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Crispr pioneer among University of California researchers boycotting Elsevier (chemistryworld.com)
208 points by r0n0j0y 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

These people at Elsevier and their ilk are simple thugs who have leveraged their oligopolistic power into a web of extortion and coercion. They force the people who create their content to give them the copyright, even though they created nothing but the bars of the jail they imprison the content therein. Firstly, a coercice agreement is not enforceable no matter how they embellish it with soft language. It is like a robber who asks you if you like his gun? Look how pretty it is, and how lethal it is and how badly it could hurt anyone shot by it, so you do not want to get in the way of any bullets do you? By the way, I see you are carrying a heavy burden of valuables, would you let us assist to to carry that burden - good. We will watch over the valuable and test their ability to be spent on good works for the needy (us)

So they are simple thugs to be dealt with by police and the law by exposing and cancelling their coercive and forced copyright assignment agreements and placing those copyrights into a copyleft or similar position. This applies to all prior work and all new work going forward. The cost of running this process will be less than 1% of the monster eye breaking gougery that the colleges now bear.

It has to come, they have to go. And recall the way they have kept the poor contries down by denial of access - that has kept the third worlders with first world brains, locked in an unethical cubbyhole. In the mead time, get a few dozen seed boxes online with the last 20+ years of research data indexed and downloadable for free or very low fees. All well hid by technical means for anonymity. I wish I could do more, but do this much damage to those evil thugs is already a good days work,

Elsevier's wickedness goes beyond coercive publication contracts. They set up a vanity journal for Merck to publish their dubious results concerning Vioxx in. Merck basically published marketing material as scientific papers in order to promote Vioxx, while conveniently withholding information about the drug's dangerous side effects, and Elsevier covered for them, making these publications look likr an independent journal.

The Vioxx debacle is one of the most blatant and straightforward examples of "evil big pharma" in the modern era, and Merck holds most of the blame -- but Elsevier is complicit in the deaths of people who took Vioxx also.

I'd never heard of this, but wow the details[0] are pretty shocking. It was so blatant.

[0] https://www.the-scientist.com/the-nutshell/merck-published-f...

What bothers me is how they've actually encrypted their datastore in Mendeley so their own customers can't actually get at the data they paid for:


I migrated away from Mendeley the day I found out Elsevier bought them. So ever since then, I've been paying yearly for storage with for Zotero. Overall, I've been very pleased with Zotero thus far. I've never had an issue getting data in or out of Zotero.

Now Endnote on the other hand... if I could just get collaborators to switch away from Endnote...

I got a lesson the hard-way. Mendeley crashed and refused to start up again. There was a known bug that they had not fixed for months. Almost a year of annotations gone. Even though I could find the PDF on disk I could not get to my annotations. they store it in a sqlitedb. I needed to reverse engineer the sqlitedb to get anything out. Total nightmare.

Still searching for a better solution for annotations + referencing. I use zotero and the highlights app at the moment.

I use a standard PDF reader and then the ZotFile plugin. ZotFile processes highlighted text and comments made in PDF compliant ways and turns then into notes in Zotero.

I find it interesting that Elsevier gets blamed, when authors could simply publish in alternative journals.

Why don’t they? Because their career is dependent on high impact journals because their bosses don’t care about lesser publications.

This problem could be readily solved if they turned their anger against the school administration for pretty much forcing authors to publish in Elsevier journals.

> This problem could be readily solved if they turned their anger against the school administration

Not exactly. I'm an academic (mathematics), and I don't care much about what my bosses think of me. From what I've observed, within my university there don't seem to be consequences (positive or negative) for much of anything.

So who do I care about impressing then? Well, my bosses, a little. But mostly my peers within the scientific community. They are the ones who decide whether or not to invite me to conferences, whether to fund my grant proposals, and whether to interview me if I decide to apply for other jobs.

The problem is pretty entrenched. Really, we are ourselves to blame.

Kind of. Basically no academics care what the literal name or publisher of the journal are. What matters is that Journal X and Y are at the top of the field, so they attract the best papers and the best editorial staff and can pull the best reviewers.

In theory, if everyone decided that starting January 1, 2021 all the previous academic effort devoted to Journal X could be instead turned to Open Science Journal Not-X, the impact on scientific endeavor would be essentially zero.

But getting everyone on board for that is a difficult task. Most faculty have no direct involvement in the allocation of subscription fees, so they don't really experience much cost (only that of emailing the occasional paywalled PDF to a less-well-placed colleague). It's easier to just keep on doing what we've been doing.

> Basically no academics care what the literal name or publisher of the journal are.

