Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier.

An Open Letter.

A little background

As anyone who is reading this probably already knows, the publishing giant Elsevier has recently placed itself at the center of a shitstorm of animosity from the research community, thanks in part to its vocal (and financial) support of the Research Works Act (RWA). Currently, the National Institutes of Health mandate that the research products they fund with tax dollars must be made freely available to the public; the RWA would make such mandates illegal, enabling Elsevier to keep research papers resulting from taxpayer-funded research behind paywalls for as long as they like. There’s some douchey attempted subterfuge in the language of the bill about not locking up the research results themselves, but make no mistake: research papers are our output as researchers, and they are what makes up the scientific literature. While manipulating the legislative process for financial gain would be galling by itself, Elsevier has a long history of douchey behavior towards the academic community, and the RWA is really just the latest straw on the camel’s back.

My (very small) part in this story started a little over a week ago, when I started a parody Twitter account called “@FakeElsevier“. Since then, I’ve been posting as much Elsevier-related satire as I can manage in my free time, 140 characters at a time. It’s been carthartic for me to inject a tiny bit of humor into an otherwise frustrating and seemingly impossible situation, and the account has gotten much more play on the internet than I was expecting. It seems that others in the academic community want to laugh about this too, even if the jokes all have the flavor of gallows humor.

Seriously, now

I now feel compelled to add my two cents in a serious way. It has become clear to me that Elsevier, and its employees, don’t understand what exactly is pissing off everyone in the research community. What follows is a not-in-character, as-concise-as-I-can-make-it, get-straight-to-the-point statement of what I see as our grievances. Total seriousness. No jokes for the rest of this post. This is the “real” me talking.

And despite my Twitter satire, I do believe that the vast majority of Elsevier employees are not personally evil, naive, or irrational, and that they in fact genuinely want to help make the world a better place. Indeed, if you joined Elsevier because you wanted to help disseminate knowledge and advance the human condition, consider the rest of this letter addressed directly to you.

It’s not about money and never has been

I get the impression that the PR people at Elsevier would love to reduce the debate to something so simple. Through this lens, they see scientists as being irrational, or naive to the realities of the economics of publishing. Maybe there are some out there who really believe that publishing has no costs associated with it, but I think the majority do understand that even if we are doing all of the writing and reviewing, inviting/hounding reviewers and building/maintaining websites costs real money. We could debate about what exact costs are reasonable, and we could argue about how much of the process is actually done by scientists themselves, but doing so would detract from the real point:

As far as we are concerned, publishers have ONE JOB: disseminating the results of our work to the widest possible audience.

Helping us manage anonymous peer review by our colleagues, and “credentialing” papers with respect to their importance are — for better or worse — parts of this process, but the core thing that we need from publishers is the distribution of our work. Back in the days before the internet, the need to oursource distribution was painfully obvious, since physical paper journals needed to be carted around the planet in order to distribute our work to colleagues. Given the physicality of distribution, centralized subscription-based pricing even made good sense, since receiving institutions needed libraries and librarians to store and catalog the physical copies, and the storage and purchasing made sense as two sides of the same coin. However, in the internet age, the idea that you would restrict access to anyone seems utterly asinine. Let me say it in bold, just to be clear:

In the internet age, Elsevier is doing an unbelievably shitty job of accomplishing its ONE AND ONLY PURPOSE: to distribute our work as broadly as possible

See now why we, as customers, are unhappy? You’re distributing our work to a really small audience, and you’re making even that access irritating and painful. Don’t patronize us by telling us how you are “committed to universal access”. If you were genuinely committed to universal access, you’d make things universally accessible. Your marginal distribution cost is effectively zero, so why not act like it? Along the way, you’ve obscured the true flows of money both on the author-side and the subscriber-side, and you’ve set up an unwholesome set of incentives that play to scientists’ worst impulses (and to your benefit). Researchers at big institutions can afford to be apathetic about the plight of those at smaller ones, because they can afford the enormous subscription fees that block access to research, and individual researchers have a financial incentive to choose cheaper closed-access options, even when open access options are theoretically available. Such decisions are in turn driven by scientists’ limited budgets and their need to fill their CVs in order to get promoted or get funding. The result is a fractured, Balkanized literature, riddled with paywalls. Make no mistake, scientists themselves are complicit in contributing this mess because of these individual incentives, even if they are aware of the negative system effects. And this is why funding agencies — whose goal is making sure taxpayers see the benefits of the work they fund — have stepped in to demand that scientists and publishers use their money appropriately. Elsevier’s attempts to subvert that through lobbying… again, see why we’re mad?

