Top University Of California Scientists Tell Elsevier They'll No Longer Work On Elsevier Journals

from the bye-bye dept

Last week we highlighted the ongoing dispute between academic publishing giant Elsevier and the University of California (UC) system. Earlier this year, UC cancelled its contract with Elsevier, after the publishing giant — which gets nearly all of its content and labor for free, but charges insane prices for what is often publicly funded research — refused to lower prices or to work with the UC system on moving to an open access approach. Last week, we covered how Elsevier had emailed a bunch of UC folks with what appeared to be outright lies about the status of negotiations between the two organizations, and UC hit back with some facts to debunk Elsevier.

Perhaps Elsevier is getting antsy because a bunch of UC scientists have sent an open letter to Elsevier, saying they will no longer do editorial work for any Elsevier publications until this dispute gets worked out.

Among the signatories of the letter are Jennifer Doudna, co-inventor of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, and Elizabeth Backburn, co-recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Once again, we’re left wondering what value Elsevier even provides to the overall ecosystem any more. It doesn’t fund the research. It hands off most reviewing and editing tasks to other academics. And yet, it gets to (a) keep the copyright on the research and (b) charge absolutely ridiculous sums to universities which feel they “must” have access to these publications. And, this is in the age of the internet when “publishing” is literally a button on a webpage. Why does Elsevier even still exist?

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Companies: elseivier, university of california

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Comments on “Top University Of California Scientists Tell Elsevier They'll No Longer Work On Elsevier Journals”

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Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Corruption is a feature of capitalism."

No, corruption is a feature of any system where one party decides to sidestep any and all rules of the system. You might as well argue – with similar accuracy – that corruption is built right into socialism, communism and anarchy as well.

Capitalism assumes you have a playing field where the rules are equal to everyone, preferably upheld by an impartial arbiter. Corruption is where that arbiter takes a cut and lets one side run roughshod over the other.

Wendy Cockcroftsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s the assumption that’s the problem as evidenced by the state of capitalism today. Were the notion of the playing field being level actually true, we wouldn’t be seeing the ridiculous disparity in incomes between those who do the actual work and their massively overpaid CEOs.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"It’s the assumption that’s the problem as evidenced by the state of capitalism today."

True enough, and the only thing I’m saying is that what we have today isn’t capitalism. There really isn’t a place in market capitalism for state-sponsored monopolization, artificial scarcity, planned obsolescence and tariff-mediated protectionism.

"we wouldn’t be seeing the ridiculous disparity in incomes between those who do the actual work and their massively overpaid CEOs."

I’m actually less concerned with that gap than I am with the fact that the vast majority of them get to a job, screw it up for about three years during which they shred the company to ribbons in order to eke out a few extra quarterly profits, only to then move on with excellent merit records, leaving an abused wreck behind.

And that they are never held to any form of ethical standard, for that matter.


It is worse than that

Unfortunately, it is something worse. The tenure system is completely broken. It is nice that a couple high ranking people have the freedom to take a stance, the vast majority of academics do not have that freedom. The tenure system is supposedly in place to preserve freedom of academics, but in reality the system ensures that those trying to make it to full professor have no recourse to take part in a merry-go-round of publishing small incremental advances in journals ran by unscrupulous and rapacious publishers.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:



No, i think classical baseline principles of capitalism would actually prevent elsevier’s business model.

Copyright law introduces monopoly as a specifically encouraged business model and that, along with outright theft from the public domain, is what elsevier relies on.


Re: Re: Re:

Capitalism, Communism, Whateverism … are all models and exist only in theory, they create nothing other than a lot of hot air.
In the real world we have corruption. Corruption is real, illegal, and practiced with impunity by those in positions of power and influence regardless of what one calls their particular form of government.


Re: Re: Re: Re:

The model of capitalism (or any economic system, really) fails as soon as you expose it to human greed and the willingness of some people to abuse and exploit others for personal gain.

The problem isn’t the model though, it’s the people. No economic system (as it exists on paper) can exist in the real world because greedy people will always find ways to manipulate it to their advantage, usually to the detriment of others.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Bake some features of human nature and possible pitfalls into your model before you roll the damn thing out!"

