Archive for the ‘Elsevier’ Category

Elsevier journals — some facts

April 24, 2014

Update: figures now in from Imperial. See below.

Further update: figures in from Nottingham too.

Further update: figures now in from Oxford.

Final update: figures in from LSE.

A little over two years ago, the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier journals began. Initially, it seemed to be highly successful, with the number of signatories rapidly reaching 10,000 and including some very high-profile researchers, and Elsevier making a number of concessions, such as dropping support for the Research Works Act and making papers over four years old from several mathematics journals freely available online. It has also contributed to an increased awareness of the issues related to high journal prices and the locking up of articles behind paywalls.

However, it is possible to take a more pessimistic view. There were rumblings from the editorial boards of some Elsevier journals, but in the end, while a few individual members of those boards resigned, no board took the more radical step of resigning en masse and setting up with a different publisher under a new name (as some journals have done in the past), which would have forced Elsevier to sit up and take more serious notice. Instead, they waited for things to settle down, and now, two years later, the main problems, bundling and exorbitant prices, continue unabated: in 2013, Elsevier’s profit margin was up to 39%. (The profit is a little over £800 million on a little over £2 billion.) As for the boycott, the number of signatories appears to have reached a plateau of about 14,500.
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Elsevier journals: has anything changed?

May 27, 2013

Greg Martin, a number theorist at UBC (the University of British Columbia in Vancouver) doesn’t think so, so he has decided to resign from the editorial board of Elsevier’s Journal of Number Theory. His resignation letter makes interesting reading: I reproduce it here with his permission.

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to inform you of my resignation from the editorial board of the Journal of Number Theory, effective immediately. I will also be adding my name publicly to the list of people who refrain from volunteering for, or submitting manscripts to, Elsevier journals.
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The Elsevier boycott one year on

January 28, 2013

A few days ago was the anniversary of the beginning of the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier. It seems a good moment to take stock of what the boycott has achieved and to think about what progress has or hasn’t been made since it started. This post is a short joint statement by many of the people who signed the original Cost of Knowledge statement last year. At some point in the not too distant future I plan to write a longer post giving a more personal view.

The Elsevier boycott: where do we now stand?

In the first few months after the boycott started, the number of signatories grew very rapidly. The growth is now much slower, but this was to be expected: given that, for understandable reasons, no editorial boards of Elsevier journals were ready to take the drastic step of leaving Elsevier, it was inevitable that further progress would depend on the creation of new publication models, which takes time and work, much of it not in the public eye. We are very pleasantly surprised by how much progress of this kind there has already been, with the setting up of Forum of Mathematics, a major new open-access journal, and the recent announcement of the Episciences Project, a new platform for overlay journals. We are also pleased by the rapid progress made by the wider Open Access movement over the last year.

In one respect the boycott has been an unqualified success: it has helped to raise awareness of the concerns we have about academic publishing. This, we believe, will make it easier for new publishing initiatives to succeed, and we strongly encourage further experimentation. We believe that commercial publishers could in principle play a valuable role in the future of mathematical publishing, but we would prefer to see publishers as “service providers”: that is, mathematicians would control journals, publishers would provide services that mathematicians deemed necessary, and prices would be kept competitive since mathematicians would have the option of obtaining these services elsewhere.

We welcome the moves that Elsevier made last year in the months that followed the start of the boycott: the dropping of support for the Research Works Act, the fact that back issues for many journals have now been made available, a clear statement that authors can post preprints on the arXiv that take into account comments by referees, and some small price reductions. However, the fundamental problems remain. Elsevier still has a stranglehold over many of our libraries as a result of Big Deals (a.k.a. bundling) and this continues to do real damage, such as forcing them to cancel subscriptions to more independent journals and to reduce their spending on books. There has also been no improvement in transparency: it as hard as ever to know what libraries are paying for Big Deals. We therefore plan to continue boycotting Elsevier and encourage others to do the same.