“BUT THE COSTS! HOW WILL WE SUPPORT THE COSTS?” you cry. We’ll leave aside, for a moment, that you pull down an astonishing-in-any-industry, surely-ripe-for-disruption 36% profit margin. The obvious (to me at least) solution is that all work needs to be made available under a true open access license (think Creative Commons BY), so that anyone can access it, and funding agencies need to shoulder the costs of doing so in a much less circuitous way. This would be a radical suggestion, except for the fact that the Public Library of Science (PLoS) was founded under these exact assumptions years ago and is making this model work, RIGHT NOW. Authors pay some $1.5-2.5k or so to cover the costs of managing peer review and making the paper available (usually this comes of out of grant funds and is comparable to existing page/figure charges at the likes of Elsevier), and in return, PLoS does an amazing job of making the work available to anyone with an internet connection. If authors cannot afford the fees, they are waived. PLoS seems to understand its one job, and it behaves accordingly, to the benefit of all.

“BUT THE COSTS! We would be forced to make everyone pay $3k for the ‘sponsored article’ option in order to maintain business as usual!” Indeed, if you feel your added value is worth $3k, so be it. It would be more obvious to everyone that Elsevier is a pricey option (e.g. relative to the much cheaper PLoS), and yes, some less well-funded labs might not be able to afford to publish in Elsevier journals if you were unwilling to waive the fees as PLoS does. If authors decide that the clout of the journals Elsevier has launched or acquired is worth the extra money, then so be it; this would be a straightforward market force. However, the status quo is intolerable from any reasonable perspective: if you lock away large swathes of the literature such that many institutions (not to mention the public) can’t even ACCESS it… that goes against everything that science is about. And it serves me as your customer very poorly. Remember, your ONE job, that I am counting on you to help me with, is to make my research available. If you fail in this job and subvert the scientific literature with self-serving pay-walls, don’t be surprised that we organize against you. Don’t be surprised if we call Elsevier a enemy of science, or a parasite on the process of scientific and medical research. We have devoted our lives to science, and we care about it, and you are doing the one thing that threatens its integrity most: locking it up.

However, bear in mind that we and our boycotts are the least of your troubles…

Adapt, or be disintermediated

A confession: honestly, I’d be perfectly happy to see Elsevier go out of business. As I mentioned above, Elsevier has done many diverse, arguably unforgivable things that damage the integrity of Science. Really bad things. Bad. Baaad. But I also see that Science changes slowly, and I would also accept a world where Elsevier changes and thrives.

Here’s some free advice. Scientists are accustomed to holding none of the cards, and we are correspondingly timid in our actions, as a group. Funding agencies, on the other hand, DO hold all of the cards, and they know it. For those that crow that government shouldn’t interfere with publishing business models, know that no one needs to legislate your business model to kill your business. You see, funding agencies are perfectly happy telling us scientists what to do. If they told us to jump up and down and bark like a seal as a condition of getting an NIH R01 or an NSF CAREER award, we’d probably do it. They already place all kinds of conditions, in excruciating detail, on how we spend and account for our spending of taxpayer money. Do not for a moment think that they cannot command us to only publish in journals that are open access. We would be compelled to obey, and we’d do it with a smile. This wouldn’t so much be them dictating your business model, as mooting it. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are a effectively a government subcontractor, that takes tax-payer money to provide a distribution service for government-funded research. The government and taxpayers derive no value from you, a middle man, making outrageous demands on the rights to the work that you are contracted to distribute.

And here’s a head-spinner: what if Elsevier, like most other successful and admired businesses on the planet, were actually focused on serving its customers? You’d work with authors to make their work more accessible, not less. Why can’t my colleagues read my papers and have an awesome experience on any device — epub, Kindle, smartphone, tablet? Have you seen the buzz surrounding textbooks with iBooks Author? Why aren’t you working with me to make my content more interactive, dynamic, and informative? Why aren’t you working with me to openly distribute code and data that would make the scientific process more reproducible. Why aren’t you focusing on the few journals you own that make a serious contribution instead of the panoply of disreputable crap-journals you also churn out. Invest in things that make your value obvious, not in locking things up and strong-arming the government into supporting your shitty pre-existing business model.

