Archive for Elsevier

Desperate Publishers

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on April 28, 2013 by telescoper

I’m on campus to get some work done but before that I thought I do a quick postette as I eat my lunch. A good topic for a short contribution is a story I heard last week from one of my colleagues in the Department of Physics & Astronomy here at the University of Sussex. It seems he gave a talk at a conference a while ago.  As is far from unusual in such circumstances he was asked to write up his contribution for a special edition of a journal.

Before I go on I’ll just digress a bit to mention a less well-known aspect of the Academic Publishing Racket, the Conference Proceedings Volume. For a long time you couldn’t attend a conference in astrophysics without having to contribute an article to one of these books. Although usually produced on the cheap, using camera-ready copy, and with minimal editorial oversight, these were sold to participants and (more lucratively) to university libraries at enormously inflated prices, often over £100 a go. It wasn’t unusual for funding agencies to insist that a conference talk be followed up with a publication, so this racket flourished for a while. I’ve actually got a shelf full of such volumes accumulated over the years, although I don’t really know why I kept them as it is in their nature that they date very quickly.

Anyway, as time passed, and the internet expanded and improved, most conference organizers began to realize that it was much better just to keep their own record of the conference: putting summaries, and even full presentations, on the web for interested persons to download gratis. No doubt it is still de rigueur in some subjects to produce books of this type, but  most in astrophysics don’t bother any more.  Quite rightly, in my opinion. I think they’re a waste of time, money and shelf space.

The original thread of this post, however, isn’t about standalone books of conference proceedings but special editions of a regular academic journal; for an example of one such see here. Note the unsubtle and entirely gratuitous  link to one of my own papers! I’ve always thought this format was just as bad as putting them in a book, with the additional disadvantage that people might misinterpret the journal reference as meaning that the paper had been refereed. The paper I linked to above was not refereed, for instance. In any case they’re a bit of a chore to write, and are just as likely to be of ephemeral interest, but if one is invited to give a talk one generally feels obliged to play ball and deliver the article requested.

Which all brings me back to my colleague here at Sussex. He did his talk and wrote up the obligatory article for the special journal edition of the conference proceedings. But times have changed. When he tried to submit his article via the web upload facility he was directed to a screen asking whether his work was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. When he answered “yes” he was told he was obliged to pay $3000 for the privilege of publishing his paper in Gold Open Access mode….

When he asked me if the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences would pay the $3000 I nearly had a seizure. It’s bad enough getting landed with a hefty bill for writing an article as a favour to the conference organizers, but it’s even worse than that. The publisher was deliberately and disgracefully misleading the author about the RCUK policy on open access in order to take money from them. There is no requirement for researchers to pay for Gold OA in such a case. Sharp practice is too polite a phrase to describe the actions of this publisher. And of course nobody mentioned the $3000 fee when he signed up to give a talk at the conference.

Unfortunately, I think this sort of questionable business practice is bound to proliferate as publishers seek to maximize their revenue from Gold Open Access before the academic community rumbles the scam and cuts them out all together. So let this post be a warning. Do not trust academic publishers who try to charge you up front. Check the rules very carefully before committing yourself or, preferably, declining to publish with them. There are sharks out there and they’re after your funding.

Oh, and the name of the publisher involved in the scam I just described? I’m sure you can guess it before clicking this link to check.


Posted in Open Access with tags , , on December 16, 2012 by telescoper

Have you heard all the stories about the carefully-managed system of peer review that justifies the exorbitant cost of Elsevier journals? Then read this…

Retraction Watch

elsevierFor several months now, we’ve been reporting on variations on a theme: Authors submitting fake email addresses for potential peer reviewers, to ensure positive reviews. In August, for example, we broke the story of a Hyung-In Moon, who has now retracted 24 papers published by Informa because he managed to do his own peer review.

Now, Retraction Watch has learned that the Elsevier Editorial System (EES) was hacked sometime last month, leading to faked peer reviews and retractions — although the submitting authors don’t seem to have been at fault. As of now, eleven papers by authors in China, India, Iran, and Turkey have been retracted from three journals.

Here’s one of two identical notices that have just run in Optics & Laser Technology, for two unconnectedpapers:

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Yet another side of the academic journal racket…

Posted in Open Access with tags , , on May 30, 2012 by telescoper

Another illustration of how the Academic Journal Racketeers (in this case one of the usual suspects, Elsevier) have a stranglehold on research. As well as levying huge subscription charges they also supply a service called SCOPUS which the panels in the Research Excellence Framework will use to inform their deliberations. Needless to say, SCOPUS itself is a subscription-only resource. The academic publishing industry is of course very keen on the Research Excellence Framework. It’s certainly an Excellent Framework when it comes to making money. Pity about the actual Research though.

Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

Scopus bills itself as “the largest abstract and citation database of research literature and quality web sources covering nearly 18,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers.”

Sounds useful. But it’s useless. Literally.

Because it’s a subscription-only resource:

Now I am an associate researcher at the University of Bristol. UoB is part of the UK Access Management Federation, so I select that in the Shibboleth authentication page:

But the list of member universities doesn’t include Bristol, instead skipping straight from “University of Birmingham” to the intriguingly named “University of Bolton – Do Not Use”:

I can’t use it.

So it’s useless to me. Literally.

