defines "moral"? I can't see that breaking any law is the moral thing to do as the law is the moral code that society agreed to give it self (at least in a democracy).

By your logic it might become moral to murder, because it benefits you and maybe many others more than the one murdered.

Following the law is always a moral obligation and personally deciding which rules should be followed and which shouldn't is a dangerous space. Especially from a biased and self-centered world view, which we all have as individuals.

Or, you know, it's the law corporations were able to push into existence through money. Law isn't necessarily a reflection of our moral code. It can be. Parts of it are (Grundgesetz or the Constitution, sure), but plenty of laws aren't decided by morality and aren't the arbiters of it either and even if they reflect the morality of some people, it isn't morally justified. Or people wouldn't have ever fought for black rights (Jim Crow laws say hello).

You are putting yourself in a logical trap here, associating copyright law with murder...

Which statement is true...

"By locking knowledge behind pathways you are both directly and indirectly causes the death of others by limiting information to people that could use it to save others"

"By not respecting copyright you are breaking the institutions that create scientific knowledge and making it riskier for said institutions to invest and create new things which can be used to save others"

The law is always at moral odds with itself. It must try to achieve both goals which is an impossibility.

> "Who defines "moral"?"

You do. And I do. You define it for you, and I define it for me. You and I are both going to define murder as immoral, and not commit murder. Should one of us define it otherwise, the other will in practice likely be powerless to prevent the outcome.

This is the way the world works. At the end of the day, there is no universal ruleset that all humans will follow like automata; we each get to make our own path. The best we can do is attempt to persuade others to change their moral framework and to gang up with people who agree with us to create systems that inhibit those who disagree with us.

There is no sense moaning about this state of affairs because this is the way it's always been and the way it always will be.

> "By your logic it might become moral to murder"

Something else to keep in mind, is that morality is likely rooted in some limited extent in biology. The basis for this assertion is that across time and cultures, one form or another of law against murder has always been popular in any human civilization you can find evidence for. Even when societies carved out formal exceptions to this rule, such as the legal witch burnings in recent European history, the human sacrifices in more ancient European history, or the human sacrifices seen in Aztec civilization (that had no plausible meaningful cultural exchange with Eurasia for many thousands of years), there still exist laws in some form against murder in general. My point with this likely controversial digression is that it's unlikely that anybody who constructs an argument for the morality of academic copyright infringement will accidentally construct a persuasive argument for casual murder. Even if you use formal logic to find a link between their perspective on copyright to casual murder, that formal argument will be irrationally rejected by nearly everybody, who has an innate predisposition towards rejecting a system of legal casual murder.

tl;dr: reductio ad fortuita occidendum is not a persuasive argument.

Perhaps we need some new entries for the Devil's Dictionary:

law 1. (archaic) An agreed rule that everyone must obey. 2. A document produced by the government that grants additional powers to the police to confiscate property and otherwise punish people and to protect the police in case some troublemaker complains to a court.

lawful Of or pertaining to an act of killing committed by the government, the police, or the armed forces.

Yeah it's very much a don't ask, don't tell sort of thing. Check out some of the location images for scihub users and they very much paint a different story.

Parallel construction it is, then.

Cite the official published source.

Citations should always be in some standard form, including author, year, paper title, journal. But for a web link, just put the DOI. A reader can either click it or paste it into scihub, as they prefer.

I wonder how this dichotomy of "use Wikipedia and SciHub, but you don't cite them directly" affects the ethics of graduates.

People cite Wikipedia all the time in peer-reviewed journal papers. Many e.g. high school teachers recommend that their students not cite (any) encyclopedias directly, because they want the students to learn how to read and cite primary sources.

Reading a secondary source for an overview then diving into primary sources is a perfectly fine and ethical way to do research. I can’t see how schools and teachers advising students to read secondary sources for context but then follow their references to primary sources to read for the details would cause any kind of ethical compromise.

There is no reason to cite SciHub (just like there is no reason to cite Academia.edu, ResearchGate, some professor’s personal webpage with a hosted preprint, Google Scholar, etc.) whether or not someone uses it.

I think you have a point and a lot of replies are missing it.

Tacit acceptance of Sci-Hub is tacit acceptance that some laws don't matter and everyone knows it. That's certainly an ethical stance with implications. It's not necessarily a bad stance (D&D would call it "chaotic good") and it is I think my own stance, but once you decide that laws are secondary to your personal and professional needs if you don't get caught, you're likely to use the same argument in other respects. Citing the original paper instead of the Sci-Hub URL only increases the extent to which you're pretending to follow the law.

Wikipedia has primary sources linked, yes, but it has its own biases. It tries not to, but it still has them to some extent, perhaps just in terms of what sections have been written and what haven't based on editors' interests. If you use Wikipedia to find primary sources, you're filtering your research through those biases. That has direct implications, and indirect implications for ethics in that you've decided this filtering is acceptable to you and also that it's acceptable (and perhaps required) not to acknowledge it. (And yes, of course there are other biases in terms of what university libraries stock, what previous academics have written about, what funding agencies are interested in, etc. I'd say that how much you pay attention to these potential biases and whether you see them as significant is also a question of ethics.)

Because some laws just don't matter. This is a good thing to realize for people. Laws aren't automatically right and moral just because they're laws. There are plenty of reasons why a law can exist, and morality usually isn't the reason.

> once you decide that laws are secondary to your personal and professional needs if you don't get caught, you're likely to use the same argument in other respect

I don't think it's that clear cut. If you drive above the speed limit, or smoke weed in a state where it's not allowed, or pirate some DVDs, you're not automatically going to progress to more serious crimes. People seem to be perfectly capable of "ahh let's ignore this stupid law" and not start sliding down some slippery slope.

How many grad students for generations have been smoking dope despite the laws against it? Using sci-hub despite the law is not a significant departure from the status quo of grad students ignoring dumb laws when it suits them. Sci-hub does not present a uniquely deleterious effect on the ethics of grad students.

Also, even if sci-hub were legal, you still wouldn't cite the sci-hub url. That's not how things are cited.

> but once you decide that laws are secondary to your personal and professional needs if you don't get caught, you're likely to use the same argument in other respects.

I think it's more nuanced than this. Something being illegal and immoral, are two different things (there's overlap, but not always). Some laws are completely wrong and breaking them is not immoral. IMO (you may disagree) academic articles "belonging" to the publishers and being copyrighted, is one of them. Hence, I'd rephrase what you wrote above as: "but once you decide that laws are secondary to your [...] needs [...], if they're terrible laws that should be changed, (but probably won't be, at least in the near future, due to inertia and lobbying), you're likely to use the same argument in other respects", which is much less problematic and in some ways a good thing.

Obviously, motivated reasoning is an issue, so you should be very careful not to fall into that trap and start breaking laws willy-nilly arguing that they're all bad laws.

> Citing the original paper instead of the Sci-Hub URL only increases the extent to which you're pretending to follow the law.

How is it at all relevant how I got a paper? Once upon a time, there were paper copies of journals in libraries. If you were citing a paper at that time, you wouldn't write "Journal of X, found on the 3rd shelf, in the 5th aisle of the Y library". In current times, you can (usually) legally get a paper by pestering the original author for a copy, by e-mail. If you do, you wouldn't cite the paper as "obtained from Original Researches, mailto:zzz"). (If you put a "link" in the citation, it should be the DOI (digital object identifier) as it's the universal(-ish), immutable (hopefully) identifier.)