I think that’s what capitalism tries to build around. The issue mainly being that the control mechanism keeps failing.

What is really depressing there is that the control mechanism consists of the actual consumers. So it all boils down to us getting the government we deserve because people in general are too dumb and lazy to involve themselves.

I just hate it every time Plato is proven correct.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re:

"Classical baseline principles of communism didn’t involve concentration camps, yet communism created exactly that en masse."

No…a Soviet oligarchy/dictatorship created those concentration camps. I see your point, but would like to state that the Soviet Union of yesteryear was as "good" an example of communist ideology as the US today when it comes to capitalism.

Capitalism can be made to work without altering human nature. Communism can’t.

Wendy Cockcroftsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Communism fails because it’s ultimately anarchist and doesn’t take actual human nature into account. Result: power vacuum filled by paranoid authoritarian regime that tries to impose the unrealistic goals of the ideology on the people. This is where the violence, cruelty, and repression come from: it’s to force people to make their ideological fantasies come true.

The same can be said of any philosophy requiring wishful thinking and suspension of disbelief among its adherents. I’m looking at you, Boris Johnson.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Result: power vacuum filled by paranoid authoritarian regime that tries to impose the unrealistic goals of the ideology on the people."

Backed by cheap incentives of perceived personal superiority and slogans which are catchy and easy to remember. Orwell was a damn prophet – so much so that today even the non-communist countries are taking 1984 as an instruction manual.

"The same can be said of any philosophy requiring wishful thinking and suspension of disbelief among its adherents. I’m looking at you, Boris Johnson."

At the end of the day it all boils down to the faith-based solution winning since actual thinking is hard. It’s telling that the easiest and most correct political analysis of the western body politic was written by Terry Pratchett.


Re: Why does Elsevier even still exist?

I was going to suggest inertia, but I think hysteresis is probably a better suggestion. At the moment the big universities are resisting completely separating from the Elsevier model, and probably no small ones are game to go it alone, but IF enough big ones take the lead, then all the others will usually follow suit. It just seems that the quanta required to cause that shift hasn’t accumulated yet.


(sorry not sorry)

It’s not surprising to me that their outdated business model sears irreversibly into the minds of Elsevier’s higher-ups. After all, a national distributor for a scientist’s articles makes the difference between a forgotten footnote and a blockbuster, and who could just walk away from being the only place a man could get their work read across the nation, at Arizona State, and Boston College, and Dartmouth, all the way to Yale? Back in the day, the only other way would be to run a circuit, city by city, lecture by lecture.

But they should remember that we’re not living in the analog era anymore. All across America, online access is nearly universal. Quite quickly, costs required to publish information to the whole population have all but vanished.

Telephones surpassed the telegraph, and TV surpassed the radio. Shackling themselves to outdated technologies and practices will only ensure that Elsevier goes down with the ship. At this point, it may not be long before the only way they can remain in operation is if some larger corporation swallows them *whole.

Food* for thought.

Anonymous Anonymous Cowardsays:

Re: (sorry not sorry)

"At this point, it may not be long before the only way they can remain in operation is if some larger corporation swallows them whole. Food for thought."

Significant golden parachutes might convince the brass at Elsevier, but it would be a really poor investment for the larger corporation. Unless they need a tax break.


Re: (sorry not sorry)

Elsevier now do online electronic publishing, and their profits would make then an expensive acquisition. What they are relying on is that they own the copyrights on a lot of important scientific papers, and they charge excessively for the privilege of reading those papers.

However a c combination of Sci-Hub, and the editorial and peer review boards jumping ship to carry on their journals under a new name with open publishing may sink them, and remove any reason for another company to take them over. Fights like this just help to alienate the academics who provide the papers, peer review and editorial functions for free. The academic just have to convince the administrators that changing the name of a journal and jumping the Elsevier ship does not invalidate publishing in the renamed version of the journal as a measure of academic prowess,.


