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Elsevier cuts off UC’s access to its academic journals (latimes.com)
626 points by bookofjoe on July 13, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 297 comments

I am an academic at a UC who publishes in Elsevier journals. I support this. I don't want copyright for anything I work on. I also work in a field where patent/IP stuff would not be relevant, so I view all of my work as public domain as far as I am concerned. With my code I either do CC0 or MIT licenses.

I have had to publish in journals that are not open access -- mostly I just make pre-prints available to anyone who wants them and encourage my students to use sci-hub if they need to find something we don't subscribe to.

do you put your author's final version in https://escholarship.org ?

Do you ever use https://oapolicy.universityofcalifornia.edu/ ? (it's only open to senate faculty right now, be we are rolling it out for all ~240k UC employees)

Also related https://osc.universityofcalifornia.edu

(disclosure, I'm the nominal tech lead for these)

Elsevier requires that authors do not do that - they can only provide copies of their papers in response to requests.

The last time I published in an Elsevier journal, I was allowed to deposit it in my institutional repository with a 2-year embargo period. Still sucks, but if your repository software supports embargo periods (my university's did), it means you can deposit now and it'll be automatically switched to open public access when the embargo times out, which is at least better than never (and less error-prone than hoping I remember to post it in two years).

I also posted the PDF on my personal website immediately, on the theory that they are probably not going to sue me personally over my own paper. Not impossible, but I haven't gotten a C&D.

Does that include HTTP requests? :)

This could be an extremely interesting legal argument, but I suppose the language used requires a request in 'writing' of some sort, which I suppose HTTP requests would fail.

They write your a nice letter with “GET /paper.pdf HTTP/1.1” ;)

> This could be an extremely interesting legal argument, but I suppose the language used requires a request in 'writing' of some sort, which I suppose HTTP requests would fail.

Are emails not considered communications "in writing"?

how about a request form that ostensibly takes an email address and a name, and an optional text field and then automates the process of sending the paper (or a hidden (unique) link to that paper) to that email address. it need not store those details anywhere, except that it optionally sends an email to the author (if there is a message). the only concern is spam.

Or better... have an email address like papers@authorname.com which receives requests with the title of the paper in the subject line, and a piece of software then receives the request, waits for a random amount of time (anywhere between 10 mins to a couple hours), and then sends the paper to the requester.

It would seem that the author personally received the email and replied with an attachment as a "professional courtesy", while completely automating the process in the background.

that would be to hard to use. the idea is to make the experience as similar as possible to clicking a link to download without making the document directly available for download, but make it look like a personal request that could be handled manually. by submitting a form, that is achieved. the form ensures that the right document is selected, and the process can be automated without error. but for all we know, it just sends an email to the author who might handle the request personally.

One of our academics at Harvard does exactly this via their lab website.

Attach a printer to the access logging of your web site ;-)

How about we have an autoresponder framework, like MailMain, that can handle mail with messages like

[paper-request] bacterial population analysis under exposure to fox news


And it would respond with the proper paper or papers attached.

And some kind of index that lists possible "request" locations? Perhaps even with some kind of "hyperlinks". I think we may be onto something big here.

Papers have dois so it’s way easier than asking for by name.

That's not exactly true -- they allow authors to post their papers, e.g., on arXiv; and on institutional repositories such as eScholarship after the end of an embargo period. Here is the page with the (very complicated) terms: https://www.elsevier.com/about/policies/sharing

Elsevier 100% does allow authors to post preprints (most due). However, there are some journals published by Elsevier that don't.

Awesome, thank you for doing that!

> I have had to publish in journals that are not open access

Why is that?

Career progress in academia is mostly based on publications in top-tier journals in your field. If those journals aren't open access, you're required to publish in closed access journals if you want to (1) get a Ph.D., (2) get tenure, etc.

Correction: you do not need to publish in closed access journals to get a PhD. However, getting a tenure-track faculty position in the life sciences at a major US university is almost impossible without publishing in Science, Nature, or Cell (an Elsevier journal), none of which is open-access (without paying an exorbitant fee).

Why would you want a tenure-track position in a department whose existing members aren't capable of evaluating the quality of work themselves, but instead just trust Science, Nature, and Cell to have done a good job at evaluating it?

You know, those journals don't actually do that great a job...

PLOS is a top-tier indexed refereed open-access journal.

If by "top-tier" you mean "sufficient to impress the hiring committees at Stanford or Harvard", sorry, no. Personally, having no interest in faculty jobs to begin with, I'd vastly prefer to deal with PLOS than Elsevier, but good luck persuading the average biosciences postdoc to choose it over the Holy Triad of prestige journals.

Hasn’t there been a strong academic with enough confidence in their work to not publish with these “top tier” journals? Surely if the work is groundbreaking enough it would be able to stand on its own and thus erode the prestige of these journals? I mean, the rest of the world has already moved on to the internet age where prestige is earned through likes/shares/forks/follows/stars/retweets/upvotes, from developers to rock stars, reporters to POTUSes.

There can be only one reasonable explanation how such a strong disequilibrium has been kept in status quo. Money is flowing to the right hands. Which, like it or not, is the definition of corruption.

As I explained in another comment in this thread, it is extremely unlikely that there is any quid-pro-quo exchange of money for favors by the journal publishers. I've heard plenty of third-hand rumors of star professors having an easy route into the prestige journals, but it's always because of a personal connection to an editor and/or exceptionally good reputation. I've never heard any rumors of money changing hands; the incentives are all wrong.

What I've seen actually happen is much pettier; without going into a ton of detail, it's full of perverse incentives and typical sloppy human psychology, even by exceptionally brilliant and otherwise admirable people. Academic communities also tend to be structurally very conservative and decentralized - thousands of tiny feudal lords working in loose collectives, aided by tens of thousands of low-paid apprentices. Organized change-from-within can be exceptionally difficult in this environment, especially since the apprentices are merely temporary workers, but also very smart and ambitious people who are difficult to replace quickly.

I'm basically paraphrasing the words of many more senior and successful former colleagues here, usually spoken in tones of despair or disgust. I suspect most would be happy if Congress simply passed a law forcing liberal OA policies for everything that federal money touches, because that's the money that really matters. So unfortunately we circle back to corruption, as the term normally applies to US politics: some rich person needs to start a crusade and spend millions of dollars competing with the publishing lobby. Everyone, right or left, should want their tax dollars to be spent more effectively than this.

I’m not talking about straightforward exchange of money for favours... rather, it’s a systemic “meta” corruption where money and favours are flowing to the right influencers who are incentivised to maintain status quo.

So then why are the people in control of such decisions so corrupt? Shouldn’t there then be a movement of academics seeking to defund these departments captured by corrupt corporate interests and reissued to actual scientists doing scientific research?

If by "corruption" you are implying some kind of quid-pro-quo, that's not how it works. Academia is both extremely decentralized and extremely competitive, and any department that prohibits publishing in non-OA journals is unilaterally disarming and will find hiring and retention very difficult. It's basically the Prisoner's Dilemma in action.

I would love to throw out the entire system and start from scratch (this is not an uncommon sentiment, especially among ex-academics who moved to industry), but the only way this happens is if the major funding agencies impose these decisions from the top down. And that is indeed how the most progress has been made, thanks to the NIH, HHMI, and so on.

Top tier in terms of review practices and reproducibility. If you mean Elsevier, Wiley, Springer by "Holy Triad", you can convince them to publish almost anything as a scientific article if you pay enough and format correctly. PLOS is applied medical sciences only, for now. We need more of PLOS-like journals.

Do you have no academics in your academic hiring committee?

I meant Science/Nature/Cell (the exact titles may differ in other fields, but that's how we roll in the life sciences), and no, you can't simply buy your way into these, they are already raking in money from their subscribers anyway. What is extremely common, unfortunately, is scientists exaggerating the meaning and importance of their results to make their manuscript appeal to journal editors, and everyone in the field has their own personal s##t list of high-profile articles that never should have been published, let alone in a prestige journal. Hell, many of the people on hiring committees will agree with me! And yet the hiring practices remain largely the same, year after year.

EDIT: just to be clear, the hiring committees I'm talking about tend to be nearly 100% academics (at least the ones I've seen). University faculty don't let the bean counters make important decisions like this.

That's fine. But that isn't what top tier means in the context of career advancement.

The impact factor of PLOS is 2.8

Not awful, but certainly not top tier

My boss would prefer to hold a project for six months and add significance versus publishing in something <4

For comparison, Nature is 41.6, Cell 36.2, Science 37.2, according to Google.