Sci-Hub isn't a thing that you cite. It gives you a publication from a conference / journal. That's what you cite. Citing Sci-Hub would be like citing google.

Nobody needs to cite scihub. Download the papers you need off of it, cite them.

Citing Wikipedia directly is silly when Wikipedia often has its own citation of a primary source that you can use instead. Wikipedia is explicitly not a primary source by design.

SciHub is different because it replicates primary sources.

I'd argue that it's unethical to keep publicly funded science behind a paywall, so perhaps the ethical question you're implying is more nuanced than that of simple "piracy".

There is a lot of money going from universities to publishers, be them traditional or Gold OA. Researchers would rather use either Green OA (like arXiv) or Sci-Hub or articles available on other researchers pages.

Is therefore interesting that a big university makes this move, with the argument: "the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription"

a nods as good as a wink ;)

I wonder if UC gives any money to the Scihub admins. I found their current donation link: https://sci-hub.tw/donate

Actually, TFA quotes UC President Janet Napolitano basically saying that:

> "I fully support our faculty, staff and students in breaking down paywalls that hinder the sharing of groundbreaking research" ...

How long can that last?

Yeah, budgets are, in part, motivating the push for open access journals. But I don't think university-wide budgets are the most relevant ones to consider.

If you look more closely at university _library_ budgets, you'll usually see that journal/e-journal/database subscriptions have been eating up bigger and bigger chunks of the pie. The ever-increasing price of a subscription to ScienceDirect.com is directly taking away money from buying monographs (books), maintaining archives and special collections, and keeping university libraries open late at night for students to study.

> when Harvard University said it can't afford journal publishers' price

Harvard's endowment is, according to Wikipedia, $39.2 billion as of FY 2018. My first reflex was to say that "can't afford" must be a relative term...

A closer look at the article says: "A memo from Harvard Library ... warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year." So I could believe that the Harvard Library is given a certain budget by the main Harvard organization, and that this budget is insufficient to support that bill plus other unavoidable recurring expenses.

You're also missing the distinction between an endowment and a revenue stream. Harvard has almost $40B in assets but they are going to be making much smaller annual returns on that — probably 10% at best — and the reason why people donate those funds is to support academic work, not boost profit margins for large companies. Harvard's academics are providing an enormous amount of unpaid work for journals so it's dubious that they are jumping to cut a big check for that rather than, say, scholarships, equipment, etc.

I was aware of that distinction while writing my comment. Even if only $30B of Harvard's assets are financial investments, and even if they earn just 5% annually from that, then that's $1.5 billion per year, so $3.5 million is just 0.23% of their income. I'm not saying $3.5 million isn't absurdly high. I'm just objecting to the statement "Harvard University [itself] ... can't afford ...", which is journalistic hyperbole.

"Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription"

So it's a move against both traditional paywalled publishing and Gold OA.

The argument that some universities refuse to pay because they are "scholarly poor" [1] is only propaganda.

[1] https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/google-tran...

> Ultimately, this is starting to put major university systems in line with individual users

So the side effect of budget cuts is actually a good thing?

Maybe, but subscriptions costs have also been rising for years, while at the same time academia has also started paying, higher and higher, publishing fees.

Maybe, and just maybe, if money was not an issue, research would also be more open.


I like the idea, but why would I use this instead of Mendeley or EndNote, for example? Especially since Mendeley is free, and has a word plugin for writing and referencing.

Mendeley is owned by Elsevier so they’re likely to continue user-hostile things like locking down your data to prevent interoperability:


Which is one reason I switched to using Zotero years ago...

Yeah, it’s sad how a single company’s name can destroy so much goodwill. They’re not Oracle but they’re not far behind.

Polar is better for managing reading vs managing citations.

I'm still trying to figure out if Polar should implement citation management or focus on managing reading of existing material.

Is there any in-deep analysis about university finances? It seems that getting around $150.000 from each new student they should have more than enough to sustain and profit.

My understanding is they are demand inelastic so their costs naturally go up, and there's been an arms race in the past 20 years to build very nice new buildings, housing, etc to compete on look, prestige and features for students. Reputation of the school is one of the biggest differentiators, so now that they're being run as a business rather than the state costs have no incentive whatsoever to decrease. Now of course, even if the states wanted to be more equitable to their citizens by going back to a more state-funded model, the cost to maintain all of those new features is massively increased. Its like an asset bubble more or less.

They are not getting $150k per student. That's the nameplate price, which is not the actual price paid by most students. The students who do pay nameplate price see much of their tuition going to fund financial aid for less well-off students.

Net tuition and fees for students at private 4-year colleges is about $14,600 in 2018-2019. That results in a total of $58k/student in revenue, not $150k. https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tabl...

As public institutions, UC campuses see even less: https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tabl...

The arms race issue is real, though, and students are less price-sensitive than you might otherwise expect because so many of them are paying for all of it with debt, and the dollar figure looks so obscene everywhere that I suspect lots of students just choose not to think about it. One school's dining hall being fancier is immediately appreciable on a college tour. One school's ridiculous high number that you won't have to pay for years vs. a slightly different ridiculous number at a different one feels less concrete, even though that difference is what paid for the fancier dining hall. Given that, there are big incentives for schools to go ahead and invest in the fancy things and win the students.

It is quite real, this reddit thread shreds some light on the issue: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAnAmerican/comments/7qesj9/why_i...

I think it is real, but I don't think expenditures drive it all that much. What does drive it is the perceived value through pricing. If the going rate for public schools is $5k/yr, the private colleges put their nameplate rate at $25-30k/yr. Significantly more, but that higher price sends a quality signal, and the students they want don't actually pay it, so they aren't negatively impacted by the high cost.

When the state school price increases to $10k/yr or even $15k/yr, the private schools can move up their nameplate price to $40k/yr or $50k/yr and it doesn't seem ridiculous anymore, and still retains the signaling value.

There has been some increase in student services costs based on the expenditures numbers I posted (about 4%/yr real increase), but that's not enough to explain the 50-100% increases in nameplate tuition at both public and private schools. That is driven by de-investment in post-secondary education by state legislatures, which directly results in tuition increases by public schools to balance the books, and then the similar increases by private schools to maintain their relative cost.

There's plenty.

The college board has good data on the cost side: https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing

And the department of education has good data on the expenditures side:

Private: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_334.30.a...

Public: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_334.10.a...

For one they don't get remotely close to $150,000 from each student. The average public 4-year university gets $6,100 per student per school year. That's tuition and fees minus financial aid coming from the school. It covers about half of the cost of educating students, with the other half coming from state funding and federal financial aid.

The average is $9,970 [0], for private ones is 34,740

[0] https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/student-finance...

"Published tuition fees" is a very different figure from what the average student actually pays.

Universities in the UC system are definitely not getting $150k from each student. Tuition doesn't even cover the cost of educating each student.

You can see UCLA's financials here: https://ucla.app.box.com/v/acct-pdf-AFR-16-17

Tuition and fees netted $833MM in 2017. The cost of the undergraduate schools alone was well over a billion dollars.