Look, some of you Elsevier employees seem like genuinely nice people. I’m sure you love your families, and volunteer in your communities, and wake up everyone morning thinking about you can help distribute the world’s information better. But if this is what you wake up believing you will do, please know that the facts are very different. Somewhere there is a cancer patient trying to learn about her disease, who can’t because of paywalls everywhere (I know, because I have abused my institutional privileges to help her). Somewhere there is a journalist trying to make sense of the literature, and a teacher trying to teach a precocious student who just might grow up to do something great. Somewhere there is a scientist trying to do his job, trying find out what’s been done before, so that he can be inspired and so he can push the envelope (or at least not repeat an experiment that’s been done already, at great expense). Even people who work at extremely well-funded institutions are weighed down and made less effective a by daily litany of irritations and inconveniences imposed by your model. You have one job, and whatever goal you think you’re achieving, the structure of your company and how it makes money is fucking that up, making it harder for all of us to do our jobs and make the world a better place. The alternatives to your model already exist (and are gaining traction), and I suspect that it is only a matter of time before funding agencies flex their muscles accordingly. FRPAA is just the first salvo.

Irrespective of what your current leadership says or does, you, the employees of Elsevier, have a right to ask whether your company is actually doing the things it purports to do. If all you care about is making profit for your shareholders, then fine, move along and support the status quo if you can. But if you work for Elsevier because you want to do something good for the world, know that you have the power to make things better. Companies are their people, and the future is coming.

If you agree with any part of what I’ve said above, ask your colleagues and your boss how what you’re doing is part of a solution and not part of the same old problem. Email your CEO, and talk to senior management. A person named Liz Smith has seemed willing to engage on issues (on Twitter, at least) and she is apparently your VP of Internal Communications.  She might be a good person to start with. If you’re not satisfied with the answers that these people give you, ask yourself whether you should continue working for firm that is going to be disrupted if it doesn’t change course.

It’s your move.

157 thoughts on “Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier.

  1. A point of information only: the cost of publishing in PLoS journals varies by title. It’s only $1350 for PLoS ONE but $2250 for most other journals, except their higher-ranking (however that is defined), PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine. Though, as you say, waivers are available for authors who can’t pay.

    The economics is an interesting and complex point — but not intractable. My librarian (at Imperial College London) tells me that a full switch to OA from subscriptions would probably make life more expensive for us since we are an institution that produces a relatively high number of papers. I’d like to see the details but I suspect that stronger funder mandates — backed by funding — should solve the problem for most institutions. The Wellcome Trust estimates that publishing costs are about 1% of the total cost of research on average (in the life sciences). It’s a matter of building that into funding streams made available to researchers.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      Another point of information: “inviting/hounding reviewers … costs real money”. Not so much. This is done by editors, not piublishers. The great majority of editorial work in editorial journals is done by volunteer editors; the remainder mostly by academics who are paid only a very nominal stipend such as $250 per year, about $5 per week. (A colleague of mine who is an editor for a commercially published journal at this rate estimates that he spends 5-10 hours per week on this, so he is being paid between ¢50 and $1 per hour — 7%-14% of minimum wage.)

      That’s not to distract from the larger point that this is not about money. But we may as well get the facts straight.

      • fakeelsevier says:

        Well, I am trying to be a bit generous here, and this varies from journal to journal – some journals have professional editors that play a role here (I think Cell does, for instance), and in some cases the “hounding” process is semi-automated, with infrastructure from the journal.

        Clearly there are problems with the Elsevier value proposition, and anyone who has been involved in science seethes with righteous indignation over this stuff. My hope here, though, is to trim our grievances down to their absolute essence. Thanks for commenting.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Stephen, thanks for your comment. I’ve updated the post with the correct figures. Sorry, I should know that – I’ve even paid that bill myself before.