This is patently false. Some universities and even governments enforce whitelists of reference publications, and each researcher is evaluated based on how many papers he manages to publish on them. Failing to meet quotas has a negative impact on the researcher's evaluation and ultimately may result in termination. Researchers may not care if a paper they read was from GloriousJournal or ModestPublication or even arxiv, but researchers without tenure who need to publish to avoid perishing do care. If you're starting out and you manage to produce 1 or 2 papers a year, you'll obviously care a lot where your work will be published

I think you are talking past each other.

The real problem is network effect and collective action.

Whether it's whitelisting, "impact factor", or whatever, lots of tenure committees will have evaluation criteria you have to meet. So in that sense you are very correct.

What misterdoubt was saying, I think, is that nobody in the field actually actually cares that it is Y Journal of X, what they care about is who is publishing in it. Elsevier or whomever isn't what makes it a high impact journal, it's the papers and researchers.

So while what you say is true, it's also true that if everyone in a field could mostly agree to drop Y Journal of X in favor of X letters, or whatever, it would work fine and the tenure committees wouldn't take long to catch up. There might be a year or two of confusion, but that's it.

> What misterdoubt was saying, I think, is that nobody in the field actually actually cares that it is Y Journal of X, what they care about is who is publishing in it.

No, you did not understood the problem. They do care a lot about if it's journal X or journal Y. They care because their job depends on it because the journals that count are regulated into a whitelist and sometimes even into a legal bill, which is outside of their power to change or influence, and they do care because getting your paper into a exclusive paper is a mark of prestige that signals whether your work is worth publishing along with other meaningful work. It's disingenuous and even clueless to assert otherwise. This blind and baseless assertion that journals don't count ignores fundamental and very basic aspects of working in research, particularly how important it is to have your work accepted into the right publication or venue. Otherwise arxiv and blogs would suffice, don't you agree?

FWIW, I understand the problem quite well.

misterdoubt was drawing a distinction between a journal, i.e. the publication itself, and it's constituent papers & researchers. You are simply denying that distinction, which isn't an effective refutation of their idea.

To me it seems you are being intentionally obtuse here, so I'll leave it at that.


To avoid the confusion, I should have emphasized the lack of publisher as marker of high quality. A Sage journal or an Elsevier journal is probably better than random-publisher-I've-barely-heard-of... but I'd never heard of a field where publisher specifically was a criterion for paper/citation-counting.

It only takes a small percentage of people in the right places to start a revolution, and it feels like With UC getting on board with it, we're getting near a tipping point.

Reminds me of https://xkcd.com/2025

This. Academics who have already "proved themselves" should seriously consider dropping Elsevier et al. If your career depends on publishing in certain journals there is less freedom to do the "right" thing.

Even if every researcher in the University of California system stopped publishing with Elsevier, this problem would still exist: UC libraries would need contracts with Elsevier for their journals, because researchers at other universities publish with Elsevier, and UC researchers need access to their work to do their jobs.

There is a campaign to boycott publication in Elsevier journals more generally, which has been going on for many years, but the collective action problem means it hasn't dented Elsevier much: http://thecostofknowledge.com/

Or, UC libraries could just publicly advocate sci-hub to their researchers. And then Elsevier would, of course, be forced to very publicly sue them for doing so, destroying themselves through the world's largest example ever witnessed of the Streisand Effect.

This is right! They (publishers) can't continue this path without the clients, provided so conveniently by academic administration.

They did publish in alternative journals, those journals got bought by Elsevier.

I just read that Elsevier made £2.54 billion in revenue last year. I didn’t know academic publishing was such a lucrative business.

By comparison Penguin Random House makes €3.3 billion euros in revenue last yr and they sell a ton of books. Simon and Schuster makes $800m/yr.

I guess annuity’s from businesses and non profits using a legacy business model that predates technology beats selling books. No wonder they want to protect the business.

It's amazing how much money you can make taking content provided to you for free, getting academics to review it for free, and then charging outrageous prices to access it.

As long as there are 1000 applicants for one tenure job, Elsevier will stay around. Even 100 scientists abandon Elsevier, 10000 PhD students elsewhere queue up to publish their papers in journals owned by Elsevier.

What matters is where the high-impact papers go. If they go, so too does the prestige.

There will be no shortage of manuscripts, but that's really not the point.

That doesn't mean that academics can't slowly tarnish their reputation until eventually (years, decades, centuries) certain journals are no longer relevant. Change takes time. That doesn't mean it isn't a worthwhile endeavor.

Committees should rely on the quality of published articles, rather on where these articles are published. As long as the latter mentality persists, it will take a long time.

If I'm understanding the idea correctly they are saying that will not review more articles for free as peers, for Elsevier journals. There is a difference between: "I'm boycotting your work" and "[As you bill me for everything] I don't feel obliged to keep working for free for you"

Excellent to see. Scientists are hampered by the kind of informational gatekeeping the current journal system represents, and Elsevier is the most predatory of the bunch -- the late 90s Microsoft of scientific publication.