Some of those "costs" are self-imposed such as administrative salaries increases, as investigated by the LATimes[0]

[0] https://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-uc-spending-20...

This is great news. The UC system has a ton of academic clout and this will push smaller universities to close their contracts and bump up the impact factor of open access journals.

Elsevier's also by far the shittiest publisher in their practices [1]. 40% profit margins on publicly-funded research that the public doesn't get to access is disgusting. I can't wait for them to go out of business.

[1] https://twitter.com/dgmacarthur/status/1028489457803161600?s...

> Elsevier's also by far the shittiest publisher in their practices

Yeah. Interesting: the longest part of the Wikipedia article used to be Criticism & Controversies, but it has been restructured quite a bit. Still lists many despicable acts.


Ceterum censeo Elsevier(um) esse delendum.

The whole article is criticisms and controversies, I love it.

I’m surprised the article doesn’t have a tag for point of view, although it’s hard to disagree with the claims. Still, it’s one of the most hostile articles I think I’ve read on Wikipedia.

And if you read the Talk page, you'll realise that several Elsevier employees have been updating the article. That it is still so hostile to Elsevier is then maybe an indication of how despicable the company really is.

I'm a member of the IEEE, which I believe also has a problem. They charge authors to publish, then charge IEEE members to access the journals. All this while the reviewers and editors are working for free. At a bare minimum, they should make the journals open to all members. One way to cut costs is to stop printing paper journals.

I'd love to hear what the UC system has to say about the IEEE.

+1 here.

For at least the past 5 years, I've been questioning the value of IEEE regular membership very hard. Marketing internally spams the Gmail inboxes paid for by dues; Spectrum is nothing more than a front for advertisements while members don't even have ad-free web access to its content; Xplore is a minimum $20/mo limited to an insulting 3 papers; standards are outrageously overpriced even with supposed "member discount". The only thing that has kept me around this long is an apparent misguided belief that the IEEE is the flagship organization catering to the interests of professional EEs, and I'm an EE, therefore I should retain membership. This will be my 10th year of membership...mostly on the campaign promises of Jose Moura[1] of CMU--who I voted for back in 2017 and is now President. I'm really hoping things do indeed change.

I also hold lifetime membership with the ACM. Cost ~$4,000 out of pocket, but that buys indefinite access to digital library content. Sure, I could have Sci-Hub'd their papers, but I also recognize that the organization needs to be funded somehow, and their asking price for perceived value was within my budget. IEEE doesn't even have such an option, nor does its Computer Society.

This criticism of SDOs[2] is definitely relevant to the meta of those professional organizations who merely claim to support the interests of its members.

[1] https://www.josemoura.com

[2] https://youtu.be/Sdm698P2AkA?t=88

You can choose to publish open access conference papers through IEEE but you have to pay around $2000 (I forget if it was USD or AUD). I'm not sure about the exact costs for an open access Journal paper though. That said, IEEE don't prevent you from listing your own paper on your own website (in it's accepted form, not published form) provided you link the correct DOI and include the reference.

The ACM is similar, and I think (hope) they will eventually have to just open up all published papers by default. The main difference between the IEEE and the ACM to Elsevier is that the IEEE and ACM are professional organizations. They have a non-profit mission, whereas Elsevier is a for-profit company. I have no problem reviewing papers and serving on program committees when the organizing entity is a non-profit service organization. I think the the ACM and IEEE have a future in a fully open-access world, but Elsevier does not.

I am not sure about IEEE's institutional prices, but their member prices for journals are quite reasonable. Most academic journals published by Elsevier are beyond the reach of individuals.

I just looked at a paper on Elsevier's site, and saw that it was $36, while a paper on IEEExplore was $33 (non-member price). I open to the idea that the IEEE is less expensive than Elsevier, yet not convinced that there is a big difference.

To be clear, the IEEE does have good journals, and is the best place to publish for many. There are countless volunteer reviewers and editors and officers who do great work. My impression is that the paid IEEE bureaucracy (in New Jersey?) are designed for a pre-Internet age. While cutting-edge cryptographic techniques is published in the journals, the IEEE email alias has terrible security. I guess this is a common story, and I'm expecting too much...

> $36 vs $33

Maybe it's only me but both those prices are extremely steep. $1 would be more viable, IMO.

Most of the world's population can not afford access to this information.

All while they charge authors, charge readers, soliciting volunteers to do the work for free, and publish academic research paid for by taxpayers.

It's shameful.

Even more so because you won't read only one paper on a topic. Doing even superficial research gets expensive quickly at those prices.

I don't think many pay the single paper price at IEEE, which I agree is outrageous. I pay a annual membership of around $300 for unlimited access to all the important papers within my field of interest. They recently introduced a reduced rate membership for developing countries as well.

I was a grad student, so I might have a skewed view of these things since I have access to these subscriptions via the university library, but does anyone actually pay (especially that much money) for access to a single article like that? It seems really crazy to me since to do a decent amount of research into something, you would have to go through dozens of articles that are behind paywalls.

IEEE and ACM have the same problem, they paywall the papers that they publish. As they are theoretically nonprofits run by the community, it is even harder to get people to care, but it is still very problematic.

Absolutely, IEEE is also on the same boat, charging 20-40USD for a PDF to general public. Insane.

It was great to access journals while at university, but there is so much knowledge out there behind paywalls that is literally holding humanity back!

If you're interested other Elsevier shenanigans they now encrypt your PDFs that you add to Mendeley so you don't even have access to your OWN research.


I've recently migrated from Mendeley to Zotero. I first had to downgrade Mendeley because recent releases also encrypt your local database to guarantee lock-in [1]. Quite scary.

[1] https://www.zotero.org/support/kb/mendeley_import

I've used Zotero regularly since 2012 or so. At the time I chose it because it integrated with Firefox, though I recall looking into Mendeley as well. If you use BibTeX or BibLaTeX I'd recommend the following extension: https://github.com/retorquere/zotero-better-bibtex

I'm very glad I never even tried Mendeley given the database encryption fiasco. Mendeley put a blog post out saying that preventing importing to Zotero was unintentional, but I don't buy it.


Before the database encryption fiasco, I would recommend Mendeley and Zotero if someone wanted a citation manager, but now I recommend staying away from Mendeley as much as possible.

The only major problems I've had with Zotero were related to Firefox's switch to WebExtensions. Now adding a copy of a webpage to a citation is more difficult than before the switch, though probably equally difficult as in Mendeley.

Zotero has been great. I switched four years ago and never looked back. Plugin support is great- I have drag and drop support in my latex editor and fairly easy citation selection in Lyx

I love zotero, and would never switch to Mendeley because of the lock-in problem, but the lack of any mobile apps is a real problem. Reading and annotating on an iPad is a key ability, and the 3rd part PaperShip is buggy and no longer under development.

I gave up on Mendeley. It’s clearly made by a team that doesn’t care about users, or science (eg the rubbish mobile app). Much better options these days which don’t require giving Elsevier any more money.

I think this will be an important link to give context to this development:


- No matter what happens moving forward, UC scholars will still be able to use ScienceDirect to access most articles published prior to January 1, 2019 because UC has permanent access rights to them. (Please see the Alternative Access to Articles page for a list of titles to which UC does not have permanent access rights and for information on how to access items UC does not subscribe to.)