      Re: economics and funding: certainly there is going to be some variation in who comes out ahead or behind when something big like this changes, but I think that the overall improved transparency will tend to drive costs down.

      The current situation feels a bit like a third-party payer system (like we have for healthcare in the US): if the decision-maker is not the one paying the bill, it’s not surprising that they don’t care how much their decision costs everyone else.

      Also, agreed 100% that funders can even this all out by increasingly building these costs into granting. They’re already largely shouldering these costs indirectly (e.g. via overhead).

      • A Paul says:

        Note that the top price for PLoS journals is $2900, about the same as Elsevier’s $3000 for sponsored articles (stupid name meaning gold OA, essentially).

        Elsevier doesn’t promote the sponsored article option, so I guess they’re not too keen on it. But it does exist for most Elsevier journals, so we could all pay the article fee tomorrow and papers would be free for readers. (And, please note, they reduce the subscription fees to account for the upfront payments, so this will directly ease the pressure on libraries).

        So why do so few do this, if free access is so important to us?

      • fakeelsevier says:

        Simple. Because we’re cowards, by and large.

        I’m going to assume that everyone here is familiar with the “Prisoner’s Dilemma“. $3k is a healthy fraction of one postdoc-month of salary. If no one else is incurring this cost, then perhaps I’m foolish to put my lab at this competitive disadvantage. This is a short term advantage of course… the publishers are still bleeding that money out of you one way or another, as long as the system stays the way it is. The problem is that for us to get the optimal outcome some significant fraction must cooperate.

        And frankly, I get the impression that a lot of scientists don’t care if their work gets read at all – it’s just a stamp to put on the CV. This point of view may be a bit on the cynical side of things, but if you’re a practicing scientist, I think you know what I am talking about.

        This is why mandates like the one from the NIH are so important. Granting agencies are really the only players who have their incentives aligned correctly such that altruism is not required to do the right thing. We’re doing the work at the pleasure of the taxpaying public, and it’s their job to see it happen correctly. That’s why it is so incredi-fucking-unbelievably terrible that publishers would try to “hack” the legislative process to tie the hands of funding agencies looking to make everyone do the right thing for science.

        Oh, and as far as “reducing subscription fees” and easing the burden on libraries goes, I think I’d want to see that one in writing before I believed it. And even then, with “costs” rising everyday (absolutely *need* to get to 37% profit), I would not count on any near-term easing to last long, even if it were real.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        “… about the same as Elsevier’s $3000 for sponsored articles (stupid name meaning gold OA, essentially).”

        Actually, not so much. It isn’t actually possible to tell what licence “sponsored articles” are provided under and what, if any, re-use rights we have. I have tried repeatedly to get Elsevier to clarify this, including direct message to Tom Reller, Alice Wise and Liz Smith, with no meaningful response yet. (Liz says she will try to find out.)

        I don’t want to seem too harsh, but … this is … I am trying to think of way to say “pathetic” that doesn’t sound too harsh. The bottom line seems be that Elsevier themselves do not know what their “open access” terms are.

    • William Payne says:

      Maybe if the cost of publishing was met by the author, the volume of publications would go down, and the quality would go up? This would be a good thing, in my mind. (Not a comment about ICL, btw.)

  2. Watch out @FakeElsevier, leaving character never a good idea. Hatfield v McCoy. “It was never about the money.” vs “WTF, it was always about the money (and always will be, you naifs”)! C.F. the music business. Discussions got tense there too, I imagine. A tidal wave has hit in the form of networked communications and the business model of many types of publishers can now be called out on the carpet. Just as with record producers (the talent shouldn’t get to full of itself…there is always another hot young thing), there is an argument to be made for the value added. #OA is not a panacea and closed information systems will always have roles in competitive environments.

    Nowhere is the value added by publishers argument more passionately made then in medical journals, where high standards are a requisite to avoid danger to the lives of patients. We think. A tipping point has been reached I feel now that patients and physicians are beginning to question whether the status quo is effectively protecting them from bad information.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Hmm… I’m a little bit confused about what you’re trying to say here. Maybe you could try saying it again, in a clearer way?

      I’m not saying that high-profile journals should go away. Are you saying that there is some advantage to having doctors at fancy-schmancy (read: “rich”) University-affiliated hospitals having access to the literature, while doctors at the local VA do not? I’m personally stunned how little access to the latest science doctors seem to have. That’s the status quo. In what universe is that “protecting you from bad information”?