Remember, you can't spell "Elsevier" without E-V-I-L.

Universities should collaborate on creating (or improving existing) open peer review and publishing platform. It can be based on MIT's PubPub[1] or created from scratch. Adding more features like in Authorea[2] and Overleaf[3]. Since PubPub sources are on GitHub[4], it is easy to improve today and now. Enhancing the existing infrastructure around arXiv and bioArXiv will help too. Today many universities trying to pursue their objectives or creating their platforms. But the complexity of the task requires a united effort.

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

[2] https://authorea.com/

[3] https://www.overleaf.com/

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

A few years ago, there was also an extensive discussion[1] about possible improvements for the current publishing model and platforms. See several follow up posts[2][3][4] too.

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

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

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

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

I found this page[1] interesting as it explains some of the costs associated with UC's use of Elsevier ("5. Is Elsevier content expensive?") along with Elsevier's view of the negotiation ("6. What does California Digital Library want, and what has Elsevier offered?")

[1] https://www.elsevier.com/about/california-digital-library-an...

Why does academia still tolerate the archaic scientific publishing world when there is the Internet?

The fact that people are still so dependent on these useless hegemonies sickens me.

It only takes a little bit of courage and everyone else will join. Scientists are only keeping themselves captive by playing along.

A couple reasons:

- Elsevier, and other commercial publishers, also publish the journals for the societies I am a member of. Where my peers are. Where the audience is clear.

- "The Internet" has not exactly done a great job of coming up with a substitute. Every time this comes up on HN, there's all kinds of comments about academic publishing being "ripe for disruption" and yet somehow nothing manifests itself.

- "It only takes a little bit of courage and everyone else will join." People have tried this, and while it ends up being an admirable principled stand, it's mostly an affectation of secure senior academics who don't have to scramble for funding. For the rest of us, it's not "a little bit of courage". It's "lets detonate your career and hope some people come along."

- The alternatives put more burden on individual academics. Preprints require shepherding, and marketing and curation. Open access publishers put the costs directly on a lab, which especially for new faculty, is often a fairly substantial portion of their total funding. I can submit a paper to a PLOS journal - or I can submit a paper to a journal that's potentially better and hire an undergraduate to help with the work for a new project. Or send a graduate student to a conference.

What is the reasoning for having subscriptions for journals? Does the journal work like some sort of filtering system to weed out the bad articles and only provide the user with good articles?

In the chemistry / molecular biology community, that is definitely part of the role played by a journal like Cell. It is considered a very prestigious journal and tends to publish only what the editors and reviewers perceive to be very important findings. Of course, we (scientists) are imperfect reviewers and sometimes don't see the value in great work and likewise sometimes imagine greatness in mediocre work. Editors also feel pressure to select work that they believe will be rapidly and frequently cited---as the number of citations per paper in the first two years after publication affects the impact factor of the journal.

Unlike math and physics, many disciplines have only recently adopted preprint servers (like bioRxiv) and there's still some bias against posting preprints within the community.

There are a bunch of dubious journals and conferences around the world, and researching a topic without filtering down to a handful of journals can turn up a lot of crap.

There's been a number of times where I've been researching niche topics and found "peer reviewed" publications where the math was incorrect, the code examples were invalid syntax, and had results/analysis that I couldn't recreate.

Sometimes I wonder if the authors submit to journals until they find one that sticks.

That's not to say "good" journals don't have "bad" publications. Some have various levels of peer review, like full text/abstract only/not reviewed at all. Sometimes you wind up with content that deserves a tech blog post, not a journal article. But different strokes for different folks, it's not hard to filter out mentally once you're familiar with the literature.

More than a bunch! The scale of it is astonishing and depressing.

See Inside the Fake Science Factory


Once upon a time, reaching out to contact editors and reviewers, getting together reviews, shepherding the editors, managing publishing decisions, formatting manuscripts into articles, and printing physical journals, and mailing them to customers cost significant amounts of money. So it was more-or-less in everyone's interest to support publishers, as a key actor in disseminating and consuming scientific knowledge.

So what is the reasoning?

Pure institutional inertia.

The peer-review process is the low-pass filter that you are talking about, and that is largely contributed to by volunteers. The subscription model seems to be an artifact from print, etc.

31 is too few? Its remarkable that top scientists are among them , but i doubt busy PIs like her review stuff regularly.

Why is a European company at the center of this? I thought EU was pro open access.

Surely if Elsevier was so bad the magical hand of the free market would simply have solved it by now.

Elsevier has one hand in your pocket and the other firmly grips your b*lls..

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