- If access is disrupted at any point, the UC Libraries will still work with researchers to get them the articles they need through other means, such as interlibrary loan.

- Our quick guide to alternative access provides an overview of the options available to UC researchers.


- If the negotiations are successful, UC’s proposed model will make it easier and more affordable for UC faculty to publish their work as open access in Elsevier journals.

- No matter what happens, UC authors retain the right to publish in the journal of their choice.

- By providing article processing charge (APC) support through the UC Libraries as well as an opt-out option, UC is working hard to ensure that authors have maximum flexibility in determining where and how they want to publish.

Looks like the content at that URL has changed very recently and no longer includes all that text. Here's an IA version that does....


I am really happy for UC's choice! Sadly, this reminds me that recently Elsevier and CRUI (the association of Italian universities) sealed a 5-year-long deal [1], despite protests from the scientific community.

[1] https://www.crui.it/archivio-notizie/i-ricercatori-italiani-...


Elsevier is really, really bad. At this point, I think they are already seeing the end and investors are trying to squeeze every last bit out of the publishing system before it finally collapses.

Case in point: The extremely consumer (paying!) hostile actions they took after buying Mendeley.

> before it finally collapses.

Nope, you are forgetting about China.

China is where it is happening for Western scientific publishing enterprises. To get published in a Chinese journal is one thing, to get your paper published for the global audience is true icing on the cake.

Elsevier and Springer can look at this little problem with UC and think 'meh!' - the travel to China and the conference scene there is much more fun anyway.

That's why it was extra surprising that large Chinese funders have publicly declared support for Plan S, the coalition of funders forbidding researchers they fund from publishing in journals that do not go fully open access: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07659-5

I don't understand why companies like Elsevier are needed. Why can't every university have their own Arxiv kind of website, upload their work? These websites are anyways indexed by Google.

The problem is that they used to be needed, in the pre-Internet era, so the entire academic community has evolved around the publishing ecosystem. Or rather, the incentive system has evolved that way. Journals like Science/Nature/Cell are essentially the gatekeepers to tenure-track jobs at top universities, at least in the biomedical sciences. If you're a typical postdoc trying to move to the next stage of your career, "just post it on Biorxiv" isn't very helpful advice.

I would love nothing more than to see the entire publishing system revamped and parasites like Elsevier and NPG disappear, but until you solve the basic problem of academic hiring and promotion, it's an uphill battle.

I don't know. All the real power is in the hand of the academics. For example, Don Knuth managed to persuade the editorial board of the Elsevier Journal of Algorithms to resign, and they started the ACM Transactions on Algorithms with a different, lower-priced, not-for-profit publisher instead, and (if I understand correctly) take along the prestige. The Journal of Algorithms folded a few years later.

Why oh why don't more editorial boards do this????

I agree. Right now the only way for universities or funders to know whether other researchers have thoroughly looked at and approved of the work of someone they're considering for tenure or a grant, is to look at whether their work has the stamp of approval of being published in a "reputable" journal. We need an alternative to that.

(Full disclosure: I'm working on such an alternative. It just launched, but if any of you come across research you think it's good, do consider publicly endorsing it using https://plaudit.pub/extension/. It's all open data, and non-profit.)

At UC we have eScholarship https://escholarship.org

eScholarship has a repository for UC, and also publishes open access journals.

(disclaimer: I'm the tech lead of the group that runs this site)


yes, a website could solve the issue today, but not 30 years ago.

Elsevier predates internet by more than a century (it is 139 years old)

this exists.

look up "Green OA" (https://openscience.com/green-oa-vs-gold-oa-which-one-to-cho...) or "Institutional Repositories".

the reasons these sites haven't taken over academic publishing are many and varied:

  - they are woefully underfunded (library services are low-status, gendered work, that never receive the funding they deserve).
  - publishing in established journals is singularly the most important thing in academic careers.
  - scholarly societies (IEEE is referenced elsewhere in this thread), publishers, and other entrenched interests have significant influence on policy.
  - etc...
in short, this isn't a technical problem. if it were, it would have been solved over a decade ago.

Why can't you upload a copy in Institutional Repository and publish it in a journal? Do journals set any rules?

> Why can't you upload a copy in Institutional Repository and publish it in a journal? Do journals set any rules?

Generally, when a researcher publishes a work in a journal, they either assign copyright to the journal or give the journal an exclusive publishing license.

Ordinarily, that prevents researchers from making their papers publicly available elsewhere, and "Green" and "Gold" open access policies are the exception.

Typesetting, proofreading, copy editing, indexing, graphics editing etc. come in mind.

Just look at random "not so well formed" Word file like for example:


Not commenting the bad typography of text, math, tables, etc., just try to estimate the effort for converting the references in well-formed and validated BibTeX entries.

Journals already impose formatting and submission rules on scientists. Asking them to send them a BibTeX file would be no major issue, given that all reference managers can import and export BibTeX.

I know that a lot of smart scientists struggle with computers and they cling on MS word because they have invested a lot of time and effort into learning how to use it. But I think, we should try to convince them that there are better, simpler and more reliable ways to author papers.

If you've ever had an article typeset/proofread/copyedited by Elsevier then you know how little they contribute in this area.

Out of curiosity I went to Elsevier and looked at random article from an economic journal (open access):


The 3B2 PDF looks much better than a Word file and especially the references are all clean, linked, and downloadable as a BibTeX file. There is also a HTML version of the work. I can see definitely a lot of added value to the scientific document there.

> I can see definitely a lot of added value to the scientific document there.

You fail to see that nonprofit publishers (IEEE, AIP, APS, AMS, etc.) also typeset and copyedit articles just like Elsevier, and that too at a much smaller price. The point is that you don't have to charge customers exorbitantly if the only thing they are gaining on publishing with Elsevier is neatly typeset articles. Further, Elsevier outsources the production of its papers to companies [1] in India. If it's production quality that one wants, those companies can probably do it at a fiftieth of the price Elsevier finally charges the customer.

[1]: http://rivervalleytechnologies.com/#clients

Universities have working paper series, generally.

However, Arvix and co. are a centralized platform, and there are lot of scale benefits (for everyone) in using such as platform - which is why everyone publishes there.

In that sense, decentralized working paper series are not a solution. However, the system can be "decentralized" in terms of control, and run much more efficient with greater consumer benefit.

Very happy to see my advisor's signature on the academic senate's support letter. We have been waiting for months to see the outcome of this. I can still get to stuff on sciencedirect but i assume that will be changing in the near future :)

Write your advisor a brief note of thanks, would ya?

Sticking one's neck out for a thing like that, even with a bunch of other necks, could be a harrowing thing to do. I appreciate their courage in sticking up for this.

According to the linked statement from the UC Office of Scholarly Communications [1], "No matter what happens moving forward, UC scholars will still be able to use ScienceDirect to access most articles published prior to January 1, 2019 because UC has permanent access rights to them."

[1] https://osc.universityofcalifornia.edu/open-access-at-uc/pub...

Edit: dannykwells beat me to it, and in more detail.

This only applies to publications post-2018.

The UC system, i.e., its students (tuition) and state taxpayers, is still paying Elsevier for all pre-2019 publications, including papers published by UC authors.

This was not evident to me after reading the article, but perhaps I did not read carefully. Can you kindly direct me towards some textual evidence, or a citation?