      The idea is that restricting *access* to science is nuts, and if you’re doing it so that you can game the system for profit, then I say there a special place in asshat hell for you. Author-side financing + (true) universal access makes everything transparent, and it does not preclude gatekeepers. If Elsevier wants to charge admission as the gatekepper to get your paper into The Lancet, and if you perceive that to add value, then great. Heck, it’s pretty hard to get a paper into PLoS Biology, and yet anyone can read it. The quality control issue is orthogonal to open vs. closed access issue.

  3. Brilliant. It seems to me that Elsevier (and others) have enough volume that the PLoS model should work for them. They’ve gone as far (at Cell Press) to launch a new OA journal (albeit one that charges a risible $5,000 per paper), so why not instead just convert over to OA, and leverage the almighty power of Elsevier to all of a sudden be the 600 lb Gorilla of OA publishing? Is there some real practical or philosophical reason not to?

    Over at another journal that I won’t mention the name of, the Editor in Chief wrote to me that “OA journals survive but at least the ones I know are of poor quality. I think they need to publish almost everything in order to stay solvent. Not sure how a journal like Cell, Nature, etc will survive if it becomes OA. that remains to be demonstrated. I am much more worried about quality of papers that OA. I really never understood this fixation with OA. For all of my life, whenever I needed a paper I would get it at my library and so could anybody else so where is the problem. lay people do not understand scientific papers anyway, and if they really itch to read them they can go to the library too. I fear OA will eventually destroy the quality of scientific journals, and we will all end up with “pay to publish” and the literature will become a gigantic garbage can.” So there you have it; some people just don’t get it.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Thanks for the comment! This issue of quality is one that we should flesh out in detail.

      It would be hard for me to imagine a publishing world *less* like a garbage can than the one Elsevier creates today. 2600+ journals including pseudoscience gems like “Homeopathy.” That’s the status quo, today. Yikes.

      The perplexing thing about such comments (to me at least), is that the money is, for the most part, exactly the same money in both cases, and it all comes from tax payers (by way of granting agencies). What is being proposed is a shift to perfectly transparent pricing out of direct costs (authors, agencies, and taxpayers see exactly how much is spent) versus back-room negotiations over pooled grant overhead money, where the publisher demands whatever price it likes, faculty demand access to as many subscriptions as possible, and librarians are stuck in the middle trying to figure out how on Earth to make it all happen, bargaining against an opponent who holds all of the cards. And woe to less rich institutions if they cannot meet the publishers’ demands.

      It’s not like Open Access suddenly makes there be less money in the system. It just changes the equation concerning negotiating visibility. No wonder publishers don’t like it.

      As for the “lay public doesn’t understand or need access to the literature” argument, I would only comment that we scientists make the bed in which we lie. One can hardly complain that the public doesn’t understand or appreciate science if they have never had the opportunity to see what it actually is.

      The suggestion that the public can just waltz over to a local library and gain access to real scientific literature is surreal. I’m not saying that every citizen is going to go out there and start reading papers if they were available, but is it *that* idealistic to think that some bright kid somewhere is going to click through to a paper from a Scientific American blog post and discover what science is all about? *That’s* the world I want my children to grow up in.

      • ” to click through to a paper from a Scientific American blog post and discover what science is all about” Bingo. Older generation still thinks everyone flips through paper at the library. Others, well, I guess they don’t get how the interweb tubes work.

  4. […] to be tracking this. (Here is a great background read on ‘the big deal‘ package and a wonderful summary of everything the Elsevier Boycott stands for from ‘Fake […]

  5. Goran says:

    The whole research community is doing something that is completely awkward to someone outside of it. I must say that. You let publishers earn money on your work. And the whole process is so simple and with today’s technology can be automated to full extent. You can just create a platform and publish yourself, review it through social network and so on. The only problem is your ego and blind trust in 15th century metrics like peer-review and impact factor.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      I agree that technology has the power to set us free, and I suspect that a large fraction of the “costs” that Elsevier whines about are, in fact, gross inefficiencies. I’d love to see better tools on this front.