More people needs to read and submit articles in order that impact factor to rise. A journal's impact does not increase on its own.

Even if you already have a PhD and tenure, many academic papers are collaborations, and so if the top relevant journals aren't open-access then you need to publish there if one of your co-authors needs a PhD, tenure, etc. Given that much research involves at least one PhD student, it's very hard to move out of the system.

(My personal policy has been to avoid submitting to closed-access venues, but accept it if my coauthors needed it. However, I don't do reviews for these venues.)

With all respect, this attitude from the researchers side is exactly what maintains the system and what Elsevier and co take advantage of. Signed: a professor who never published with Elsevier.

Well, most of those who did not have that attitude are not in academia any more, so expecting that is not really going to help. It's the ones who cause that (i.e. use journal name as a quality indicator when looking for people to hire) that should be looked towards.

If this is true, then one way to look at it is that making career progress in academia is ethically untenable, for the time being. I know many people who have chosen not to be in academia, and they are doing fine. Comparing myself with family and friend with PhDs and tenure, and being in academia (them, not me), I am doing fine without any of those.

In statements of the form "if you want to get x, you have to do y", when y is something morally repugnant, then that should lead to questioning whether filling your want for x is the only way to be happy.

I recently had a commenter disagree over my criticism of a company that locked in their customers and then gouged them. The commenter said something along the lines of "well, the people wanted to make more money, so it's OK that they did what they did" (where what they did happened to be very bad for users). No, it's not OK. A personal desire for some end does not make any means whatsoever OK.

But I'm making a general statement there, not criticizing you. I realize this is simply how it's done now in academia, and if you're embedded in that, you mostly get a pass for the time being, but I do admire those who stand up and work against it.

Is not it better then to publish preprints to some open repositories and reference those repositories in scientific works. And use journals only for career, but never for research. This way they will gradually lose their role.

Because academia is a run by a bunch of cronyist elitists who care about impact factor more than they care about science.

There was a window in time, more than a million internet years ago, when all of the good code was written by a bunch of 13 year olds. Assembly was used but machine code was the superior weapon of choice. Something like: These are the opcodes, we calculate things in hex, deal with it you noob. They were always there of course but the academics came in ever larger numbers and tried to forge something prestigious out of the field. These unsophisticated developers who didn't learn how to code started uttering all kinds of authoritatively sounding nonsense. While the 13 year olds bragged about their kung fu being better than yours the professors kept talking about how hard and labor intense everything was. Clear noob talk with a cherry on top. Tears from laughter.... I remember one kid saying: So it has to run on millions of computers and run for millions of cycles but we should sacrifice performance for ease of development? Because those poor developers bla bla bla? There was real elitism among the 13 year olds, no one cared for something that kind of worked, the prestige was all in squeezing out more performance. During academic construction the man behind the curtain was clearly visible. He wrote everything in basic because machine code was ohh so much to hard. His own words.

A long story short: The ferengi alliance hired countless mercenaries and defeated the borg. Today you cant even send an sms message or distribute a text document without paying tribute to the grand nagus one way or another.

...I think I actually understood that.

Not sure whether I should be happy or not, but such is life

Anyway, if my parsing is correct, this poster laments the way that academic publishing was subverted away from doing something unique and covering new ground through actually making substantial scientific breakthroughs in favor of higher visibility and accessibility where the metrics of having published something to be quoted by others became more important than publishing a truly revolutionary piece.

This is paralleled by the shift in attitude w.r.t. programming languages. In the days of computing yore, the emphasis was around trying to wrangle the machine into doing what you wanted it to do, and you stayed as close to the metal while doing as possible to keep it fast, because you had to squeeze as much out of what you had as possible. You were comfortable with the software/hardware boundaries being present because that's what it took. As languages developed however, much of the "skill" at the time was chipped away at in the name of abstraction, modularity(many functions getting implemented as libraries), and linguistic/runtime hand holding by things like garbage collecting VM's. This overhead allowed more accessibility in terms of the initial knowledge and kill barrier to entry to be significantly lowered, as the challenge and prestige of wrestling with the machine to get things done performantly slowly gave way to maintaining an encyclopedic knowledge of libraries and frameworks that can be kludge together to give a roughly working facsimile of the desired system. Programming therefore degenerated from somewhat harder scientific endeavor to make breakthroughs in fully utilizing more performant hardware to the max with highly optimized and performant code, to using increased hardware performance as a buffer to allow sloppier, easier to think about abstractions to do the lifting, making software development a glorified popularity contest where frameworks of the week competed for more programmer mindshare for the sake of competing rather than actually doing something in and of themselves. This had the end goal of making terrible (in terms of minimal footprint to run) software easier to write, and easier to hire people to work with.

That's what the poster seems to mean by "the Ferengi hired tons of mercenaries and defeated the Borg." The Borg being the 13 year old purist, the Ferengi being those that wanted terrible software that did well enough.

Shift this back to academia, and you see the same dynamic. Academics are pushed to publish or perish, so the actual quality of scientific breakthrough has nose dived in favor of throwing as many results out there to be added to someone else's mindshare as possible. The entire network and incentive structure behind it being fiscally motivated by the interest of the closed access journals.

Damn. Not the most straightforwardly worded, but I can see where this guy is coming from.

yes, you should be happy. You not just managed to understand but also managed to translate what I wrote into much more readable form.

That said, I didn't mean to hate on academia. I just wanted to describe what creating a field looks like. They made a lot of effort and had the best of intentions but end of the day they all had to earn a living working for the man. That is the real issue and it lives outside academia for the most part. I also think of academia as the archivers of knowledge. They never take that as a compliment but it really is.

I attempted to illustrate the different mind set [be it poorly]. Academics are respectful by default. 13 year olds are the exact opposite.

To try a thought experiment: Imagine releasing software after you've insulted every programmer you know and made fun of every last bit of code they wrote. To put it mildly: You might want to have another look at your creation. You might want to do that every day for the next 2 weeks. You might want to scrap that feature if you cant sign of on it as the closest thing to perfection humanly possible.

It's your job... publish or perish. It was especially true more than 5 years ago. Most academics have been working 20years or more.

Your university commercialization office will disagree. Check with them. From what I understand, it is illegal to release your code in CC0 or MIT unless you have taken permission from the commercialization office (Some universities allow GPL without explicit permission). Have you checked your contract ? Your work is not yours if it has any value. The value belongs to the university (mostly) - which also means you have no incentive to work on valuable stuff.

I think Elsevier is least of UCs problems. It's a distraction from the real ones.

Grad student at Berkeley. The commercialization office only takes an interest if your work is high profile enough and has enough commercialization potential. Plenty of UC researchers release CC0 or MIT license code without issue.

Elsevier may be only one of many problems for the UC community, but that doesn’t mean it’s a distraction—- millions have been wasted every year subsidizing their profits. And Elsevier’s rent seeking business model is a problem for more than just the UCs. Hopefully this decision will end up being Elsevier’s death knell.

To Elsevier CEO: It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It.

Elsevier’s model is being disrupted and there is no going back.

Aren't you assuming the risk though? Like, in practice they might not care, but in writing they could care...

Assuming risk is part of the judgement required in science.

There’s stuff that requires IRB, then there’s a whole bunch of judgement and risk.

As enabled by Bayh–Dole Act [0]. Reversing this law would put publicly funded research back into the hands and minds of the public. This is the very law that creates a perverse incentive for universities to operate as for profit corporations, even with public dollars.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayh%E2%80%93Dole_Act

Wouldn't that just put it back in the hands of the Federal Gov where it would languish like it did before?

Surprised that you were downvoted because this was actually the problem that led to the act: IP for work done for the federal government (not by the federal government) was often difficult to make use of.

Those seeking to use government-owned technology found a maze of rules and regulations set out by the agencies in question because there was no uniform federal policy on patents for government-sponsored inventions or on the transfer of technology from the government to the private sector.

From the wikipedia article that was referred to: Prior to the enactment of Bayh-Dole, the U.S. government had accumulated 28,000 patents, but fewer than 5% of those patents were commercially licensed

Not saying I understand the complexities but an outright repeal doesn't seem like it would address this underlying systemic problem. Maybe times have changed.

They haven't changed. Some government agencies excel at basic research (NIH, DOE, NASA, etc.), but for a multitude of reasons, they don't do product development. (And having worked at one of these agencies for several years, I think it would be a terrible mistake to change this - even though I personally have very mixed feelings about how Bayh-Dole has worked out.)

Are more than 5% of university patents commercially licensed these days?