This is why it’s frustrating to me when I read statements like this from Elsevier’s Alicia Wise:

Commercial publishers are especially able to command resources to … develop new technologies and platforms to access journal content and improve researcher productivity (e.g., ScienceDirect, Scopus, Scirus, CrossRef, CrossCheck. Article of…

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Academic Spring Time

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , , on April 11, 2012 by telescoper

Catching up on the last few days’ activity on the Twittersphere I realise that at last the Academic Journal Racket has made it into the mainstream media. The Guardian ran an article on Monday reporting that the Wellcome Trust had weighed in on the side of open access to academic journals, and followed this up with an editorial this morning. Here are the first two paragraphs.

Some very clever people have put up with a very silly system for far too long. That is the upshot of our reporting on scholarly journals this week. Academics not only provide the raw material, but also do the graft of the editing. What’s more, they typically do so without extra pay or even recognition – thanks to blind peer review. The publishers then bill the universities, to the tune of 10% of their block grants, for the privilege of accessing the fruits of their researchers’ toil. The individual academic is denied any hope of reaching an audience beyond university walls, and can even be barred from looking over their own published paper if their university does not stump up for the particular subscription in question.

This extraordinary racket is, at root, about the bewitching power of high-brow brands. Journals that published great research in the past are assumed to publish it still, and – to an extent – this expectation fulfils itself. To climb the career ladder academics must get into big-name publications, where their work will get cited more and be deemed to have more value in the philistine research evaluations which determine the flow of public funds. Thus they keep submitting to these pricey but mightily glorified magazines, and the system rolls on.

These are the points many academics, including myself, have been making for several years apparently with little success. What seems to be giving the campaign against the racketeers some focus is the boycott of rapacious publishing giant Elsevier I blogged about earlier this year, which was kicked off by mathematician and blogger Tim Gowers; the petition now has over 9300 signatures. Elsevier is one of the worst of the racketeers, which is deeply ironic. When Galileo, having been forced to recant by the Inquisition, wrote the Dialogues concerning Two New Sciences and got them published in non-Catholic Leiden, by Elsevier…

Elsevier has since withdrawn its support for the infamous Research Works Act, but I hope that doesn’t mean the campaign will dissipate. For the sake of the future of science, the whole system needs to be systematically dismantled and rebuilt free of parasites.

Today I see there’s a related piece in the Financial Times (although it’s blocked by a paywall) and I gather there has also been coverage on BBC Radio over the last few days, although I didn’t hear any of it because of my current location.

The fact that this issue  has garnered coverage  from the mainstream media is a very good thing. Academics have put up with being ripped off for far too long, and it’s to our shame that we haven’t done anything about it until now. Now I think the public will be asking how we could possibly have accepted the status quo and sheer embarrassment might force a change.

Another thing that we need to realise is the extent to which the Academic Journal Racket is feeding off the monster that is Research Assessment, specifically the upcoming Research Excellence Framework. The main beneficiaries of such exercises are not the researchers, but  the academic publishers who rake in the profits generated by the mountains of papers submitted to them in the hope that they’ll be judged “internationally leading” (whatever that means).  If the government is serious about Open Access then only papers that are freely available should be accepted by the REF. If that doesn’t shake up the system, nothing will!

Posted in Open Access with tags , , on February 29, 2012 by telescoper

Just a quick reblogged post to update an old post of mine and passing on the news that racketeering publishing giant Elsevier have withdrawn their support for the Research Works Act.


Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

Well, I’ve had most of the day now to digest the news that Elsevier have withdrawn their support of the Research Works Act; and a few hours to get used to the idea that the Act itself is now dead.  I’ve had some time to think about what it all means.

My first reaction was to be really delighted: the banner headline suggested a genuine change of direction from Elsevier, such as I had challenged them about a few weeks ago.  I hoped that this was the first step on a path towards real change, leading to reconciliation with all the authors, editors and reviewers that they’d alienated.

Unfortunately, a close reading of Elsevier’s statement [cached copy] doesn’t support that interpretation.  It’s apparent that this is a strategic manoeuvre rather than a a fundamental shift.  That’s clear from language like the following:

While we continue…

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Update on the Elsevier Affair…

Posted in Science Politics with tags , on February 11, 2012 by telescoper

No time for a post of my own this morning, as I’m off to the department to help with a UCAS admissions visit day. I’ll take the opportunity, therefore, to point you towards mathematician Tim Gowers’ excellent blog for an update on the Elsevier boycott (and related issues) that I posted about a while ago.

P.S. At times like this I’m so grateful WordPress brought the “reblog” option back, although I’m not sure I like the new format…

Gowers's Weblog

A group of mathematicians have been putting together a statement that explains some of the background to, and reasons for, the Elsevier boycott. This statement, which has been signed by 34 mathematicians (we are confident that many more would be happy to endorse it, but we had to stop somewhere), is now ready for release. If you are interested in reading it, then click here.

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Take a stand against Elsevier

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on January 29, 2012 by telescoper

My views about the academic journal racket are on record. Of all the profiteering outfits out there, the commercial publisher Elsevier  is one of the worst offenders, for the following reasons:

  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for their journals.
  2. They sell journals in very large “bundles,” so libraries must buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting their essential titles, at the expense of other journals.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.

I believe the business practices of Elsevier are detrimental to the open exchange of information on which scientific progress depends, so I have added my name to the list here of academics who refuse to publish in, referee for, or do editorial work on behalf of any Elsevier journal. If you wish to add your name to the list you can do so here.

A list of journals published by Elsevier can be found here.