The problem of expensive subscriptions will not be solved until more libraries are prepared to cancel subscriptions and Big Deals. To be an effective negotiating tactic this requires support from the community: we must indicate that we would be willing to put up with cancelling overly expensive subscriptions. The more papers are made freely available online (e.g., through the arXiv), the easier that will be. Many already are, and we regard it as a moral duty for mathematicians to make their papers available when publishers allow it. Unfortunately, since mathematics papers are bundled together with papers in other subjects, real progress on costs will depend on coordinated action by mathematicians and scientists, many of whom have very different publication practices. However, a statement by mathematicians that they would not be unduly inconvenienced by the cancelling of expensive subscriptions would be a powerful one.

We are well aware that the problems mentioned above are not confined to Elsevier. We believe that the boycott has been more successful as a result of focusing attention on Elsevier, but the problem is a wider one, and many of us privately try to avoid the other big commercial publishers. We realize that this is not easy for all researchers. When there are more alternatives available, it will become easier: we encourage people to support new ventures if they are in a position do so without undue risk to their careers.

We acknowledge that there are differing opinions about what an ideal publishing system would be like. In particular, the issue of article processing charges is a divisive one: some mathematicians are strongly opposed to them, while others think that there is no realistic alternative. We do not take a collective position on this, but we would point out that the debate is by no means confined to mathematicians: it has been going on in the Open Access community for many years. We note also that the advantages and disadvantages of article processing charges depend very much on the policies that journals have towards fee waivers: we strongly believe that editorial decisions should be independent of an author’s access to appropriate funds, and that fee-waiver policies should be designed to ensure this.

To summarize, we believe that the boycott has been a success and should be continued. Further success will take time and effort, but there are simple steps that we can all take: making our papers freely available, and supporting new and better publication models when they are set up.

Doug Arnold, John Baez, Folkmar Bornemann, Danny Calegari, Henry Cohn, Ingrid Daubechies, Jordan Ellenberg, Marie Farge, David Gabai, Timothy Gowers, Michael Harris, Frédéric Hé lein, Rolf Jeltsch, Rob Kirby, Vincent Lafforgue, Randall J. LeVeque, Peter Olver, Olof Sisask, Terence Tao, Richard Taylor, Nick Trefethen, Marie-France Vigneras, Wendelin Werner, Günter M. Ziegler

Why I’ve joined the bad guys

January 14, 2013

A few months ago I was alerted by a pingback to the existence of a blog post by Orr Shalit entitled Worse than Elsevier which included the assertion that Terence Tao and I had “joined the bad guys”. That is an allusion to the fact that we are editors for Forum of Mathematics, CUP’s new open-access journal. This post serves a dual purpose: to draw attention to the fact that Forum of Mathematics is now accepting submissions, and to counter some of the many objections that have been raised to it. In particular, I want to separate out the objections that are based on misconceptions from the objections that have real substance. Both kinds exist, and unfortunately they tend to get mixed up.

If you are not already familiar with this debate, the aspect of Forum of Mathematics that many people dislike is that it will be funded by means of article processing charges (which I shall abbreviate to APCs) rather than subscriptions. For the next three years, these charges will be waived, but after that there will be a charge of £500 per article. Let me now consider a number of objections that people have to APCs.
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A new open-access venture from Cambridge University Press

July 2, 2012

The formal launch has just taken place at the European Congress of Mathematicians in Krakow of the Forum of Mathematics, which to a first approximation is a new open-access electronic journal. However, the singular “journal” is misleading, because in some ways it is more like a whole set of journals. But there will be considerable interdependence between the elements of the set, so “journals” is misleading too. We need an intermediate number between singular and plural. Also, although the journal(s) is/are primarily electronic, there will be a print-on-demand option if anyone wants it.

What is the Forum of Mathematics?

