Archive for the ‘Elsevier’ Category

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.)


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.


January 23, 2012

UPDATE 1/2/12 It is now possible to restrict the costofknowledge list by subject. So it has become easy to work out, for example, that (at the time of writing) 2632 people have left their names, of whom 613 are mathematicians.

Many thanks to Tyler Neylon for designing a website where one can declare one’s unwillingness to work for Elsevier journals. Already, without any announcement apart from brief mentions quite some way into the comments on the last post, it has 31 signatures, many of them from France, where for various reasons they are particularly annoyed with Elsevier.

This post is primarily to give the site some visibility, which I’ll also do on Google+ (if you support the venture, then please spread the word). It is not necessarily to persuade you to sign. I well understand that we are all in different situations and signing is easier for some people than others. But one thing I would definitely say is that if you already have a private non-cooperation policy (as I myself have done for years) then you will have much more effect if you go public about it. As I said in my previous post, the more people who sign, the more morally and socially acceptable it becomes to sign too: a private protest is just a nuisance to other mathematicians, but larger and more public one may have a chance of achieving something. So I hope that each signature will beget several others, at least for a while.

Elsevier — my part in its downfall

January 21, 2012

The Dutch publisher Elsevier publishes many of the world’s best known mathematics journals, including Advances in Mathematics, Comptes Rendus, Discrete Mathematics, The European Journal of Combinatorics, Historia Mathematica, Journal of Algebra, Journal of Approximation Theory, Journal of Combinatorics Series A, Journal of Functional Analysis, Journal of Geometry and Physics, Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications, Journal of Number Theory, Topology, and Topology and its Applications. For many years, it has also been heavily criticized for its business practices. Let me briefly summarize these criticisms.

1. It charges very high prices — so far above the average that it seems quite extraordinary that they can get away with it.

2. One method that they have for getting away with it is a practice known as “bundling”, where instead of giving libraries the choice of which journals they want to subscribe to, they offer them the choice between a large collection of journals (chosen by them) or nothing at all. So if some Elsevier journals in the “bundle” are indispensable to a library, that library is forced to subscribe at very high subscription rates to a large number of journals, across all the sciences, many of which they do not want. (The journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals is a notorious example of a journal that is regarded as a joke by many mathematicians, but which libraries all round the world must nevertheless subscribe to.) Given that libraries have limited budgets, this often means that they cannot subscribe to journals that they would much rather subscribe to, so it is not just libraries that are harmed, but other publishers, which is of course part of the motivation for the scheme.

3. If libraries attempt to negotiate better deals, Elsevier is ruthless about cutting off access to all their journals.

4. Elsevier supports many of the measures, such as the Research Works Act, that attempt to stop the move to open access. They also supported SOPA and PIPA and lobbied strongly for them.