      As for ditching all of peer review… whether or not this is path forward, I personally think that things need to move one step at a time. Peer review plays an important role today. ArXiv already has a flavor of what you’re proposing, but I’d love to see a more technologically advanced version with broader topic coverage. Such things can complement and coexist with (slightly) more traditional models.

      • Goran says:

        Elsevier is keeping the status quo because it thinks in 19th century model. As for review, why not creating a system where editorial board decides whether it will be pre-review, post-review and so on. Technology is relatively cheap, upkeep and maintenance cost. But I would say that running a system can cost less then $1 million per year. With free-for-all access and no payment fees. Also, I think that Qatar foundation is just playing open-access game. With 40 million they invested, they could have created anything, but thats big$ game 😀

    • Oop says:

      Actually, that’s 17th century metrics. That’s when Henry Oldenburg started with peer reviewing Proceedings of Roy. Soc. If you take a look at the polemics of those years, you can see it did not really work out, as it often does not nowadays.

      I wonder why don’t professional scientific associations start there own journals. First, they already have the necessary social network of authors, reviewers and editors. Second, they’re personally interested in making a good job, ensuring the quality and shortening delays in publishing that are sometimes really painstaking. And third, they could very well use both lowering the price threshold and maintaining a modest profit for the benefit of the association. Hiring a couple of editors, some copy editors and a web designer does not actually cost that much. (I can assure that as a long-time journalist, and former editor-in-chief.) At least everyone would know exactly where all their money goes.

  6. Goran says:

    p.s. and for PLOS “not-for-profit” LOL. For 9 million dollars they got they could have made a better site :). They wrapped the money-making-machine into lullaby of doing something for science 🙂

  7. Moving stuff, sent the link to all my colleagues (academic data centre).

    “Why aren’t you working with me to make my content more interactive, dynamic, and informative? Why aren’t you working with me to openly distribute code and data that would make the scientific process more reproducible?”

    When you have time for more seriousness, it would be good to hear more about what you think ought to happen. Is the PLoS model the future, or is it just filling the gaps left around the ossified research publishing industry? Is the idea of a ‘journal’ even helpful now?
    Do you have strong ideas about how you *want* your work to be disseminated? Or would you rather not have to think about it at all?

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Thanks! I’d love to see a broader discussion about what scientific papers should/could look like, though I think it’s beyond the scope of this blog post’s comments section.

      Do you know of any good venues where a such a discussion is taking place? Should we think about building a new one?

      • I personally would like to get involved in a site that would attract interested librarians and faculty to discuss the feasibility of libraries to extend their already existing expertise on publishing and making literature and data accessible (sustainable, long-term) to scholarly articles. Maybe along the lines I described in my blog post linked to above:

      • fakeelsevier says:

        Björn, thanks for visiting/commenting. Your blog is an treasure trove of good ideas concerning the future of academic publishing.

        I’d love to participate in a site / discussion surrounding the role of libraries. I’d also love to see software being a part of that discussion. Does anyone know of an existing venue like this?

      • Neil Stewart says:

        The UK’s JISC-REPOSITORIES email list might be the kind of forum you’re after- plenty of discussion on open access issues, and a healthy number of librarians and affiliated info professionals.

      • I don’t think a central place exists (yet?). I always just assumed that if my ideas make any sense at all, they’ll get picked up. Maybe now would be a good time to start organizing a classic messageboard where ideas can be thrown around. But how to get both librarians and faculty interested and engaged enough to actually go there and reach a consensus on what is feasible and how? We’d need a way to reach broadly enough and I clearly don’t have that reach.

      • Neil beat me to it…

      • Jenny Reiswig says:

        Search for “beyond the PDF.” There was a two-day workshop on this at UC San Diego a year or so ago that’s turned into a not-all-that-active Google Groups discussion, but there are often pointers in there to new initiatives. Worth a look.

      • Neil Stewart says:

        The problem with JISC lists is that they tend to be pretty exclusively populated by librarians and IT people, such as myself. As ever there’s the perennial difficulty of getting faculty interested!

      • Faculty support is crucial, because otherwise librarians will fear complaints from them because of lack of access:
        For a transition to a library-based system, faculty need to support subscription cuts to free funds for innovations and transition.