Thank you. It seems to me like they are saying they already paid for permanent access to most 2018 or older articles:

"What is not affected

You can still access the following content in the same way you always have:

Most Elsevier articles published in 2018 or earlier: Because the UC’s prior contracts included permanent access to previously published content, you will still be able to get immediate access to the full text of most articles via ScienceDirect, just as you have in the past."

You are correct. I apologise for the inadvertence. What I meant to say is that access would only be affected for post-2018 publications. The only comment at that time was one suggesting UC staff would be turning to alternative sources for access. Aside from post-2018 publications, generally they will not need to do that.

Many (most?) German universities did this last June, here's a recent article from Nature (which may not be un-biased) on how it's working out.


Also, usual reminder that Sci-Hub exists and has all the research papers available for free from any journal.

Sci-Hub is great, but it absolutely does not have everything published. I try to keep up with the archaeology journals and maybe 1/3rd of papers I look for are available.

IIRC they download the paper as you enter the doi if it is not already in their catalogue; so does moscow library just not have subscriptions to the journals you're looking for or what?

Not all articles have dois.

Oh that's interesting. I search for stuff over a wide variety of fields, and find like 95%+ of what I search for. Some of it is so obscure I'm amazed they have it.

Try libgen scientific articles, e.g. http://libgen.io/scimag/index.php?s=archaeology .. ALso you can search by journal number (or click on journal name) and all issues are shown in a table.


If you can't find it on Sci-Hub, chances are that a top-tier R1 does not have it either.

Thanks, interesting paper. What's an R1?

Research focused universities are R1. Professors are required to spend more time on research and less on instruction.

Yep, Sci-Hub is sorely lacking when it comes to humanities. I've had several DOIs just come up empty after it tries all its proxies.

This is not an option for big universities (or big companies) unless they want to get sued.

I've never heard of sci-hub being blocked by any academic institution.

Sci-hub is not accessible from my institution.

US research university?

See UC's Office of Scholarly Communication's guide to "Alternative Access to Elsevier Articles."

It looks like UC actually had a license which granted them perpetual licensing rights to most existing content? Or "post termination access rights" in the language of the post.


This is huge. University of California, hosting Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego among others, is indisputably one of the most prestigious university systems in the world and is widely regarded as the most prestigious public school. Them terminating their subscription of a major scientific journal sounds unreal. Let's see if this will start any change, but I'm very hopeful.

Elsevier provides little value to scholars, editors, or universities

However, it seems to be correcting the problem by heading resolutely toward oblivion.

If they are, that's happening very slowly. Despite several prolific cancellations in the past year, they again posted nearly 40% profit margins.

This is huge. Not only does it pressure publishers like Elsevier, it also legitimizes Sci-Hub in a way: if UC, one of the biggest and most reputable Universities in the world including Berkeley and UCLA, says thry won't pay for Elsevier, researchers will just use Sci-Hub to access paywalled articles. And it is much less likely now that Sci-Hub will be a problem for anyone, because the world's best researchers are all going to be using it.

While they're not gonna say it in the press release, you gotta figure the decision-makers know that many professors and students are using sci-hub _already_, and find it _easier to use_ than the official licensed channels, and that this was part of what gave them the ability to cancel the Elsevier license.

> And it is much less likely now that Sci-Hub will be a problem for anyone, because the world's best researchers are all going to be using it

I wouldn't count on that, could lead to the reverse, Elsevier coming to terms with the threat and getting serious. If the worlds best (and wealthiest biggest-spending) research institutions are willing to go this route, Elsevier is gonna be thinking, uh oh we're in trouble, better bring out the big guns.

The tricky thing is that it's often _authors themselves_ who willingly share their stuff on "pirate" sites, and Elsevier wants to avoid at all costs the academic authors realizing they have different interests and goals than Elsevier.

Elsevier is in a tough spot in the long-term, despite their crazy profit-margins today -- and we all want it to keep getting tougher and tougher. But if they think they're going down, they're going to start lashing out...

What bigger guns do publishers have to use against sci-hub that they haven't used yet? They have already used lawsuits against sci-hub and getting their domain names blocked in jurisdictions where that sort of thing can happen. Pressuring for IP-address blocks across different ISPs?

Finally, sci-hub is accessible via .onion through Tor. Maybe that's not a viable access method for the general public, but the sort of people who read a lot of research articles can jump through the hoop of setting up Tor Browser if that's what they need to keep using sci-hub.

> Finally, sci-hub is accessible via .onion through Tor. Maybe that's not a viable access method for the general public, but the sort of people who read a lot of research articles can jump through the hoop of setting up Tor Browser if that's what they need to keep using sci-hub

Have you done or read much UX analysis with academics? They do _not_ tend to be adepts at things like tor browser. Not even in "hard-science" disciplines. Some are, some aren't.

They don't want to jump through any hoops at all, they see getting/finding articles as a necessary evil, mostly to get citations to put in papers. They are busy, and have no time for any extra hoops, and aren't really interested in learning new tools for accessing articles. In fact that's WHY they are using sci-hub, simply because it's the quickest lowest barrier way to get the stuff, without having to learn any special tools.

I'm not sure either what bigger guns Elsevier has, but they'll try to figure it out. They have not yet tried to go against _authors_ for sharing the articles they wrote, but Elsevier has copyright or exclusive license to distribute. Or against individual academics for consuming pirated articles. (You know the emails/letters you get if you're torrenting a movie from piratebay without a VPN or what have you? Nobody has ever sent one to an academic for sharing or downloading an article... yet).

They have not yet tried to go against _authors_ for sharing the articles they wrote, but Elsevier has copyright or exclusive license to distribute.

I can see that applying to sites like researchgate, but AFAICT there's no way for an individual (author or not) to upload a missing paper to sci-hub. If the paper isn't there already, looking for it triggers an automatic retrieval-and-storage process that relies on contributed institutional logins. You can't just choose as an individual to upload a currently-missing paper. The watermarking on various papers could tie them back to institutions -- and in some cases to individuals, with the institution's cooperation -- but even the watermarking would be easy enough to strip out from the PDF if sci-hub needed to. I've done it before.

Elsevier won't know whether individuals downloaded anything from sci-hub without network operator cooperation. Since it's not P2P there's no public traffic that third parties can use to tie individuals to the site.

> contributed institutional logins

That is surely a violation of several different usage agreements.

> Elsevier won't know whether individuals downloaded anything from sci-hub without network operator cooperation.

Per perhaps _institutional_ cooperation, from the institutions that those logins belong to. Elsevier could try to compel that as part of those institutions contracts.

That is surely a violation of several different usage agreements.

Certainly. Institutions don't hate this as much as publishers, but it endangers institutions' access to publisher content and there are some who will work with publishers to find violators.

That said, it may still be pretty hard to track if sci-hub's backend retrieval process that uses institutional accounts was written with care.

I think that sci-hub may already be removing watermarks from papers now. I know that I've seen watermarked papers there before ("Downloaded from XYZ University at yyyy-MM-dd hh:mm:ss"). I just tried retrieving several recent papers in Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley journals from sci-hub. None of them showed watermarks.

> Elsevier has copyright or exclusive license to distribute

If I understand correctly, Elsevier only has (shared) copyright and the exclusive license on the published version of the paper, not on the pre-review version.

