Elsevier? Just say No!

I found out via Twitter that UK Universities are now negotiating again with publishing giant Elsevier for access to its range of hideously overpriced journals.

Five years ago the result of similar negotiations was a clear victory for Elsevier and UK institutions have been paying ever since. This time there’s a strong feeling in the UK academic community that the negotiators have to take a much firmer line, even if that means losing access to Elsevier journals.

See, e.g., this thread from mathematician Tim Gowers (who runs a very successful arXiv overlay journal called Discrete Analysis along similar lines to the Open Journal of Astrophysics).

and this from Computational Neuroscientist Stephen Eglen:

It is important to take a stand on this issue if you want the negotiations to succeed in reducing the burden on University budgets caused by profiteering publishers like Elsevier. If you’re on Twitter you can do so using the hashtag #NoElsevier. Alternatively you can make it clear to your institution’s library that you’re prepared to do without Elsevier journals unless they reduce the price substantially.

I’d add a more general comment. If you’re an academic who thinks academia needs the likes of Elsevier then you’re an academic who is not thinking. There are plenty of ways of communicating your results without shaking hands with the Devil. I find it completely mystifying why so many academics and their institutions are so willing to be fleeced in the academic journal racket. Perhaps they believe they don’t understand how little it actually costs to publish articles online?

You could do a lot worse than seize this opportunity to set up your own journal. It’s really quite straightforward and inexpensive, especially if your research community uses the arXiv. Why not try setting up your own overlay journal?

47 Responses to “Elsevier? Just say No!”

  1. Bit ironic that the link on the first line leads to a pay-for-view screen..

  2. Cesar Uliana Says:

    Not sure I understand the economics here. Suppose the UK does not reach an agreement with Elsevier and lose access. A logical consequence is that people would refrain from sending papers to Elsevier if they can, since anything published there would be unavailable to UK researchers. So not paying Elsevier hurts them both in the loss of direct revenue and because their journals have less appeal.

    Europe managed to get funding for the LHC, it should be able to coordinate the universities into threatening the publishers with a massive opt-out of contracts. Even the politics should be easy, as it could be done under the guise of saving taxpayers money.

    Although, as you say, I’m baffled that people in academia see any value in spending money for publishing papers.

  3. Francis Says:

    I noted this sentence:

    ..Many research funders now set requirements that academics publish research open access – but this comes at a publishing cost to universities…

    The requirement is to have the research open access, not to pay additional funds to a journal to make it open access. I would also imagine that most universities now have their own research publication repositories?

    • While there are some uses for institutional repositories, general dissemination is not one of them. Am I supposed to check all repositories every day for new papers?

      • Francis Says:

        The point is that it does then satisfy the requirement – including for REF – that the paper is open access. arXiv does the same, but I don’t think all disciplines have similar systems.

      • telescoper Says:

        Institutional repositories could join in an indexing system, but I think it’s better to stick with subject-based repositories like arXiv.

      • Yes, it fulfills the requirement to have it open access. But at least some authors want their papers to be read.

        Subject-based repositories are good, but not very useful if they determine, behind closed doors and with no feedback to the authors, what is allowed through and what is not.

        Dislike of arXiv is probably the main reason that there aren’t many more papers in The Open Journal of Astrophysics. Anyone can see that the quality is fine, I can vouch for the process being easy and well organized, and there are no costs to readers nor to authors. But either one puts the paper on arXiv before submission, which many don’t do, for a variety of reasons, or one runs the risk that the paper is accepted by the journal but rejected by arXiv, in which case it is essentially not published, which would satisfy no-one involved (except perhaps the arXiv moderators who thus achieve their weekly rejection quota or whatever).

        There is a simple solution. Since arXiv-overlay journals already have a website, disks are cheap, and most papers well less than a megabyte in size, why not just host PDFs of the papers (which you already have in the system!!!!!!!!!!!) in addition to pointing to the arXiv abstract? As long as you don’t do this, people can publish their paper in MNRAS or whatever and it will actually be available to anyone who wants to read it. (Even if it is not open-access at MNRAS for a while, MNRAS has no objection to the author making something equivalent to the final version publicly available, and ADS will link to it.)