Easy to use != free of work

And, this is in the age of the internet when "publishing" is literally a button on a webpage.


But there is some work that goes on behind that button, to make sure that said button works, to make sure that the published things remain available, to make sure that the publisher continues to get credit for the work, ….

Likely nowhere near as much as Elsevier asks for, but it is still not free.

Anonymous Anonymous Cowardsays:

Re: Easy to use != free of work

They didn’t say free, did they? But hey, don’t let us spoil your outburst.

The number of outlets for various kinds of publication is astonishing, and today it probably isn’t even necessary to code it from scratch. I don’t know how Sci-Hub works, and it might take more than just one push of a button (I would guess one needs an account and verifiable credentials, or at least position) before someone did CNTRL C, CNTRL V and then push the button to publish.


It’s not free for the host of the service, yes, but there are many organizations who provide their services free of charge to both the publisher and the reader by alternative means of funding, such as advertisements, donations, investors, subscriptions, or funding an unprofitable venture with a profitable venture.

Blogspot. Dropbox. Facebook. Fandom (formerly Wikia). Flickr. Freesound. Gamepedia. Google Docs. Imgur. Internet Archive. Mediafire. Project Gutenberg. Reddit. SoundCloud. Tumblr. Twitch. Twitter. Weebly. Wikipedia. YouTube. X10 Hosting.

Just to name a few of the big players in free content hosting.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Easy to use != free of work

"Likely nowhere near as much as Elsevier asks for, but it is still not free."

True, most of the work has been paid for by the taxpayers already…
…the peer review are covered by volunteers…
…and the hosting costs, indexing and presentations incur running costs similar to that of most shady torrent pages, meaning some 99,9999% of what elsevier asks for is to pay the salaries and bonuses of those employed to litigate and lobby to preserve their monopoly.

Elsevier’s "business model" closely resembles that of an armored car hijacker who defends himself in court with the claim that he paid the parking costs for the hijacked transport at the end.

What is still unbelievable to me is the way that due to copyright law this rather close analogy would then continue with the hijacker being released with all charges dropped.


Going back to read up Techdirt’s previous Elsevier coverage it’s not surprising to see ol’ blue balls drink the oasis of Elsevier Cowper’s fluid like a man dying of thirst.

And now the heroes of corporations and copyright he so reveres are busily burning all the bridges they could possibly have.

Seriously, is there a single thing that IP enforcement doesn’t kill by touching it?


I can think of one reason why Elsevier scientific publishing still exists.
It saves the buyers of the journals time because they won’t have to trawl the absolute heap of trash the internet can be when it comes to people publishing things over/on it.
And that is seriously it. A convinient package of what most people in a field of science consider the latest relevant research so that they don’t have to spend time to look for it themselves.

Scary Devil Monasterysays:


"And that is seriously it. A convinient package of what most people in a field of science consider the latest relevant research so that they don’t have to spend time to look for it themselves."

Yeah, but that packaging can, and is usually accomplished at self-cost by libraries and research institutes all the damn time, so Elsevier is being completely redundant there as well.


The thing that will really change

The thing that would really change the state of play would be if university admin announced that they were giving less credit for Elsevier papers. Academics follow incentives. If they were now told that a paper published in an elsevier journal (as of, say, next year) would only be worth half a paper towards promotion metrics or internal funding, then they would only publish in an elsevier journal if there was nothing else they thought suitable (or had been rejected from better journals)

Scary Devil Monasterysays:

Re: Entrenched Thinking

"For the same reason a floppy disk icon represents the "Save File" operation in most computer applications."

More like for the same reason the overturning hourglass is still an accepted symbol for "please wait".

Elsevier’s raison d’?tre vanished well before the advent of digital technology and it’s allowed existence ONLY because copyright law shoehorns monopoly into what should otherwise be a capitalist market model.



Elsevier does perform part of the sorting/gatekeeping function with respect to research, namely organizing it and giving it a moniker.

As noted, there’s wayyyy too much material in any field available for anyone to read, so it has to be selected somehow.

But for what they charge??? To select which academics get promoted???

Kneel, Infidels!

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