Sci-Hub has a better interface than my library.

my understanding is that a big impetus was being sick of both paying for UC researchers to publish in Elsevier journals and then also paying to access those same articles

But, Sci-hub (which I use every day and am in full support of!) is a band-aid solution to the open-access problem.

I wonder if the entire UC system going offline from Elsevier access is enough to stop other researchers from submitting to their journals. Probably not initially, but I know that many of my colleagues avoid submitting to journals that they know their peers don't read.

Note this announcement doesn't say anything about submitting to journals, doesn't say that even UC researchers will no longer submit to Elsevier journals (or no longer be on Elsevier journal editorial boards).

They can and presumably will keep submitting to Elsevier journals. UC just won't pay for licenses to access those journals.

If UC tried to tell faculty which journals they were or were not allowed to submit to, that would be a LOT more controversial to them. I mean, this _could_ have been controversial too, but that would be even more so. If this actual decision wasn't controversial among faculty, my guess is it's because they're all using sci-hub anyway.

> Note this announcement doesn't say anything about submitting to journals, or even UC researchers no longer doing that.

The policy which resulted in it—UC’s push for open access for public-funded research, and Elsevier’s unwillingness to allow open access on terms UC was willing to accept—implies that, should the breach not be healed, there will eventually be a problem for at least some subset of UC researchers publishing in Elsevier journals.

> implies that, should the breach not be healed, there will eventually be a problem for at least some subset of UC researchers publishing in Elsevier journals.

What sort of a problem, what do you mean?

If UC’s policy goal is open access for public-funded research, eventually (whether they have a deal with publishers providing blanket terms for this or not), they are presumably going to adopt (or be part of convincing some public funding authorities to adopt) a policy with either concrete disincentives or an outright prohibition on research with certain funding sources being published in a way which doesn't provide open access.

Maybe, but at the moment that would cause a faculty uproar.

Someone else pointed out that a UC Office of Scholarly Communication page from while negotiations were ongoing reassured faculty that:

> No matter what happens, UC authors retain the right to publish in the journal of their choice.

> By providing article processing charge (APC) support through the UC Libraries as well as an opt-out option, UC is working hard to ensure that authors have maximum flexibility in determining where and how they want to publish.


If they try to start telling faculty where they can or can't publish, faculty are gonna be really mad. I think UC is trying to figure out how to advance their financial and business agenda here _without_ making faculty mad, which is why they were reassuring faculty that these negotiations would not impact their right to publish in the journals of their choice.

Well, there's UCLA -- at least as of December last year https://www.chronicle.com/article/In-Talks-With-Elsevier-UCL...

True, they _asked_ professors to _consider_ publishing elsewhere.

In general, professors trying to get tenure will publish wherever they can the quickest to give them the most prestige, it's a minority (or well-established professors with tenure) who are going to take any moral or political considerations into account. "publish or perish" is for real, these folks are scrambling for it.

It is not an oversight that the particular announcement in the OP doesn't even _mention_ publishing.

But sure, UCLA even asking professors to consider that is a good step, and probably scares Elsevier. I'm in favor of it. I just wouldn't count on it quickly having an immediate effect on it's own. It could be part of a slow trend though.

Now, if UC takes the money they're saving from not paying Elseiver, and spends it on organizing and setting up and supporting some open access journals, figuring out how to get the right people involved to get the new journals prestige, that could help the trend...

UC does put money toward OA.

UC already have an OA journal publishing platform: escholarship.org

UC Press have an open access books program, Luminos: https://www.ucpress.edu/openaccess

UC Davis & LA participate in the TOME open access books project: https://www.arl.org/focus-areas/scholarly-communication/towa...

finally there's the UC open access policies for published research articles from 2013/2015 to be made open access on escholarship.org: http://uc-oa.info

For sure! Now what if they take say half of the money they're not gonna be paying to Elsevier and do even more of that and more, that'd be exciting!

It's mostly a problem in more specialized fields where there are only really one or two journals servicing it. If Elsevier owns the only journal(s) in your field then you're gonna be in a tough spot. Organizing and launching a new journal is challenging, which is one of the reasons Elsevier has been so hard to overthrow despite almost everyone being unhappy with them.

What is also needed is for more journals to be founded or defect. Elsevier's big subscribers can exert some leverage, but Elsevier's strategy has been to lock down their control of publishing in entire fields, meaning that you may not have much alternative.

Or they can use the interlibrary lending service: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/using-the-libraries/interlibrary...

Is it any good?

Even if it is, it's nowhere near as good as scihub.

It's "good" in the sense that if you fill out a form (probably manually entering things in boxes in a web form), you'll probably have a PDF in your email within 2 or 3 business days, so long as nearly any library anywhere has a copy (licensed electronic or on paper).

For a hard-to-find article not really available anywhere else, that's pretty neat.

For something you could just get on sci-hub? Nah.

I end up with some ILL scans in the same day as the request.

In the early 2010's, I was able to find stuff through ILL that I couldn't find anywhere on the internet. Not sure how extensive SciHub is nowadays.

True, but nobody wants to wait a few days for an article in 2018.

nor in 2019!

Do we have backups of Sci-Hub?

Given enough storage space you can even make one yourself, the papers are distributed via a set of torrents.


Hey, they may also use UnPaywall

https://openaccessmanifesto.wordpress.com/guerilla-open-acce... Aaron's manifesto is getting more and more relevant. He would be happy to see this!

Serious question: Why do any institutions pay any publisher at all? If everyone just published for free, nobody would need a subscription. What's the point of the publisher?

But if not everybody publishes for free, you can only get access to those articles by paying the publishers.

The follow-up question is: why do people keep publishing there? The answer to that is that funders and institutions use journal brand names as proxies for evaluating candidates for grants or tenure, so publishing your work in traditional pay-walled journals is good for your career despite making your work less accessible.

The follow-up question to that is: why do funders and institutions use journal brand names as proxies? The answer to that may lie in [1], summarised by: there's not really a good alternative. (Full disclosure: I'm working on setting up such an alternative.)

[1] https://theconversation.com/why-i-disagree-with-nobel-laurea...

Hold on, that's not my follow-up question.

You've just said that some orgs publish in Elsevier because grants and tenure.

Nobody needs to use them. And yet people do use them, fully aware what it will do to the research, because it helps them personally.

My follow-up question is, why are people not mad at the funders and research labs who insist on publishing there? They're burying the research intentionally just to get a better job.

> You've just said that some orgs publish in Elsevier because grants and tenure.

Ah, sorry, I was unclear there. It's not organisations that publish somewhere, but researchers.

And some people are mad at researchers for continuing to publish there, but I find it hard to fault them, because they would probably no longer be researchers if they didn't.

People are also mad at funders for that, but it's hard for any individual funder to change that. For example, a coalition of primarily European funders is currently trying to change the incentives, and they get a lot of setbacks from European researchers who feel that when they get banned from publishing in paywalled journals, they will miss out on foreign career opportunities - which have become an almost required part of any academic career.

(Note that it's not "just to get a better job". It's to have a job in academia at all. The field is very competitive. There's probably people who've taken a stand, but they're likely to have left academia.)