      • telescoper Says:

        Please give evidence of widespread dislike of the arXiv, by which I mean not just your own. Everyone I know in astrophysics posts their papers on arXiv. Why would they do that if they disike it?

        And to answer your last question yet again. We built the journal as an arXiv overlay journal because the arXiv is the de facto publishing route for a huge majority of astrophysics papers and we’re happy to promote it as such.

      • Of course, some might publish at MNRAS even if you do actually publish your own papers in addition to having them at arXiv (at least those which arXiv wants), and in general it is good to have a few journals at the same level to avoid a monopoly. However, more might opt for The Open Journal of Astrophysics than do so now.

      • Yes, most people in astrophysics put their papers on arXiv. However, a significant number do not do so before acceptance (some of those have said so publicly here), which makes arXiv-overlay journals a non-starter for them.

        Also, some put their papers there even though they don’t like it, because they have no choice if they want a reasonable amount of visibility. Abuse on the part of monopolies is not uncommon, and many people still deal with them as the lesser of two evils.

        Also, I have discussed such matters much more privately than publicly, and know than many share my opinion. If they want to remain anonymous (some, probably rightly, fear that they will be banned from arXiv if they criticize it publicly), then I respect that.

        Of course, if you read only papers which are on arXiv, you might not know some authors who don’t put papers on arXiv.

      • telescoper Says:

        Wrong. It is possible to submit a paper to OJA directly. We don’t encourage it but some authors use that route. The benefits of putting papers on arXiv first are substantial.

      • Two points. First, I’m fully aware that one can submit a paper to the OJA directly, i.e. without it being on arXiv, as I did so myself! So I certainly never made that claim and thus don’t know what you think is wrong. Second, it is a fact that many people don’t put papers on arXiv until after acceptance, for a variety of reasons. People are different, circumstances are different, and I think that the authors are the best judge of what is best for them.

        So, as I said, people wanting to submit to the OJA have two choices: they can put it on arXiv first, and if it ends up in astro-ph they could then submit it to the OJA. (I don‘t know what your policy is for arXiv papers which are in another category.). Or they can wait for acceptance by the OJA then run the risk of arXiv not allowing the paper to appear in astro-ph. The crucial difference here is that while the same thing could (and does!) happen to MNRAS papers, there is at least the consolation that it is actually published.

        Of course, some might say that acceptance by a journal is worth much less than having it in the appropriate category on arXiv. That might be true in some sense. In such a case, it is an even bigger problem for and embarrassment to the astronomical community that arXiv does what it wants, intransparently, provides no feedback to authors (not even an automatic email if a paper is reclassified!), and the author does not even have the choice of completely removing the paper if he disagrees with the reclassification. (That did happen in my case, because I was specifically offered the choice, which was spun as an act of grace, and after I did so, I was told that that violates the rules. Go figure.)

        What would happened to a paper accepted by the OJA but not allowed into astro-ph on arXiv, or not even submitted to arXiv? I suppose that you could require submission after acceptance, but you have no control over whether arXiv will allow the paper into astro-ph. What would you do if they reclassify it to another category? What would you do if they reject it?

        A compromise could be, in such exceptional cases, to link to some website other than arXiv for the official version of the paper (could be an institutional repository, the website of the author, some sort of public cloud storage, whatever; it could even be to the OJA website, where there already is a copy of the paper). If not why not?

    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, the publishers seem to have persuaded many academics that they should pay for Open Access to maintain profit levels in the industry.

      Most universities have Open Access repositories and there’s no reason in principle why you couldn’t have overlay journals sitting on top of these. I just think subject-based repositories are better.

      • Another problem as that probably no two such repositories are the same, and it would be non-trivial to link to all the papers. Also, the criteria for being allowed in an open-access repository are not the same. Of course, if the journal overlaying them wants to be more strict, it can, but it can’t be less strict.