Terminological questions aside, how will this new journal-like object work? I think the easiest way of explaining it is to describe the process for submitting an article, which is similar to the process for submitting an article to a conventional maths journal, but with one or two unusual aspects.
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Horizon 2020 to promote open access

May 17, 2012

If you read an earlier post of mine about Elsevier’s updated letter to the mathematical community then you may remember that towards the end of the post I claimed that Elsevier was lobbying heavily to have all mention of open access removed from the documents of Horizon 2020, Europe’s “Framework Programme for Research and Innovation”, a claim that was then denied by Alicia Wise, who is Elsevier’s “Director of Universal Access”.

Leaving aside who is right about this (which may depend rather sensitively on the precise words used to describe what happened, not to mention the interpretation of those words), news has broken today in the THE of potentially important developments. It seems that whatever lobbying Elsevier might have gone in for has been to no avail, because open access will be a very significant aspect of Horizon 2020.
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The mathematics department at TU Munich cancels its subscriptions to Elsevier journals

May 4, 2012

A natural way that one might hope to bring about a genuine change to the current subscription model where libraries pay through the nose for journals is that (i) we all put our papers on the arXiv and (ii) the libraries conclude, correctly, that the benefits from their very expensive subscriptions do not justify the costs. Bundling across subjects makes this a lot more difficult of course, but it seems that some institutions in Germany do not subscribe to the Freedom Collection (see previous post for a definition), which makes it easier. And now there is an example. The Technical University of Munich mathematics department has put out an announcement that it will cancel all its Elsevier subscriptions by 2013.

Please, if you are considering submitting a paper to an Elsevier journal without putting it on the arXiv, think of the faculty members of TU Munich who will not be able to get access to your papers (or at least not conveniently), and change your mind. If you do, it will also make it easier for other departments and libraries to make similar decisions.

Elsevier’s recent update to its letter to the mathematical community

May 2, 2012

Elsevier has recently put out a new statement giving details of some changes it has made. In their own words,

In February, we informed you of a series of important changes that we are making to how the Elsevier mathematics program will be run. In this letter, we would like to update you on where we currently stand, and inform you of some new initiatives we have undertaken based upon the feedback we have received from the community.

I have known for some time that they were going to make an announcement of this kind, and that it would involve something called “more flexible subject collections”. During that time I have become clearer in my mind what it is that I don’t like about bundling. So before Elsevier’s announcement, I had in mind some tests that I would apply, to see whether having these new collections would mitigate the problems with bundling. (Spoiler: they don’t.)
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Elsevier withdraws support for the Research Works Act

February 27, 2012

This deserves a post to itself, despite my intention to reclaim this blog for its core purpose. I don’t have a considered reaction to this news, so I won’t write a detailed response. The one thing I’ll say is that it does appear to be a fairly direct result of the boycott. (Edit: Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s “director of universal access” denies this.)

Elsevier’s (slightly grudging) announcement is here.

Edit. Elsevier announce further concessions here in a letter to the mathematics community.

Elsevier’s open letter point by point, and some further arguments

February 26, 2012

I’ve had this post sitting around half written for a long time, so I’ve decided to post it without saying everything I wanted to say and have done with it. Even the things I do say are not as organized as I’d normally like.

In response to the recent boycott and the discussion it has generated, Elsevier has put out an open letter entitled A message to the research community: journal prices, discounts and access. It was more or less guaranteed that I would not be satisfied by what they had to say, since my view is that the entire system of commercial publishing of academic papers needs to be replaced, whereas Elsevier was almost certain to be arguing from within the current system. When a paradigm shift takes place, one does not expect the main players to remain the same.

Nevertheless, it seems only fair to make some attempt to respond to the points Elsevier has to make, rather than simply saying that there is nothing they can do, or at least nothing they can do that they would be likely to be prepared to do. So let me explain why I find their open letter unsatisfactory even on their own terms (that is, even if we make the assumption that what is needed is more like an adjustment to the current system than a replacement of it). The letter starts with some statements of the kind one might expect, about how their mission is to serve the research community and so on. The substantive part of their letter is then divided into bullet points, where they claim to correct the distortions that have been advanced. I’ll look at each of those in turn.

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