There are limits to how much you can give researchers a pass though. There are plenty of senior researchers who have perfectly secure careers but want a bigger grant, more postdocs, a more prestigious position, etc etc, and of course they hold disproportionate clout with the funding agencies.

I'm sure they feel a genuine obligation to promote their graduate students and ensure that their postdocs get good careers. But as altruistic as they might want to feel, it's still ego, greed, or at best nepotism when they fight regulation which is for the good of the field.

Sure, everyone is responsible to some degree. By far the most important factor, though, is the incentive structure for academics, and I feel that focussing on researchers misses the point at best, and is counterproductive at worst.

I often wish large experiments would take a stronger stance on the supply end. At CERN we've worked out deals with publishers mandating that _our_ content be open access, even if the journal isn't.

Personally I feel like this is buying into the system. As it stands I have to make political arguments about the value of open access research. I would rather tell my colleagues we can't publish in journal-X because it won't be accessible to as many people.

Finally! I've been hearing librarians gripe about the prohibitive cost of academic subscriptions for over a decade. It's no surprised that the first administrative body to take a $tand is from a state school system. It's surprising that their budgets didn't bring them there sooner, though. Lets hope that UC faculty will stop publishing with Elesevier in the future, so the journals rankings begin to drop.

It reminds me that no lawful citizen should donate to SciHub. They even have a special link at the bottom of the main page for it!

In addition to Sci-Hub, another good and legal alternative tool for academics is Unpaywall.


Although nothing beats the speed of a Sci-Hub bookmarlet.


Worthwhile to mention Sci-hub's telegram bot [1]. Forward any link as a message to the bot and it's instantly send you a paper.

Also worthwhile to mention Zotero's sci-hub integration. There's a guide on how to get it running here: https://medium.com/@gagarine/use-sci-hub-with-zotero-as-a-fa...

[1] https://twitter.com/sci_hub/status/731467465973174273

this userscript will automatically detect and link DOIs to scihub: https://greasyfork.org/en/scripts/36188-sci-hub-automatic-li...

Unreasonable choice by Elsevier. I never understood why the authors of a University/Institute have to pay for open access on top of the huge subscription bill.

Obligatory reminder: Mendeley stores your watermarked pirated papers on Elsevier servers. Tread carefully.

You can try using Zotero instead. Mendeley is just not that good, and Zotero is open source and excellent.

This thread has convinced me to try to switch, but one thing that I love in Mendeley is the ability to watch a folder, and have any pdf in that folder automatically imported into my account, which then gets synced across devices. That, and the document detail lookup based on a manually input doi, which fixes author names etc. are the two sticking points. When I add a doi to a pdf in Zotero, there doesn't seem to be a way to look it up and import the relevant information to the file information in Zotero. Does anyone have any way around them?


Seems like you can import by doi. Zotero allows auto import from df, but suggest that pdf metadata tends to be less accurate than importing from the web directly using the Firefox web extension

Yeah, that doesn't help the huge collection of papers I already have. And I often find that the web extensions previously broke, haven't tried it recently. Just being able to download the pdf and have it auto watch a folder/import it to me is an almost completely necessary feature.

Using tax money to fund research and then not making the results open access is theft. Citizens should get what they pay for.

And it's starting, can't wait until Elsevier is bankrupt. Parasites.

But how else can they pay for their beautiful open floor plan offices? Standing bicycle desks! Developers, QA professionals, even DBAs! Informal discussions! Beer-o-clock and hack days!

From the promotional video anyway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSPUc70z_Cc

Edit: it could be worse. For kicks, I looked up Goldman's recruiting video, and it was a careerist ego show. At least Elsevier allows commenting and voting on their recruiting videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzNowvBmR3g

> I looked up Goldman's recruiting video, and it was a careerist ego show.

These sterile inclusive environments of growth-opportunity-passion smilling heads created by corporate America are beyond creepy.

They have a >40% profit margin, so it would take a lot to bankrupt those bastards.

Does anybody who actually works at Elsevier ever read these HN threads?

I can't find it now, but yes, someone from either Elsevier or Springer actually did spend some time on HN a while ago -- within the last year IIRC -- defending their business model and practices.

It was a valiant effort, let's put it that way.

Even if they don't read HN, I'm sure Elsevier execs know about the general discontent against costly journals. There have been numerous campaigns [1] to boycott journals published by Elsevier.

[1]: http://thecostofknowledge.com

I interviewed with them in Oxford UK. The tech people there don't have a clue about the stress they cause the academic community. Only reason I knew is because my wife is an ex-academic. It is interesting however how there is never any astroturfing from their side, which would suggest even they know their position is utter toss and a drain on society.

I spoke with a couple of devs from there who did read HN - though I'm not sure if they also read these threads. They weren't too enthusiastic about them anyway. There's also MrGunn, one of the founders of Mendeley, who occasionally drops in, and though he mostly comments just to correct errors and misconceptions about Elsevier (dreadful as their holding back of science is, people can sometimes take some liberty with reality), he's pretty reasonable.

And I've been approached by one of their recruiters once, despite publicly working on dampening their influence for quite a while now - not sure if that counts :P

We've occasionally had people defending them who I suspect worked for them.

I do! But I’m just a dev there.

I assume they won’t expect their professors to publish in pay journals? That open access papers are rated as highly as paid when determining promotions?

Great news. Now there are enough dissenters that Elsevier will be forced to come to the table upon more favorable terms.

Here's hoping this is the asteroid to Elsevier's (and their business model's) dinosaur.

Proud UC employee here. Bravo.

i wonder if the $5000 that the UC faculty will be paying for every articles they 'll publish in elsevier is going to make up for their lost profits.

UCLA at least have been encouraging researchers to not review or publish in Elsevier


aaron swartz would be happy !!

Bravo, UC well done.

this is awesome, way to go UC

"“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” said Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.” The Academic Senate issued a statement today endorsing UC’s position."

An excellent decision by UC! This decision will likely cause some pain in the short-term but in the long-term those who want or need access to knowledge will be much better off.

Access to knowledge via expensive journals has long been a problem for many primarily for reasons of expense and copyright. Whilst these barriers are obvious, some are less so. In the past access to knowledge via these journals worked to a degree as academic and professional institutions and university libraries usually provided access to them but only for those associated with said organizations—that effectively left many others locked out. Whilst not completely satisfactory, the distribution system worked, albeit very inefficiently. That meant that for some knowledge was readily accessible but for others it only slowly trickled out, effectively society as a whole had access but it was both sporadic and punctuated.

However, in recent years several factors changed to make that already-inefficient distribution system untenable. First, there has been an explosion of new knowledge that has pushed the old distribution to straining point, then the development of the internet changed the paradigm completely: it both pushed the problems of copyright to the fore and showed up how slow and inefficient the old system was, and finally the middlemen opportunists had a field day—publishers like Elsevier effectively became knowledge monopolies and exploited the system to the point of breaking.

There is no doubt the knowledge distribution system has become completely broken, one only has to look at the phenomenal success of Alexandra Elbakyan's pirate website Sci-Hub to come to that conclusion. In turn, staid universities and academics, etc.—those who publishers like Elsevier had already held to ransom for some considerable time—realized that Sci-Hub's success provided the opportunity to break free of the publishers' yokes.