Some large fraction of patents are useless and will never be commercially licensed because it would never make any sense to pay a dime for them. A further fraction would demonstrate market failure if they were licensed - there's something much better that isn't patented, so if people are obliged to do the worse patented thing AND pay commercially for a license then we've made everything worse. So "more than 5%" might be a bad sign anyway.

This is what happened to audio codecs for years for example, several alternatives are superior to MPEG Audio Layer III (today you should use Opus), but the MP3 patent holders could expect their revenue to keep flowing for their inferior alternative anyway.

A certain kind of person really wants a patent, the same way someone might really want to win themselves a Hugo. I guess employer can think of it as a relatively expensive employee retention benefit, OK, we'll pay for your useless patent filing and we'll get you a laminated front page you can pin up in your cubicle. Go you.

Work produced by the Federal Government are usually automatically in the public domain.

Clarification: This thread is referring to work funded by the Federal Government (not done by Federal Government). And I would agree with @sitkak - that perhaps that BD act needs to be cut down - for starters. But we do need more to fix Universities.

Imagine a VC that demanded ownership of 100% of all code you developed and user data you collected in return for accepting any investment from them. Would any good startup take the money? Without Bayh-Dole, the government would be in the same position as that hypothetical VC.

Innovation is about money, not ideals. More money flowing into research universities is a good thing.

> Would any good startup take the money?

I would wager most grants given by the federal government go to universities or non-profits, so it seems like it would make perfect sense to make them release their research publicly.

As a grad student at UCSB, it only took a single email to get formal permission to release all my code under the BSD license.

But did it include clause 3?

Grad student at Berkeley for 3+ years. I've never heard of anyone mention or discuss this before among many people constantly publishing reasonably valuable code under open source licenses.

Sounds like everyone at UC is going to use SciHub now, and most likely won't switch back once access gets restored?

This seems like a self-defeating move on Elsevier's part?

Incidentally, I heard from someone who worked at Elsevier around four years ago that the working environment there was terrible, and she couldn't wait to leave. That doesn't seem surprising.

> Sounds like everyone at UC is going to use SciHub now

Plenty of people already do.

It's much easier to use than any kind of library proxy service if you're not on campus, and it's also far more reliable. Even if you have access, sci-hub often has things that the library doesn't.

I have access to uni libraries elsewhere, but I can provide my own anecdote. At home it's sci-hub, on uni wifi it's just via the website which usually automatically grants access seamlessly. Basically, whichever is least inconvenient.

Well, they've been maintaining access for institutions that cancelled their subscriptions for presumably this reason pretty often already, but as more and more institutions jumped on the train, that's not really tenable: why would others keep paying subscriptions if you're not going to cut off access if they don't?

But of course, if it turns out that access is not that necessary anyway, people will stop paying too. But well, that's the risk if you're not adding that much value. And by now, Elsevier has seen this coming long enough that they've hedged their bets well enough not to be reliant on journal subscriptions alone any more. In fact, I'm sure they'll have considered the past few years in which subscriptions hadn't yet massively been cancelled as being a windfall.

Based on the email I got last week, they have a contractual obligation for old content.

As for the new issues: I believe there's a standing recommendation to look for preprints or ask the authors for a copy.

Yes, I think usually access is perpetual, just as it would have been had the library had a physical copy.

For new issues, I'm confident people will manage; as you say, preprints have taken root in many more disciplines, and there are plenty of alternatives - legal ones, like inter-library loan, and Sci-Hub.

There are ways we (UC libraries) provide access to the content still w/o using sci hub https://osc.universityofcalifornia.edu/open-access-at-uc/pub...

My guess is that this announcement will coincide with a new wave of technical or legal assaults against SciHub. Otherwise, as others have pointed out, it would have made more sense for Elsevier to go after smaller targets first.

Dinosaurs die hard.

But die they do and in the case of Elsevier it can't happen fast enough. It's about time the execs get publicly named and shamed and interviewed about how they feel about holding back progress.

It could just as well be argued that the researchers who choose to publish there ought to be publicly shamed. Elsevier is nothing without an army willing accomplices.

That's got to be one of the best examples of victim blaming if there ever was one. Do you realize that these 'willing accomplices' have extremely little choice in the matter? Academia is a battlefield where grand money is the reason for competition and publishing in these magazines is pretty much the only way to further ones' career unless the universities take a stand, which is exactly what TFA is all about.

I know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve been an academic. You can call it victim blaming all you like, but you’re just removing personal responsibility from the picture. Nobody forced these people into their profession, nobody is forcing them to publish with any given journal, and nobody is forcing them to remain academics.

We always have choice.

Passing the buck and saying “I believe what I’m doing is wrong, but until there’s a policy that prevents everybody else from doing it too, I won’t change” is just lazy.

Or arXiv. Elsevier authors can post their papers on arXiv and/or their own website.

That's not strictly the case. This practice is actually infringing on your (albeit bonkers) agreement with Elsevier. You can only share copies with those who requested it as an act of "professional courtesy".

To all authors: note that it's often possible to modify the contract to enable it. They'll often not notice or just approve it. See https://sparcopen.org/our-work/author-rights/

Duly noted! Thanks for the info.

Clicking a link is requesting it, and I am professionally courteous to everyone.

Despite the popular reputation of lawyers, the courts typically frown on interpretative trickery (unless you are so good at it that you can make the reasonable interpretation sound like the tricky one).

The action is actually called "an HTTP _request_".

UC authors can put their author's final versions in https://escholarship.org

The model Elsevier operates on is under attack from a number of sides. In addition to UC, there is Plan S:

> The plan requires scientists and researchers who benefit from state-funded research organisations and institutions to publish their work in open repositories or in journals that are available to all by 2021.[4] The "S" stands for "shock".


The plan is backed by a wide range of European groups.

Elsevier may have a right to license its content as it sees fit, but the market as turned against its business model. The company now must decide whether to go down fighting or acknowledge the inevitable.

An of course, there's the ever present Sci-Hub, which presents a comprehensive selection of research papers far better than Elsevier ever did - and at no cost to the reader.

> Elsevier may have a right to license its content as it sees fit

Elsevier doesn't have content of it's own. It takes others' content (without paying them a dime in most - if not all - cases), maybe runs it through spellcheck, slaps a legal threat and price tag on it, and milks it for as much protection money as it can. Elsevier is the very model of modern major copyright troll.

Exactly. Their business added significant value back when paper was the primary medium. With the rise of the Internet, their value-add was significantly decreased, but they somehow decided the right thing was to double down on being a rentier and extract way more money.

I have zero sympathy for them. As they say on Wall Street, "Bulls make money, bears make money. But pigs get slaughtered." They've had 20 years to find new ways to deliver value and it doesn't seem like they've bothered. At this rate they'll be out of business soon, and I'll enjoy it thoroughly.

I can assure you that Elsevier does not run articles through a spellcheck.

People give Elsevier (and other publishers) their content, unfortunately...

This is excellent!

Elsevier could have started by extorting smaller, less powerful institutions but foolishly went after a university they need more than it needs them.

Those smaller, less powerful institutions haven't dared to confront Elsevier in the way UC has. Since Elsevier represents the status quo, its opponents are on the offensive and can self-select. They tend to be either big institutions (UC) or collectives (several Europe-wide or EU-state-wide programs) big enough to stand toe-to-toe with the publishers.

Every time I read about the incredibly exploitative scientific publishing industry, I can’t help but think: can we just make scientific papers not copyrightable?

Researchers and their institutions don’t benefit from the copyright protection; they barely make any money from their work.

Sure, someone can take your work and claim it as their own, but we already handle them as plagiarism rather than copyright infringement.

Currently all the works by the federal government are not subject to copyright, and many are scholarly work by NASA, Congressional Research Service, etc, and we never hear problem about it.

It is also not that far fetched. Copyright protects expression of ideas rather than ideas themselves, and I would argue for most papers, the expression is the less interesting part of it.

I honestly feel like intellectual property is harmful in almost every field I look at. It concentrates wealth and slows innovation (the opposite of what IP proponents claim). I voluntarily waive copyright protection for most of my work, but I’d ideally see the dissolution of the concept more broadly. Our government protects these laws which I see as unjust, and some change to that would be beneficial I believe.

What I've seen in tech is that a patent is a straw asset to make the bean counters feel more comfortable. The value of non-capital-intensive tech companies is almost entirely ephemeral. Even for capital intensive ones most of the value is usually not in the physical capital but in the brand, ideas, collective employee knowledge, and customer relationships. A patent looks like a physical asset on the books so it makes accountants and investors sleep better even if it doesn't actually mean much of anything.

