Monday, 30 January 2012

The Elsevier Backlash

For some time there has been disquiet in the academic community about the publishing model of many scholarly journals.  The issue is basically that academic research work, often funded ultimately by the taxpayer, is given, for free, with a transfer of copyright, to a publisher who will send it out for unpaid peer review, and then publish it, charging libraries enormous sums for the privilege.

The argument goes, or at least went, that it is actually rather expensive to prepare, typeset, proof-read and print scientific articles in relatively small volumes.  This is surely becoming year-on-year less and less the case.  For some time, those writing the articles provide effectively camera-ready copy, and articles can be most conveniently distributed electronically.

The low-level antipathy towards some publishers seems to have become stronger recently particularly due to their support of some legislation in the US that will negatively impact researchers' ability to disseminate open-access versions of articles they write, as increasingly required by funding agencies.   There is an informative blog post about it here, with many comments, and a pledge campaign not to publish in, or referee for Elsevier publications has started.

I am pro-open access.  In some areas of physics, the ArXiv has become the standard means of producing final publications and academic debate.  That hasn't happened in nuclear physics, but I'm more than happy to send my papers to e.g. APS or IoP journals.  The most recent paper I sent off was to EPL in part because all nuclear and particle physics papers published there were open access, though I think that deal has ended.

There has been much discussion on the web about this issue, but I'd be interested to know what, in particular, the nuclear physics community thinks.


  1. I have long disliked Elsevier/Science Direct, and I'm one of the lucky few who has access to it!

    Recently, Physical Review (the APS journals) have introduced a way for their articles to be published open-access (on a side note, did you know APS journals are available for free in public libraries?). We pay for publishing so that those who want our results can get the paper for free. It simply shifts the cost from the reader to the writer, which seems fair. It would prevent people from publishing so many nonsense papers (there is absolutely no reason to split that one result into seven papers except to make your CV look better...). But they've set the price so high that I doubt people will want to use the service. It can't cost $1300 for a copy editor to add some database numbers to my manuscript.

    1. Physical Review have done really well at moving towards the open access model, and as far as I recall, their journals are relatively inexpensive to buy. The library thing makes them even more all-round good guys, though $1300 does seem a bit steep. IoP do the same with allowing authors to pay for open access on many journals (including J Phys G) but they are even more expensive. I do like that they have made their conference proceeding series open access by default. AIP conference proceedings are the #1 journal that I don't have access to, but would like to.

      I guess this whole problem is perhaps not too bad for nuclear physicists, since the "best" (as measured by impact factor) specifically nuclear physics journal is PRC, and if we think we can get a letter published, PRL beats Phys Letts.

    2. That's a good point - for nuclear physics, the "go to" journal these days is PRC, which is beneficial for everyone. But it used to be Nuc Phys A, and NIM is still an issue. Getting access to Nuc Phys A articles from the 70s and 80s, for instance, is decidedly difficult. It's no wonder people cite without reading!

    3. I sort of forget about NIM (being the dirty theorist I am). The issue with that in the UK, I think, is that the impact factor is not high enough for universities to accept it as a good journal, even though a lot of highly-cited good stuff goes in there. I seem to recall someone (older than me) telling me that NPA used to be the go-to journal, above PRC, largely because PRC used to have publishing charges, whereas NPA did not, reflected in the cost of the journals I guess. Good that things have changed, if have recalled those conversations correctly.

  2. ScienceDirect won't even tell you how much a subscription costs. APS journal pricing is one of the first links on the page. PRC is only $765 base for academic institutions! I found this link interesting and relevant, too... Mark Riley, a Florida State University physics professor who serves on the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, resigned in June 1999 as a referee from the prestigious Nuclear Physics A, a publication of Elsevier Science that in 2001 cost $8,300. In his letter to the journal's editor, he protested the escalating price of the journal, writing, "These increases are having a dramatic, and negative, effect on our library materials budget and thus our educational institution. I am dismayed by the pricing and inflation policies of Elsevier and the significant part they have played, and are playing, in the present journal budget crisis."

  3. oh, Good for Mark - what a trailblazer!

  4. I think the spark that started this is Elsevier's campaign contributions in support of the researchs works act (is this passed, federal agencies could not require public access):
    This seems in direct contradiction to Elseviers stated aims of de-escalating legislation
    The backlash for US citizens is simple - write our legislators in support of the FRPAA and against the RWA - this web site makes this process very simple:

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  6. good point, and the first link I cite mentions it quite extensively. Interestingly it seems that Elsevier has just announced that is dropping support of the bill: here