When it comes to the distribution of knowledge, it is difficult for one to over exaggerate how truly limiting and restrictive the publishers' copyright system is. Whilst copyright has always been a limiting factor in this area, it is especially so in this digital information age. Why it is so is a huge subject that I cannot address in detail here, suffice to say it covers a vast expanse: from monopolies on information, the high cost of textbooks to restrictions on the electronic concatenation of information and research databases through to AI processing of existing knowledge. In this area the misuse of copyright is immense.

There is no doubt in my mind that the distribution system needs to be opened up and that open access is the route foreword. We have to applaud the University of California's decision to terminate subscriptions with Elsevier in its push for open access to publicly funded research. The aim for all published research ought to be for it to be fully open to everyone.

Hooray. This is a long-overdue step.

They all know that anybody can just go on Sci-Hub and get most research.

My local city library offers several "legal" free access sites to published journals - - if you have 20 minutes to wade through all the ridiculous BS on the computer trying to discover if the article is even available.

Sci Hub takes me 25 seconds and 85 to 90% of what I need is right there.

(Be certain to donate !)

If I go through my library site, I have a good 70% chance of this happening: https://twitter.com/DannyBate4/status/1092132558937169922


Good on ya, UC. Stick it to those dirty greedy double-dealing Dutch bstrds.

Good on ya, UC. Hit those greedy, double-dealing, Dutch Elsevier bstrds where it hurts.

Next target: Nature Pigs Group, the consortium of Anglo swne who have infested every area of research with their sitty journals.

Of course, some of the blame goes to idjit academics who jump at the chance to publish in any NPG journal, even if it is named "Nature Enemas and Fecal Matter"

If you won't comment civilly and substantively we'll ban the account.


> The prices of scientific journals now are so high that not a single university in the U.S. — not the University of California, not Harvard, no institution — can afford to subscribe to them all,” said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian and economics professor at UC Berkeley

What is the definition of 'afford'? Obviously Harvard (as only one example) with a huge billion dollar endowment can easily pay for the journals that are relevant. They just choose not to and think they don't receive value for what they pay. But they do spend money on many other things that some people would find to be wasteful and plenty of people and companies make money off those institutions. I am sure their employees are very well paid.

I don't know why people have this tendency to freak out when a for profit company like Elsvier tries to make money. It's not like the 'non profit' colleges are some charity case they pay out plenty of money to various entities and people (for example I am sure they have enormous legal expenses as only one example) when they choose to do so.

The problem is that they're making money off content they didn't produce, that taxpayers paid for in many cases, and they're actually preventing wide dissemination of research results. It's not like they're particularly good at their job either - I have yet to meet a scientist who actually enjoys interacting with journal publishers. They simply don't have a choice if they want to stay in an academic position.

That is called capitalism. By the way there are plenty of people that are making money off of what the government funded which of course was the arpanet and the internet.

> I don't know why people have this tendency to freak out when a for profit company like Elsvier tries to make money.

That's not the problem. Elsevier and its kind haven't just "made money", they've consistently (i.e. for over two decades) made around 40% profits year-over-year. Those margins are on the high end for luxury brands like Apple. However, when we're publicly funding science, we're not funding it as a luxury product - quite the opposite, in fact: we want the results to be a commodity.

It's just that Elsevier and its kind have been put in a position where they've been able to obtain something resembling a monopoly, and that just so happens to be in an area where that allows them to lay their hands on a disproportionately large share of money that's earmarked for eye-catching things like cancer research.

Sure, it might not be that justified to be angry at Elsevier for doing what's the only logical thing to do, in their position, but it is incredibly frustrating to see a system work so badly for something so important, and that frustrations naturally gets projected onto the benefactor of that injustice.

> made around 40% profits year-over-year. Those margins are on the high end for luxury brands like Apple. However, when we're publicly funding science, we're not funding it as a luxury product - quite the opposite, in fact: we want the results to be a commodity.

The number 40% is not relevant. My guess is that if the number was 25% there would be the same issue and outrage. The thing is everybody wants to decide what is fair for someone else and especially when it impacts the directly in some way.

> It's just that Elsevier and its kind have been put in a position where they've been able to obtain something resembling a monopoly

You're partly right - there'd still be outrage. When it comes to profits, however, the excessive profits are a major source of frustration.

But of course, the other part is that we're publicly funding research, yes that those funds do not cover that final, comparatively small part of publishing the research for all to read. If we could all immediately view the results of the research we fund, and Elsevier and its ilk would not be scooping off 40% of the publishing costs, I'm quite sure they wouldn't be the target of so much ire.

> the excessive profits are a major source of frustration

Excessive profits and 'the win' is what drives a great deal of how business operates. You have to take the good and (what you think) is 'the bad'. What makes an athlete or an entertainer able to demand top dollar? (Look at sports salaries adjusted for inflation 50 years ago..)

> would not be scooping off 40% of the publishing costs

Once again I have a hard time feeling bad for the example that is given (and the point of my comment) in particular the super wealthy Harvard University and other well off academic institutions that quite frankly piss away money on all sorts of non-sense.

Look there are to many examples to mention of how government money helps private industry in some way. Take defense spending or even money that goes to a company like Boeing. They build facilities and buy things and people using government money and then make money in other ways as a result of that investment 'which we all have paid for'.

> What makes an athlete or an entertainer able to demand top dollar?

That they're one of the only few who are able to do what they do.

Now ask yourself: what makes Elsevier able to demand top dollar? It's not that they have access to the best peer reviewers, do the best type setting or archival work, etc.

No, the only reason is that they own the brands that are pivotal in academics' careers. That's not added value, that's rent-seeking.

In a properly functioning market, a new publisher could enter the market, provide equivalent or better services, and undercut Elsevier by taking just 30% profits, for example. Elsevier could then cut their profits to 25%, the new entrant could go below that, etc. - until the market stabilises at a profit that is deemed reasonable by both the supply and demand side.

But such a new entrant can't enter the market, because they do not compete on publishing services (i.e. something that benefits public knowledge) - they compete on brand name.

> Once again I have a hard time feeling bad for the example that is given (and the point of my comment) in particular the super wealthy Harvard University and other well off academic institutions that quite frankly piss away money on all sorts of non-sense.

Those examples are given because they are the extreme case. If this is pissing away too much money even for them, what do you think the situation is like for institutions from the global south, for example?

If a for-profit company can't market itself effectively, it is going to die.

Elsvier is the textbook example of a company that hasn't marketed itself effectively, unless you consider "WE ARE MONOPOLY! RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!" to be a marketing strategy.

Well, the monopoly is over. Nature is taking its course.

Think of it as evolution in action.

>"I don't know why people have this tendency to freak out when a for profit company like Elsvier tries to make money."

That's an interesting sentence, the way you've framed that. People objecting are objecting to capitalism...and the whole natural order. "Elsevier is..just trying to do what it was created for, like a bird singing or the sun rising or a baby smiling, why is that such a problem? People are just freaking out! I don't know why."

Yes they freak out because it's not money going into their pocket but someone elses. And they don't think it's fair.

You get a similar outrage for a different reason against the last mile and cable companies. Why should they control the 'final mile'. Why can't everyone have access to the lines which they dug? Why? Because they got there first and spent the money to gamble when there was no guarantee of success which is obvious now. That is capitalism and business.

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