It'll probably fade away for the most part once a new generation that is comfortable with the dematerialization of value takes high leadership positions.

Copyright is a bit of a different beast as it covers a specific work, not an "idea."

Copyright is what keeps billions of people from accessing every book ever written for free.

Google really tried to do this but stopped digitizing books halfway through the worlds collection because of copyright law. It hurts to think of all the knowledge we could have shared if this had been permitted.

Copyright as an idea is fine - as in, how it was described in the Constitution: "securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries", emphasis on "limited times". It's our current batarnak of an implementation that's causing all the problems.

Getting rid of copyright and instituting a copy-anarchy would mean that creatives would have no real incentive to publish (no matter how much you do for passion, you still need to keep the lights on and put food on the table) - but our current system, with lifetimes tied to the time since Walt Disney's death, is a bit of a mess too.

Can there ever be a happy medium?

> Can there ever be a happy medium?

Short terms (15yr?) for unregistered or "implicit" copyright, renewable with registration and fees that increase year-over-year.

How about a combination of

- free health care for all

- universal basic income at a really basic subsidence level

- voluntary patronage

People define themselves by their art if they can live a reasonable life and produce they will do it.

Assuming people will create great works while living off a sustenance-level basic income is a bit of a stretch. And, it seems to ignore the extreme level of work, commitment, and persistence it takes to write books, publish science, etc.

The issue is not whether people should be able to profit off their own work but whether a rent-seeking gatekeeper should be able to hijack others' work and profit off it.

A system designed to artificially limit supply impoverishes the world and most of the profit inevitably sticks with the middle men whose existence is only necessitated by the artificial scarcity.

I specifically stated the sustenance level basic income plus patronage as I expect people must have enough to survive but ought to be incentivized to earn enough to live better.

I've heard others, not you, express the nonsensical idea that if people had enough to barely survive they would all quite providing value to society until the whole pyramid balanced precariously on the backs of the few remaining working people collapsed. This is a basic mis-analysis of human nature. People would strive to produce both for reasons of self worth and desire for a better than basic life.

I expect many to most writers with no readers and no earnings would eventually tire of the affair and move on to others.

Others would find a way to live a better than subsidence level life via patronage or doing other work to finance their hobby.

Do you really believe in a world without copyright that Stephen king wouldn't find any supporters?

I had this idea the other day that we should top this of with a type of “democratic” investment fund. Think pension funds, but structured to ensure a democratic representation of the public as owners, one share per citizen.

The idea being to allocate to each citizen an equal share, for equal voting power, and equal right to dividends.

Yes! I see a more complex socialism as being necessary versus UBI, but in either case eliminating the need for survival work would mean artists could create art and be copied without anyone losing their livelihood.

The concept of 'free health care' in the absence of infinite resources has to be heavily qualified and that's the tricky bit.

I see it another way: bring about a true socialist society where people do not need to work to survive, and in that world people can do as they please with no concern for income. Creativity has many benefits other than income and eliminating profit incentives would allow us to pursue those other benefits more freely.

Paraphrasing a comment I read years ago: if your hypothetical economic system depends on everyone in the society behaving in a way that humans have never behaved in all of recorded history, it's pure fantasy. Eliminating the daily struggle for survival via something like UBI is not intrinsically a bad idea IMHO. Eliminating profit incentives altogether is effectively impossible - given the chance, most people will always act out of self-interest without even pausing to think about it. Or do you think socialist countries are magically free from corruption and greed?

a couple of things:

1) Much of what I advocate for is based on how many human societies have operated for millennia. Collective management on the tribal level seems pretty common historically.

2) Some innovation is possible. Our society every day does things we didn’t do for thousands of years. Technology definitely changes this, but for example we didn’t do very large representative democracies until recently. It stands that there still exist some unpopular ideas that would work better that what we have today.

There is a huge difference between "collective management on the tribal level" and abolishing the profit incentive in an advanced industrial economy. People who've never known anything other than prosperity have a tendency to idealize pre-modern societies - they vastly underestimate how miserable life was for most people, and how much violence was involved in organizing these societies. Imagine a typical homeless camp in the Bay Area, only more violent: sure, it's easy to forget about profit when you're engaged in a daily struggle to not die from starvation, disease, wild animals, bandits, or natural disasters, and close cooperation is the only thing saving your tribe from sudden extinction.

You and I have very different ideas about both what is possible in the future and what is acceptable today. It’s funny that you mention homeless camps, which would not be needed in a socialist society.

Getting rid of homeless camps does not require getting rid of the profit motive; most capitalist countries manage to not look like the Tenderloin. I'd even argue that the modern Western welfare state requires capitalism to generate the surplus wealth required to pay for it. Applying totalitarian social engineering to the problem is just overkill.

I don’t advocate for totalitarian anything - quite the opposite. I advocate for the development of a society where people voluntarily collaborate to eliminate things like homelessness.

> Copyright is what keeps billions of people from accessing every book ever written for free.

While that is true, would those books have been written without copyright protection? If you eliminate copyright laws today, will we see more or less (quality) books in the future?

No. A patent is like a nuclear missile. It’s useless until it is not. That said, you have to be very wealthy to fire those missiles, generally wealthier than your target.

That's the opposite of a nuclear missile. Those are useful now (deterrence) until they are not (when they are used).

A patent is like nuclear waste. It's useless, but it's going to stick around for long after the company that caused it is gone, and it can do a whole lot of damage if it ends in the wrong hands.

Yep. It’s a way to show something countable to shareholders when they ask: what do I own when I own this company?

Many patents areuseless.

But without patents, and with today's reverse engineering, most things would be reduced to cheap chinese clones.

Yet it's not the case, in many fields.

What I find interesting is how open source hardware companies can coexist with their cheap clones. The Prusa i3 printer is a great example. An assembled Prusa costs $1000 while clones are $200, and yet the two options serve different markets. If you’re a broke hobbyist you get the clones, and they take a lot of work to keep running. If you’re operating a school, business, or makerspace you get the Prusa because it’s the first party brand that works every time.

So I see all the businessss that would die without IP protection as maybe only existing because of our historical legal structure. Perhaps without IP laws the boundaries of who does what work would change but we would still strive to create new things just as we always have. Does that make sense?

One thing the layman loses with no IPR is the ability to tell which are the "real" Prusa, or the real brakes for their bike, or whatever. That is one thing that causes clear and imminent harm.

I'm pretty communist in my thinking, rail hard against established IPR structures, but most of it would be sensible IMO if the balance were shifted back toward the demos.

Things have been allowed to slip away from the IP deals such that the demos no longer get their part of the contract -- eg as established the deal with copyright requires deposit of copies in to pubic libraries (so they fall in to public ownership in a timely manner), DRM breaks the contract at the creator/business end and so such works should not get copyright protection, simple as that.

Exactly the reason the term IPR shouldn’t be used https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html

Apart from excesses, I don't even consider trademarks "real" intellectual property. If you infringe on a trademark you don't commit "theft", but fraud.

It's fraud towards the user but theft in the sense that it removes the ability for the trademarks 'owner' to use the mark to uniquely identify the origins of their goods/services.

If I also make Nike products then they lose the ability to identify by branding alone that marked goods are endorsed by them.

IMO trademark should have a requirement to identify the factory in which a good was made (eg on the label or packaging). That extends the ability for consumers to compare the _true_ origin of goods in way that gives usable information. Capitalism only optimises resources if consumers have perfect information ... so in theory a goal of capitalist government should be provision of as much useful information as possible.

An example of how that would be useful would be if I buy supermarket Weetabix, that uses the trademark shape, if they're from the same factory then they're probably the same product (not necessarily) so I can just buy the cheaper product.

Yeah, I definitely agree with that.

> I honestly feel like intellectual property is harmful in almost every field I look at. It concentrates wealth and slows innovation (the opposite of what IP proponents claim).

Do you have any reference/proof for that? At least the part about slowing innovation?

There are few open access journals in my field, and the ones that will publish open access charge absurdly high fees for it. I have a spreadsheet for my field: $2000 to $3140 per article, average $2690. I tried to negotiate with one smaller and more specialized journal in my field on the fee without any luck. I've also tried to find journals willing to take my paper without copyright transfer, as if commonly done for US government employees, but few journals seem willing to do that without the law requiring it.