      • telescoper Says:

        Libraries are very advanced in this area, using common standards to allow compatibility.

  4. If it is really so cheap and easy to set up an online journal, why aren’t there more of them?

    While setting it up might be cheap and easy, ensuring long-term access is not. It is easier to read an ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablet than an 8-inch floppy from the 1970s.

    Astronomy might have it better than other fields, so the pressure is less. Also, publication is not the point; if you think so, just put your stuff on viXra and be done with it. Rather, acceptance by a respected journal is. There are now many pay-to-play journals who have jumped on the open-access bandwagon, so a new, good journal might be confused with one of those.

    And, as I‘ve mentioned before, arXiv-overlay journals are not an option as long as arXiv, and not the journal, decides what gets published.

    • telescoper Says:

      arXiv overlay journals are an option for people who use the arXiv. Your papers are on arXiv. Your numerous comments about this seem to be based on a disgruntlement about one of your papers being what you consider to be the wrong section.

      • I‘ve posted links to the paper in question here (which was never publicly available at arXiv and, at least for all practical purposes, is no longer there at all). Please tell me why it belongs in general physics and not astro-ph. Note that it is not even possible to cross-list it to astro-ph (I asked explicitly and got an explicit answer).

        Having it open access is not the issue; it is open access now. The goal is to have it in astro-ph at arXiv, where those who might be interested will see it automatically. As long as arXiv does not effectively white-list papers from the main journals in the field into the appropriate category, and in exceptional cases where it really thinks that another category is appropriate provides no feedback at all to the authors, then it is seriously broken.

        Not just in connection with this problem, it is important to take the problems of others seriously, even if you have not experienced similar problems yourself.

    • telescoper Says:

      The answer to your first question is the innate conservatism of academia. It’s like the joke about how many academics does it take to change a lightbulb – the answer is “change?”…..

      • The conservatism regarding arXiv policy seems to be at least as big a problem. Of course, ignorance of their actual modus operandi could also be an explanation.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      If it is really so cheap and easy to set up an online journal, why aren’t there more of them?

      I expect it *is* cheap and easy. The hard part is winning your online journal a reputation. Peter is prepared to put in the effort and will, I expect, be seen as among the pioneers in a generation’s time. Let us encourage this sort of thing, not discourage it.

  5. ArXiv also needs funding, and that should be accounted for in the cost of overlay journals. But that will be a minor cost compared to the excessive costs of scientific publishers. A combination of ArXiv as repository and overlay journals which provide the quality control and refereeing, should remove the need for expensive journals.

    What now seems to be happening is that publishing companies buy up the low-cost journals.

    The expansive journals still depend on us for refereeing.

    • A combination of ArXiv as repository and overlay journals which provide the quality control and refereeing, should remove the need for expensive journals.

      That would be ideal if arXiv were actually a repository. But arXiv alone decides what appears where, and by submitting you agree to give up most or all of your legal rights with respect to any dispute.

      Another point is that it is not Elsevier on one side (why anyone would even consider publishing with a publisher responsible for Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals is beyond me) and arXiv-overlay journals on the other; there is a broad spectrum. There are good journals which cost the author nothing and which are either open-access or allow the author to distribute something equivalent to the final version of the paper.

      • You are very negative about ArXiv. I have very good experiences with it. I put papers there only after acceptance but that is a personal choice. Papers on ArXiv have much more visibility than those that are left to the journals. Geology does not have an ArXiv, and finding and accessing their papers is much more difficult than it is in astrophysics.

      • There was a man who fell from the top of a skyscraper. As he sailed by the third story, someone asked him how he was doing, and he replied: so far, so good. My experiences with arXiv were also good, until I had a bad experience.

        Something astronomers should understand are selection effects. Many who are critical of arXiv keep quiet in public, for fear of getting banned by arXiv for such criticism, seeing it as the lesser of two evils to try to live with its problems rather than give up altogether and have even less visibility for their papers.