My solution at the moment: Publish only in conferences that don't require you to transfer copyright so I can distribute my paper open access without paying anything. Yes, the peer review, if there is any, is less rigorous, but my experience suggests that peer review typically offers only shallow critiques of my work. Peer review doesn't need to work that way, but that's how it is in practice at the moment. I think review is valuable, but this makes getting good reviews my responsibility, not a publishing venue's.

This solution also precludes me from working in most tenure-track academic positions, but I believe those positions are a bad deal anyway, so I'm not too worried. Government research positions seem usually okay with publishing mainly in conferences.

If there are any other issues with this scheme, I'm interested in hearing about them.

I'm against subsidizing open access publication as that seems to basically be a subsidy for publishers and not researchers. That would maintain the absurdly high open access feeds. Instead, let's make the journals compete on price, and they'll have to compete against free (e.g., Arxiv), so hopefully this would drive the prices down to a reasonable level. I'm fine with paying publishers if they actually provide a service commensurate with what they charge. The issue is that they don't right now.

Interesting that you did not succeed negotiating. We had a case where our open-access fund would only help out if the fee was $2000 maximum. We communicated that to the journal and they obliged without further comment. (Though this was after review and that journal really wanted our paper as it was obvious that we would raise their impact factor). I agree that $2000 still seems like a lot of money for an online-only document that journal is not doing anything for aside a little adjusting of the final pdf + paying the editor.

Thanks for your comment. Perhaps the order matters. I asked before submitting. I'll try submitting to the same journal and see if their willingness to negotiate changes after the paper passes review.

> Interesting that you did not succeed negotiating.

Cartels are pretty good at negotiating. Fuck off or bend over.

Not sure why you'd want to start making scientific papers non-copyrightable.

The easiest solution is just have scientists publish in open-access journals. Easy right? Nope, they are judged by the impact of their papers and it's higher in better quality journals.

That's the value these journals offer - exclusivity.

Scientists and universities could solve this issue immediately. Scientists publish in open-access journals and universities stop judging based on the journals "impact factor". However, neither one wants to do that.

Because there is no reason they should be, so the decision can be handled at the legal level and not be as subject to the influence of the journals. They would have one chance to fight it before it was cemented into law.

Why should an author not have rights to their own work, just because it’s scientific in nature?

You’re also opening the door to unintended consequences - are scientific textbooks not copyrightable also? If not, why not?

You're making a big assumption that the author of a scientific paper gets to have any rights whatsoever. But that aside - these journals keep valuable research locked up from plenty of long-dead researchers. Their estates aren't getting the money when a grad student is grifted for $90 to view the paper.

I'd argue we'd be much better off if textbooks weren't eligible for copyright.

In addition to what you said, I want to remind everyone that a significant portion of money that is used to fund research at universities (and other institutions) is from the government.

At least with most DOE-funded research, we're required to retain the copyright to the official "release" copy of papers. This allows us to redistribute the official paper ourselves.

Even if you don't retain the copyright to the camera-ready version of your paper, you can just redistribute a preprint version that is almost identical (on arXiv and/or your website).

"they barely make any money from their work." Researchers make zero direct money from publications. Yes, they are paid a stipend or salary to publish results, but by their University or Institute, not by Elsevier. I've published dozens of papers over my career. I have no direct access to any of them, save Sci-Hub or "authors' copies" I've saved. Of course, I could always pay the fee, ranging from $40-$110 on up , for a copy I would still be unable to legally distribute. Elsevier, Springer, et al., are the true pirates here. Its way past time this business model died the death it deserves.

While not 100% what you mentioned, in the Netherlands authors are allowed to freely share (semi-)government-funded however they please, after (I believe) six months. The universities now take care of that for you, if you're an author: https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care

I doubt you could come up with a workable definition of "scientific paper" to decide what is or isn't copyrightable.

I never understood why university libraries are not making the journals themselves instead of having them done by companies and paying for the subscription. Every university would have like 5 or 6 journals and pay everything for those and all the scientific articles would be free. I mean elife does it and it is great.

The problem is not starting new journals, the problem is having researchers submit their work there. And the problem with that is that the name/reputation of existing journals are currently used as a proxy to judge the quality of applicants for e.g. tenure tracks. As long as that's not changed, researchers are incentivised to submit their work to the traditional, "reputable" journals.

(Disclaimer: I'm part of a project that aims to provide an alternative measure of quality.)

Some universities require their researchers to publish and follow reference journals, the majority of which has been managed/hijacked by for-profit editors. As researchers are forced to meet publishing quotas, there's a negative feedback loop that forces research groups to have no alternative other than following and publishing on these journals.

It wouldn't cost that much to just self publish the articles on the Internet. This is literally the whole reason for the Internet.

> in the words of Dennis J. Ventry, a law professor at UC Davis who is vice chair of the academic senate’s committee on library and scholarly communication. He says the publisher’s last offer would have increased UC costs by 80% over three years, “hardly cost neutrality.”

> Elsevier says its proposal would have allowed a fivefold increase in the number of UC articles it published under open access — from about 350 now to 1,750 — while increasing the overall bill to UC by no more than annual inflation

One of these two parties is clearly misrepresenting this cost increase.

Here is my guess at the UC calculations. UC currently pays $11m/yr. For this price, UC wants to get all its 5000 papers/yr as open access, but Elsevier only offers to give them 1750 papers/yr for this price. Elsewhere in the article Elsevier states that the normal open access fees for 5000 papers are $15m, so $15m/5000 = $3000/paper. So UC could take Elsevier's proposal and get 1750 papers (+ read access) for $11m, and pay $3000 for each of the remaining 3250 papers, for a total of $21m. With inflation, $21m is about an 80% increase over $11m.

Usually, when Elsevier talks about constant costs, they're talking about cost per article. At the same time, they pressure libraries into buying subscriptions in bulk, bundling less widely recognised journals with the big names, allowing them to charge more while claiming to keep the cost-per-article low.

At least one party...

Meanwhile, everyone involved knows about the black raven in the room (the one with the reddish key in its mouth). It's just not polite to mention it.

I disagree. I think it's rude not to mention Sci-hub by name.

(They're talking about the logo of Sci-Hub [1], the pirate site that offers most scholarly articles regardless of whether they're behind a paywall or not. They're likely to be a major reason why academics are not going to revolt about access being cut off.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Hub

I do wonder, though, if more academics working in the UCs know about sci-hub, than do not? In case not, start spreading the good news!

I am unsure about senior academics, but younger academics and research students are all aware of sci-hub these days, even if they don't use it that much.

UC should consider using open platforms for publishing, like MIT's PubPub[1]. In fact, so much was discussed already, current publishing model (aside of the publishers) is a bad fit for modern science. We need better collaboration, interactivity, and reproducibility. See discussion[2] about this a few years ago. And a number of followups[3][4][5].

[1] https://www.pubpub.org/

[2] http://blog.jessriedel.com/2015/04/16/beyond-papers-gitwikxi...

[3] http://blog.jessriedel.com/2015/04/27/gitwikxiv-follow-up-di...

[4] http://blog.jessriedel.com/2015/04/22/gitwikxiv-follow-up-an...

[5] http://blog.jessriedel.com/2015/05/20/gitwikxiv-follow-up-a-...

My group at UC provides https://escholarship.org -- a 20+ year old open platform for publishing

PubPub is an example of the next generation publishing platform. It provides much more than plain publishing. And it is open source [1]. Good example of the similar, but commercial platform is Authorea[2].

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

[2] https://www.authorea.com/

my product managers tell me LaTex is to STEMy

https://editoria.pub is a project we were involved with with UC Press

We run an OJS instance for our journal program. We are looking a Janeway too.

Manifold also looks interesting in this space.

Do you have any pointers to great communities on pubpub? I’ve explored a bit and it seems like a really great idea, but I’m not sure how to find the most robust communities on there...

PubPub folk here - our landing page is pretty much 6 months past its shelf life. A rework that helps people find relevant communities is in the pipeline. In the meantime - we have a simple Explore page[1]. Some of my favorite communities are the newly launched Harvard Data Science Review[2], The Journal of Design and Science[3], _Cursor[4], and the Stanford Journal of Blockchain Law and Policy[5].

We're also encouraged by a handful of communities that are experimenting with new formats of pre-publication review and training such as: Collective Wisdom[6], EFPT Psychotherapy Guidebook[7], and Data Feminism[8].

At a more meta-level, the challenge here is that this ecosystem is overwhelmingly complex. The business-models, culture, and technical infrastructure are all unhealthy and self-reinforcing. There's no single platform that can fix this - it needs a political campaign in parallel with a social movement in parallel with some really good tech infrastructure. The US healthcare challenge is a good parallel in a lot of ways. Both are going to need new economic and governance models. At the risk of straying too far from the original question, PubPub's parent - the Knowledge Futures Group[9] - is working to push on all of these fronts. Feel free to reach out if this is the kind of thing you care about!