        Another selection effect is that people who read only papers on arXiv miss those which, for whatever reason, are not on arXiv. One could say that the authors made a bad choice by not putting papers on arXiv, but sometimes they want to and are not allowed to.

        There is a lot more to this than I have let on here so far. Much more will be revealed soon, in a very public forum.

        Whatever my personal problems with arXiv, I find it hard to believe that some think that it is OK for papers which have been accepted by MNRAS not to be allowed to appear in astro-ph.

      • telescoper Says:

        Well I saw your paper in MNRAS but there’s no sign of it on arXiv, not even in general physics…

      • Well I saw your paper in MNRAS but there’s no sign of it on arXiv, not even in general physics…

        As I wrote above:

        completely removing the paper if he disagrees with the reclassification. (That did happen in my case, because I was specifically offered the choice, which was spun as an act of grace, and after I did so, I was told that that violates the rules. Go figure.)

        I‘ve posted links to the paper in question here (which was never publicly available at arXiv and, at least for all practical purposes, is no longer there at all).

        Would you have seen it on arXiv if it were in gen-ph and you didn’t know about it otherwise? That’s one reason not to be in gen-ph. Most people subscribe to the list of new abstracts which is sent via email or perhaps look at the corresponding page on the web, but of course few if any do so for all categories.

        The other reason is that gen-ph is a strange mixture of three types of paper: those really about general physics; those, like mine, which look like they belong in another category (a higher proportion of such normal-looking papers appear not to have been accepted or even submitted to a journal than in the other categories); and obviously crackpot papers.

        This is what seems to be happening: arXiv is afraid of getting sued by crackpots, so they cannot white-list papers from respected journals. Rather, they abuse the gen-ph category by letting a few crackpot papers appear in it, and also sacrifice a few normal papers and reclassify them to gen-ph. Then, when a crackpot accuses them of white-listing papers from respected journals (I have no idea why they fear being sued by crackpots), arXiv can point to crackpot papers in gen-ph and to the fact that there are also papers from respected journals there, thus taking the wind out of the crackpot sails. Of course, this policy is not publicly documented, but I have evidence—which would stand up in court if necessary—that it is indeed the case. My problem is that my paper was chosen, perhaps randomly, perhaps because some anonymous moderator doesn’t like me, to be the sacrifice on that day.

        Of course, I am not the only person affected. arXiv would hardly go to the trouble it has gone to just to have one fewer abstract in astro-ph, especially after several people much higher up in the food chain pleaded with them to allow my paper to appear in astro-ph; of course, the fact that they didn’t ruined their reputation in the eyes of those who took up my cause, but apparently that is a price arXiv is willing to pay. However, most of those affected stay quiet, because they fear that criticism of arXiv would get them banned completely.

      • telescoper Says:

        It would have shown up when I clicked on your name regardless of which section it was in…

        (I read your earlier comment as meaning that you tried to have it removed but wasn’t allowed to…)

      • It would have shown up when I clicked on your name regardless of which section it was in…

        True. If you know that the paper exists, though, it is easy to find, completely independently of arXiv, even a free-to-read version. And of course my army of fans click on my name daily. 🙂 But the main point of being in astro-ph is that the abstract appear along with others in the field.

        (I read your earlier comment as meaning that you tried to have it removed but wasn’t allowed to…)

        I submitted it, and it was reclassified. There is no automatic email, much less anything more substantial, when that happens, although every other status change generates an automatic email. I noticed the reclassification only because it didn’t appear in the abstract mailing, so I checked the status. I then unsubmitted it, because several colleagues advised me against having it appear in gen-ph. I then kept updating so that it wouldn’t be deleted, keeping it in the unsubmitted status, while going through the appeals procedure. In the end, I was given the choice of having it appear in gen-ph (cross-listing to astro-ph was not an option) or deleting it. I chose the latter. This was apparently meant as some sort of special favour to me. Later, I was told that I broke the rules by doing so.