[1] https://www.pubpub.org/explore

[2] https://hdsr.mitpress.mit.edu

[3] https://jods.mitpress.mit.edu

[4] https://cursor.pubpub.org

[5] https://stanford-jblp.pubpub.org

[6] https://wip.mitpress.mit.edu/collectivewisdom

[7] https://epg.pubpub.org

[8] https://bookbook.pubpub.org/data-feminism

[9] https://kfg.mit.edu

UC is big enough they could actually start their own journal.

several open access journals publish on eScholarship https://escholarship.org/journals

To clarify, Elsevier is unhappy that they aren't allowed to profit off of other peoples work.

1. It costs money to submit to Nature, Cell, Science, etc

2. Reviewers for journals are not paid

3. It then costs money to read the published papers

4. The journals are filled with ads

Literally the entire thing is profit for Elsevier, they are paid by the people who do the original work, they don't pay for any of the vetting and review that Elsevier claims you're paying for, and then you have to pay to read the published papers. And get through all of the ads.

Elsevier is a company that steals from the public.

I totally agree with your overall point, but I'd be remiss not to mention that these journals originally were paper-only and mailed to institutions & profs (and Xeroxed ad infinum). This did involve a cost, but surely nothing like the million dollar agreements unis are signing with multiple publishing houses.

Nowadays, publishers still put out paper versions, but their worth does indeed revolve around scientist giving them material for them to build a catalogue of copyrighted material.

I look forward to their fall.

The modern paper versions are also filled with very expensive ads - the only part of this that is not profitable is the review stage, but that’s just because it doesn’t produce revenue - which they manage by not paying reviewers

I’ve always thought that a more reasonable model for academic publishing would be to disconnect the availability of the content from the peer review / “publishing”.

Couldn’t the PDF’s be hosted in the open, in a repository similar to arXiv, and then be “published”. Being published would then just basically mean that your paper gets tagged in the repository as “Published in Journal of X”, almost like a Twitter verification mark but more granular [0].

Some publishing fees would remain, and pay for the curation and costs associated with the peer review.

[0]: Of course the journal could still be compiled and published separately as well.

Sure, and those are usually referred to as "overlay journals". They exist, but the thing that has been keeping the entire system in place now is how existing journals have a reputation upon which the academic career evaluation process is built. That allows publishers to charge ridiculous amounts of money, so they're quite keen on the current situation.

More here: https://medium.com/flockademic/the-ridiculous-number-that-ca...

The journals are gonna lose this fight.

Academics are one of the few groups that can afford to be idealists.

Is this the first time Elsevier has cut off a major group of universities? In all the similar past occasions I know about, Elsevier would threaten to cut off access but not flow through, out of the kindness of their hearts and for the good of academia (or rather for fear that the universities might discover they don’t get much value out of Elsevier)

One thing Elsevier builds their strategy on is bundling: that to get the journals a university really wants, they also have to subscribe to lots they don’t want. This would mean for Elsevier that they could keep charging high prices until all disciplines don’t care about them. A university can’t say “well all our mathematicians just use the arxiv and email so we don’t want any mathematics journals” and have this work.

Another common theme is universities joining together into larger groups to negotiate a deal together. But this means individual universities can’t really choose to not subscribe to any Elsevier journals (because others in the group want to subscribe), so often they still get what many inside consider a bad deal.

No, although it has indeed threatened to do so and then did not do it often in the past, in July 2018 they cut off several institutions in Germany: https://www.projekt-deal.de/elsevier-news/

Similar things have happened in a few other European countries.

Sounds like cable TV.

Death throws of a dying and unnecessary industry.


I can’t tell if by “dying industry” you mean universities or journal databases.

Honest question: why do commenters here frequently seem to bear a chip on their shoulder when it comes to institutions of higher learning?

That is an honest and good question. I won't say I am such a person, but perhaps I can shed some light.

Academia is an elite, powerful, and privileged institution. Of course it is not a monolithic institution, but a conglomeration of many individual institutions that share a common culture. Any cultural entity like this is going to attract deserved and undeserved criticism.

Any powerful cultural institution like this will fall into corruption (literally rotteness), again like every other big cultural institution. This is a charge that has been leveled against academia since universities first arose in the late middle ages. The chancellor of my university at my time went to prison for misappropriation of funds. Currently (and for years now) my alma mater (a public university) spends some amount of its resources on what some people might consider frivilous make-work (i.e. unneccesary jobs creation) while raising tuition as part of the general runaway education inflation, which is far higher that the core inflation rate. (No citation. I'll trust most readers will grant this asseertion.)

As part of the culture, academia is strongly associated with some political trends, and the status quo, and strongly opposed to others. Of course not everyone is going to like that fit.

At the highest levels elite academia is strongly associated with elite government, media, business, etc.

Professors are generally people who like to talk and tell stories. This rubs some people the wrong way, and not all professors are as smart and as good story tellers as Feynman, for instance.

Just some of the things that might trigger some people.

An attempt at an honest answer:

In my case it's related to the continual drumbeat of news stories that seems to show them being transformed from bastions of free inquiry into centers of political indoctrination. It's been reinforced in the last couple of years by a friend who sent his sweet, friendly, apolitical hard working daughter to a liberal arts college, and she returned as a politicized tattooed pierced foul mouthed social warrior who despises her family and home community. While that anecdote has applied for generations it seems to have become more rule than exception. There are an increasing number of parents who feel that sending their kids to college amounts to parental malpractice.

This "chip" may sound like a form of bigotry in that it paints many remaining fine scholars with the same broad brush, but you can't enroll in just that part of a school.

While the STEM fields that most publish in Elsevier are less affected by this trend they seem to be moving in that direction. Simply researching human intelligence, sexual dimorphism, heritability or a constantly shifting range of other topics has become career threatening. The idea that merit should play a predominant role in hiring is becoming scarce in faculty hiring committees.

I'm a product of a university but looking back I see that my degree did little for me in terms of either increased human capital or of signalling, in that I learned to code outside of class and my degree is of ever less value in getting hired. If I could go back and whisper in my high school ears while I was applying to college I might say "skip it". And that's separate from the ideological angle.

Meanwhile it has become much more expensive in the era of federal financing. Both sides of the cost benefit ratio are moving in the wrong direction.

The net result is that I've come to discount the value of universities. If they were all closed tomorrow it would be both a great loss and gain, and I'm not sure which would dominate.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

I went to a rather liberal university recently and while the community and ideology you describe did exist, it always seemed to be on the fringe a bit (if very loud). For the most part, people were focused on working hard at school or sex and partying rather than engaging in fringe politics.

Some young people need to rebel for a bit. People's views usually moderate a bit a few years out, just with life experience.

The political and cultural role of universities has existed from the beginning, though it mostly serves to reinforce cultural hegemony, not challenge it. Universities are a part of that battleground though. John Stuart Mill commented on this in the 19th century:


For a recent example of this leaning the other direction, there is author T.J. Martinson being fired -- before he could begin teaching, from Olivet Nazarene University, over the contents of a book written outside his proffesorial duties, for including swearing, a lesbian protagonist, and a character choosing hope over prayer:


For a more substantive instance, there are the Lewis Powell memorandum and cooption of many university programmes (particularly economics departments) by right-wing libertarian ideologues:



Probably because of the growing student debt problem (which is spilling over into the rest of society and will probably be a factor in the next economic crisis), the tendency of some employers to demand college degrees for jobs that simply do not require them, and the feeling by many hackers who did not go to college that they are not receiving the respect people with their skills deserve (this may be a justified feeling).

College degrees might not be required in some contexts but are they predictive of some kind of job success? If so, then employers are just being rational in hiring strategy.

Part of the push for everyone to do college is also a lowering of standards, both for entry and for completion. So it's hard to know what today's degree predicts, regardless of the experience of degrees from years ago.

This may have been true when going to college was optional, but now as it's seen as requisite, it's no longer as effective a predictor as it was before, especially in careers where there's a mismatch between personal quality and deference to authority.

Predictive != causal.

College may simply be an expensive interview prefilter, in many cases.

It is exclusionary for many.

PhD student here. Here's my 20 minute rant:

If I don't like academia, it's from my experience in academia. Doing good research won't guarantee you a position. On the contrary, what seems to matter is bringing in a lot of money via grants and publishing tons of papers in recognized journals. This better be done steadily too. I know one guy who didn't get tenure at my university, likely because he had a year or two without any publications. Personally, I think a year or two without publications might be necessary for some longer-term projects. So the system has a short-term bias built in too.

You can be a jerk to your students and thrive in this system. (I'm sure other grad students and former grad students can think of copious examples.)

This seems to be because most people, even other researchers, can't evaluate the quality of work in other fields. I'd go farther than that and say that most researchers don't even know what good quality work should look like in their own fields. So instead they look for proxies like the sheer number of papers published, amount of money brought in, impact factor of the journals published in, how a researcher follows trends, etc. But these are weak proxies at best, maybe even anti-correlated with good research.

I'm sure that tenure track positions are great once you have tenure, but it's a lottery at best, and I think the processes of getting a PhD and tenure select for people who are unlikely to take risks, or teach them to avoid riskier research. So if you have tenure, you're less likely to do the sort of bold research I think is so valuable. I would hesitate to call most research even "incremental" as most researchers do a shallow review of their field, so they can't really build on anything. More like "spinning your wheels". If I became a professor and got tenure I'd probably never advance from associate to full professor, as I'd immediately switch my research strategy from "safe" research before tenure to higher impact research after tenure.

> Doing good research won't guarantee you a position.

Doing good work in industry doesn't, either. Depending where you work, you still need to play all the same bullshit political games.

The difference is, you can leave an abusive job/boss with a lot less friction then you can leave an abusive graduate/post-graduate program/advisor.

Good points. I agree that industry isn't perfect, though I'm looking more at that today than academia. Long-term I'm leaning towards becoming an independent researcher as it seems to be the easiest path to doing actually valuable research today. But I first need to save up enough money to do that.

Thanks for sharing this. I think it is a very good summary from a PhD student perspective. Now let me give you some more information :)

Academia wants to do research - and not pay minimum wage (not even to Tenured Full Professors - ask them how much they make from their grant during the months they are paid). Professors have figured out how to screw PhD students, and their own peers, thanks to competition.

If you look at any PhD student in a stream/major that has a value proposition, chances are - the student is imported. And in these streams (which matter?), research is value-less. Because there is no incentive to do any valuable work. Unfortunately, universities get lucky still - once in a while. Thankfully, this is beginning to end. Perhaps someone can quantitatively study this.

Interesting times - But first - in the US - health care needs a reboot ;-)

Smart people who don't like arbitrary authority (But seem perfectly happy to be paid $300,000/year to build CRUD apps for some product manager at Amafacegoog) often butt heads with educators, be it in school, or university.

Couple that with a disdain that some technocrats have for unquantifiable, soft social sciences, or the politics shared by most people studying them.

Now, couple that with the various well-documented, objective problems that academia has.

Shake it with ice, and you get the comments that you are calling out.

Probably because in the USA higher education is an objectively bad move for most of the people that undertake it. Combine that with the fact that they’ve been told forever it’s a good/necessary thing and you can see bitterness start to creep in.

It's somewhat disappointing because academic research is a /very/ different beast from attending University for an undergraduate degree... they serve very different roles.

Honest answer: it wasn’t meant to be an attack or some form of resentful comment but a comment about the business model. I worked for half my career in a worldwide top tier academic institution (non-US) before all of these political issues. Even the institutions themselves know the current model is failing.

Another possibility I didn’t see below: a higher than average number of HN readers appear to have gone to grad school. My (admittedly jaded) view says that grad school produces one of two outcomes: people disgusted by academia, and people with Stockholm syndrome.

My guess is programming is one of the rare white-collar jobs where a non-negligible amount of people don't have college degrees. So there's some resentment/contempt/regrets from seeing people who spent massive amounts of money and four years of their lives end up doing the same quality work as highschool drop-outs.

Wouldn't the resentment be going the other way then?

I mean as far as I can tell the resentment could come from both those who went to and didn't go to college. Those who didn't go would feel resentment towards peers who are valued more due to what they perceive as signalling while those who did go would feel resentment towards peers who they perceive as lacking foundation or towards colleges themselves for ostensively making them spend time and money for skills their peers gained for free.

Resentment has a way of spreading itself.

Do the bootcamp graduates really believe they'll be Senior Architect 10 years down the line? They'll be in for a surprise.

10 years is more than enough time to learn all the CS you missed out on in school, and then some. And architecure is learned more on the job than in school anyway.

I went to a bootcamp and it doesn't seem to be holding me back too much. Still moving up the ranks in FANG just like everyone else. I don't feel academically inferior to my colleagues, most of them have gradually forgotten most of what they learned in college anyway. And teaching yourself computer science is challenging but it can be done.

(Incidentally I do have a degree, but I didn't study CS.)

Yes, but if your degree was in mathematics or engineering, your example is not as compelling.

Why? What makes a bootcamp graduate any less qualified than a university graduate?

After 10 years experience gained in the field would vastly surpass any differences in fundamentals in my experience.

> After 10 years experience gained in the field would vastly surpass any differences in fundamentals in my experience.

Yes and no.

If your colleagues are Peter Norvig and Richard Gabriel and you are programming editors and compilers, then you will probably get a Masters (and more useful than most) in CS simply by talking to them on a daily basis and coding your ass off inside a codebase that they're working on, too.

The problem is that very few companies have people that good or problems that challenging. If you go to work for an insurance company after a bootcamp, are you going to learn how to build a compiler? (And, call that esoteric and scoff if you will, but I have built a "compiler" several times in my career because it was the best way to transition from a legacy system.)

Now, to be fair, maybe nobody cares. If you're rewriting a CRUD app for the umpteenth time in "YetAnotherFrameworkItsBetterThisTimeWePromiseHaHaHa", then it's not going to matter. Knowledge about the current system and all its tendrils is far more valuable than pedantic graph theory.

However, that's local system knowledge and has no value outside your current company. The only knowledge that has value to your next employer is domain knowledge--at that includes your baseline CS and programming skill.

Can anyone steelman the Elsevier side? I don't want to be caught in the headlights of I have to debate this.

Not exactly steelman, but something you'll want to be aware of if you're going to be debating in this area: The publishers have attempted (and mostly succeeded) to poison the well by equating true open access (free to read, free to publish) with their garbage version of open access (free to read, $3000+ to publish). Once again demonstrating the power of controlling the language. It's going to be a tough battle as long as it's good-hearted activists fighting in their free time vs. full-time Elsevier PR professionals getting a salary to fight.

So you're not a fan of PLoS? I always thought their model seemed fair.

Good question. COnsider:

First, PLoS fees are lower and as a nonprofit only have to support operation (no profit). Also as a nonprofit there is some transparency as to where those fees go, so I assume that publishing there really does cost something like $1600.

Second PLoS's fee rules include the sentence "Authors' ability to pay publication fees will never be a consideration in the decision whether to publish."

Elsevier's "unfair advantage" (something we're supposed to look for on HN) or IP is their ownership of journals that acquired renown over decades. Publication in those journals as opposed to others has, depending on your field, tremendous effect on tenure and grant opportunities. It takes a long time to transfer that repetitional benefit to other institutions like PLoS.

That's why physics (with a more fluid tradition of journal bona fides and a wider use of preprints and passing papers around) was the pioneer field for open access and the like while, say, medicinal chemistry has been a laggard in this area. Doesn't mean the researchers want it that way, but those cultural traditions take a while to change.

If UCB and some other high profile institutions (I'm looking at you, MIT!) can declare a policy away from these journals it will provide cover to allow others to do the same.

> (I'm looking at you, MIT!)

You couldn't choose a worse example than that. MIT famously screwed Aaron Swartz legally over public domain (pre-1923) papers, by baselessly claiming that his access had been "unauthorized" when in fact it was entirely consistent with their own pre-existing policies! They are a bad actor in this whole issue and aren't going to do a thing.

> famously screwed (over)

infamously is what you mean, particularly considering "screwed (over)" is very much an understatement in regards to the sombre culmination of that legal case. [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz#MIT

I'm an alum and I agree and I mentioned MIT because I think it should take a stand to atone for that.

Greatest stain on MIT since Poole and Pyle.

Physics has always been a pioneer when it comes to information. Didn't physicists basically invent the internet to make collaboration easier?

Also I guess some (theoretical) physics/math papers kind of stand on their own. If you proved the Poincaré conjecture, it doesn't matter if you post it in Science or on your WordPress blog: anyone in the field can verify the correctness of your work. Contrast with life science where reproducing work is hard and bona fides count for much more.