        Not that any is needed, but the secrecy surrounding the reclassification supports my theory as to why my paper was (and presumably other papers were) reclassified. Otherwise, why not send an automatic email when the paper is reclassified and also give the author the option to remove it completely? The reason is that they need a steady stream of good papers which they can reclassify at will even against the wishes of the author.

      • telescoper Says:

        It would have shown up under a name search or keyword search whether or not I knew of its existence beforehand.

      • It would have shown up under a name search or keyword search whether or not I knew of its existence beforehand.

        True, but that means that you would find it only if searching for my name or the corresponding keywords. With regard to the former, people interested enough in my work to do so would already know of a new paper, and wouldn’t have to read it at arXiv. With respect to the latter, yes, it is possible that someone would find it via a keyword search. They might not notice, or might not care, if it is in gen-ph rather than in astro-ph. But on the other hand they might. That is something I want to avoid, because of some dodgy papers in there. There is a reason why several people advised me not to let it appear there.

        If you think that that is a non-problem, then why not post your own future papers to gen-ph rather than to astro-ph?

        Of course, most people notice new papers via the list of new abstracts on the arXiv web pages and sent out via email. Not being in that list means that, for all practical purposes, the paper is invisible to the community. So the possibility that it turns up in a search is there but in that case it is much less visible than being in the proper category, and has the additional dubious distinction of being in gen-ph.

      • telescoper Says:

        I’ll submit mine to astro-ph so they can be published on OJA!

      • telescoper Says:

        I agree. It is Quite Easily Done.

      • Here on your blog, you were highly critical of the bullying at the ETH. You were also highly grateful to the enormous drag queen who once perhaps saved your life.

        Certainly preventing a paper accepted by MNRAS from appearing in astro-ph, where most astronomers would expect to see it, and not even informing the author, much less providing any reason, is an example of academic bullying. I thus fail to understand why you see my problem with arXiv as non-existent.

        Suppose that something similar had happened to someone’s first paper, and/or to someone mentally less stable than I am, and/or someone dependent on visibility in academia for their existence. I would not be surprised if suicide were the result in some cases.

        Especially as the Editor-in-Chief of an arXiv-overlay journal, you should have an interest in arXiv working fairly on behalf of the community.

      • telescoper Says:

        Your paper is published in MNRAS and could have been on the arXiv if you hadn’t decided to withdraw it. I really don’t see the reason for the hysteria. You can’t equate this with bullying in any way.

      • telescoper Says:

        Do you honestly think someone might commit suicide because a preprint appeared in general physics instead of astro-ph?

      • Your paper is published in MNRAS and could have been on the arXiv if you hadn’t decided to withdraw it. I really don’t see the reason for the hysteria. You can’t equate this with bullying in any way.

        Yes, technically, it could be on arXiv, but, as I have explained here at length, that would be essentially useless, as the goal is not to be in some figleaf category, but in astro-ph. And if arXiv doesn’t allow that and doesn’t give any reasons, that is bullying, pure and simple.

        If you really think that there is no problem being in gen-ph, then I challenge you to submit your next paper which is not intended for The Open Journal of Astrophysics to gen-ph.

      • telescoper Says:

        Why should I?

      • Do you honestly think someone might commit suicide because a preprint appeared in general physics instead of astro-ph?

        People have been known to commit suicide for much lesser reasons.

        If anything, based on your tales of your own history of mental illness here, I would expect you to be more sympathetic to those who don’t see the world your way.

        The main reason for lack of progress is that people hear about problems but see them as other people’s problems,

      • telescoper Says:

        If you feel your mental health is at risk because of this episode then I urge you to seek professional help.

      • Why should I?

        To back up your claim that that is essentially as good as being in astro-ph.

      • If you feel your mental health is at risk because of this episode then I urge you to seek professional help.

        Not mine. I explicitly said that I was referring to people not as mentally stable as myself, or who depend on arXiv for their professional livelihood. Fortunately those problems are not problems I have.

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