There's no inherent reason a non-profit can't provide those bona fides just as well, though. I also hope institutions do the right thing here.

> Didn't physicists basically invent the internet to make collaboration easier?

You mean the Web? For the Internet, no they didn't. It was created by a US military organization.

PLoS is less egregious since they "only" charge $1600 and waive it for authors who can't afford it. With Elsevier/Springer on the other hand, the author has to opt-in and pay about twice that amount or more, no waiver in sight. Of course, even $1600 is fantastic highway robbery for what you're paying for, which is essentially to store a static document on their website. (These days, most authors already prepare camera-ready copies of their submissions, and the additional edits journals make are often a net harm.)

They do charge $3000 for some of their journals (although the flagship is $1600 as you say). The waiver is probably the more important bit here.

It's not hard for me to imagine that a professional high-quality academic hosting service costs something like what PLoS charges. Their budget is probably publicly auditable. I work in enterprise software, though, so I've become kind of inured to seemingly absurd costs for technical solutions.

I used to work in academia, where I became inured to PIs spending crazy amounts (millions per year) on equipment and lab services, which makes me think $1600 for a publication really isn't that big a deal for most developed-world STEM labs. Although I'd rather they spend it on making post-doc salaries livable.

The steel man for the Elsevier side is that nobody is forcing scientists to submit content to Elsevier journals or to read Elsevier journals. It’s a product that they create, so they have the right to price it as they see fit.

If Elsevier was really providing no value, why don’t scientists simply submit their work elsewhere? Clearly scientists and universities don’t really care about open access. If it was that important to them, they would just stop submitting content to non-open-access journals. The truth is that scientists care more about prestige than about open access. Elsevier puts a lot of work into making their journals prestigious, and scientists want that.

It's not "prestige." Framing it that way makes it sound like Elsevier is in the vanity business, and academics are vain.

In actual fact, Elsevier is a gatekeeper to obtaining funding and making a living in research. Elsevier is rent-collecting, not selling an intangible feeling.

To be fair, Elsevier has no direct say in how that funding gets distributed. This is decided by various foundations, NSF, etc., who choose to use publication in Elsevier-owned journals as a proxy for quality.

(N.b. I am no fan of Elsevier, just trying to figure out how their power can be unwound)

So let's go to the root of this. What is it that the funding agencies value in Elsevier publications? That if it's published there it's a mark of high quality research.

Assuming Elsevier is killed off, someone else will have to put in the work of sifting good from bad. And that's not an easy problem, especially when many try to pervert the process for ideological gain.

> Assuming Elsevier is killed off, someone else will have to put in the work of sifting good from bad.

All of this work is performed by unpaid reviewers, not by Elsevier themselves.

Elsevier delegates yes. But the buck still stops with them. They pick the reviewers, for one.

It might not be an easy problem, but it's not a problem that has to be tied to publication, and it's not a problem that has to be pay-to-win.

(Disclaimer: I'm part of a project that tries to sift the good from bad without those things.)

>Elsevier is rent-collecting, not selling an intangible feeling

Got it in one! And until that changes, the status quo remains - regardless of sites like schihub

Because prestige mostly equals funding in research ...

And makes a difference in tenure decisions

That's exactly backwards.

Elsevier didn't create the high-prestige journals. They were originally published by universities and not-for-profit academic societies. And became prestigious over time, in one way or another.

Elsevier just bought them, and has been raising prices and bleeding them out.

> If Elsevier was really providing no value, why don’t scientists simply submit their work elsewhere? Clearly scientists and universities don’t really care about open access. If it was that important to them, they would just stop submitting content to non-open-access journals.

The problem is coordination: everyone would like to stop, there would be a huge collective benefit if everyone stopped, but the first ones who stop will be penalized, so no one wants to be among the first.

> Elsevier puts a lot of work into making their journals prestigious

This gives the impression that the journals are prestigious thanks to Elsevier. In fact, what makes the journals prestigious is the hard work of paper authors and reviewers over the last decades, none of which were paid by Elsevier.

Elsevier owns copyrighted material, which it licenses to individuals and institutions for a fee. The fee is negotiated on a case-by-case basis, which is no different than any other intellectual property such as movies, music, books, or software.

If a customer is unable or unwilling to pay the prevailing rate, then no access will be granted.

The argument that Elsevier uses unpaid academic labor and therefore should fall under some other system is a red herring. Authors signed over their copyright to Elsevier, and like any other copyright holder Elsevier can license its property toward any legal purpose that advances its business interests.

Elsevier attempted - successfully, for quite some time - to create a gate-keeping oligopoly by inserting it as a choke point into academic publishing while providing no real added value.

This isn't about copyright, because original authors are forced to pay-to-play.

In a genuine copyright market, creators are paid in exchange for exploitation of copyright.

If they have to pay up to sign over their rights, that's not a copyright issue - that's extortion.

It's not unpaid academic labor, it's actually exploitative labor. They charge the academics ~$3000 - 5000 to publish via any of their journals.

The other unpaid labor is peer review — keep in mind that reviewers don’t get paid!

> Authors signed over their copyright to Elsevier, and like any other copyright holder Elsevier can license its property toward any legal purpose that advances its business interests.

I have two counter arguments here:

1. Funding agencies should not permit this. If I were to fund public research, the results should be public under an appropriate license.

2. Something is very wrong with the system if authors are willing to do this without being paid. If Elsevier paid the author $3k, that would be another story. (And possibly unethical.)

> 1. Funding agencies should not permit this. If I were to fund public research, the results should be public under an appropriate license.

And more and more are they doing that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_S

Unfortunately, the US is still not on board - that would make a major difference.

> If a customer is unable or unwilling to pay the prevailing rate, then no access will be granted.

Sure, but access can still be obtained. For free. So they can sod off.

Edit: Elsevier and the like are predatory scum. They bought top academic journals, and have increased prices dramatically in recent decades. They're bleeding out the industry, as they ride it down to irrelevance. Just as some have done with the newspaper industry.

My best attempt: without journals charging fees for access, there is a free rider problem where only a few institutions will support journals. By allowing Elsevier to charge, you force everyone to share in the costs. In a weird sort of way, the fact that universities haven’t yet put Elsevier out of business is evidence for the collective action problem.

I don’t really think it works, and the publication fees model might already be a good enough counter-argument, but it’s my best try.

I would imagine that Elsevier would argue that they (and their fellow for-profit journal publishers) are providing a valuable service of being the gatekeepers of scientific knowledge and without them science would collapse in a chaos of confusion and misinformation. (Not that I really believe that's the case; things like ArXiv show that science can work without the involvement of journals open or closed at all, but that's not how the publishers see it).

I'm not sure arXiv is an example of doing without journals. arXiv doesn't involve peer review, so that any result published there are to be taken with a big grain of salt.

On the other hand, there are open access journals that essentially act as a layer above arXiv, so that the main added value is review.

I don’t think science would suffer too much if we just abandoned peer review and committed to the arXiv route. Peer review does little to ensure research is actually rigorous. Rather, it mostly ensures the authors know how to play game: use the right language, cite the right people, and don’t stray too far from the current fad while simultaneously selling what they’ve done like it’s the hottest thing since relativity.

Once you’ve read enough papers, you don’t even have to invoke the replication crisis to see that most papers should be taken with a grain of salt.

In AI field such layer is recognizable conferences, researchers compete to get their papers accepted, and conference committees are doing peer review.

My Steelman for Elsevier: they coordinate the peer review (giving your work more legitimacy), the marketing, and the distribution of your work. We all take Dropbox/Google Drive/iCloud for granted but actually keeping a searchable and relevant archive of your work on place forever is also a fairly involved process.

I can't believe I've never heard of this expression.

Papers produced using any amount of taxpayer money should be required to be publicly available. Not doing so is like stealing a farmer's crops so you can sell him food made from them.

They can be, it just costs $5000

Interesting that you mention farmers crops. Should crops produce with government subsidies also be publicly available for free?

They should be available cheaper than if they weren’t subsidized, proportional to the degree of subsidy. Which is usually the point of subsidizing something’s production.

Whereas basic science is almost entirely tax funded, making a pretty good case for it being a public resource.

I mean, there's several reasons why food stamps are part of the farm bill, this included.


Now all that Elsevier has to do is eliminate piracy! Just like how the RIAA eliminated piracy, and we are all still willing to pay 99 cents for a new song on iTunes. (sarcasm)

I prefer to buy music legally. Am I alone? I don't want to have to worry about legal processes when I could just spend a buck to listen to that little diddy stuck in my head.

Actually that’s a great idea.

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