      • tjvision says:

        For the larger conversation about what scientific papers could/should look like, let me recommend the FORCE11 community. Many exciting experiments are going on in that area, and there would be many more – much farther along – if the scientific literature was itself open for experimentation:

      • Hmm, Froce11 looks good and I know a bunch of people listed there. Need to ask them if this would be a good place ot discuss that. I’d expect all the publishers on there to attempt to block such a discussion, though…

  8. mal says:

    “As far as we are concerned, publishers have ONE JOB: disseminating the results of our work to the widest possible audience.”

    it is debatable whether this is the publishing activity of utmost importance to many academics. I would argue that for many what publications deliver is a prestigious environment to gain credentials, career progression and acceptance in certain circles of academics and funders.

    In a lot of cases it is the academic community that is perpetuating the need for publishers and exclusivity. Often the aim is not dissemination of knowledge but maintenance of a system based on superiority where those people holding academic posts are seen as an elite. The aim of many individuals is to promote their name within a limited closed circle of peers – a job that journals achieve and that Elsevier understands very well.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      “I would argue that for many what publications deliver is a prestigious environment to gain credentials, career progression and acceptance in certain circles of academics and funders.”

      Wouldn’t you rather your work was judged on its merits than on which journal it appeared in?

      • mal says:

        absolutely – the problem is that there is a huge current of implicit support for the practice of closed journals within academia – from academics, employers and funders.

        There are huge systemic issues in a sector that is highly predicated on prestige. Simply pinning it all on greedy capitalist publishers does not necessarily tackle the real problems or lead to a system of open dissemination.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      I wish I could disagree with this description of the state of affairs in academia, but I can’t… at least not entirely. Of course, self promotion and feathering one’s CV serve neither the taxpayer nor the advancement of science. Something’s got to give.

      Scientists are humans, and humans are, by and large, selfish creatures. However, I do think there are people out there who genuinely want to do right by science, especially in the younger generation.

  9. If Elsevier went out of business are there escrow or archive arrangements which would allow someone else to host their online holdings or would we be left with only the paper copies of the things they have already published?

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Well, they own the rights to the papers, so I imagine those rights would be rounded up and auctioned off to the highest bidder if Elsevier were to go bankrupt. Of course, I doubt they will go away (at least not anytime soon), but surely this raises some alarm bells of the form of “why on Earth are we giving away these rights to private entities.” Tying the literature to corporations in crazy – companies go out of business for all kinds of reasons, even when they have a non-broken business model.

      Along the same lines, I am bothered that journals can be purchased by other companies. There are plenty of non-Elsevier journals that you could have published in years ago that now… Elsevier journals. Given this company’s poor stewardship of the literature and integrity of science, the fact that they’ve bought up so many important journals is disturbing. This should be a wakeup call.

    • Jenny Reiswig says:

      Yes there are arrangements. Look for info about Portico journal archiving. Essentially it is a “dark” archive that libraries can buy into, via which content can be brought back into the light if a publisher goes away. I’m not super familiar with the details of it, but presumably there are provisions for content to be migrated to whatever replaces current web technologies.

      • Jenny Reiswig says:

        Ha, in the time it took to type that, Grace made a much better comment to this effect below. Ooops!

  10. Coincidentally, FakeElsevier is saying what I’ve also tried to tell, without effect (see also comments):

  11. Grace Baynes says:

    To answer @Sarah_May1’s question, yes – there are a number of systems/back-ups in place to make sure online holdings are available. One example is PORTICO (, another is the non-profit, community initiative CLOCKSS ( Publishers and libraries contribute to both of these.

    @fakeelsevier, often it isn’t a case of publishers purchasing journals. This happens sometimes, but more often the journal is owned by an association or society, and they invite publishers to submit a proposal to publish the journal for a period of time (3-5 years, sometimes longer, and sometimes that publishing agreement is renewed). In my experience, the ownership of the journal stays with the society, and the publisher is a publishing partner/service provider. I do appreciate you were making a wider point about journals moving to publishers, though.

    @fakeelsevier, thanks for such a thoughtful post. Lots to think on and I’m still reading/digesting – so this is just a quick response to two of the recent comments in the hope that the information is helpful.

    (Disclosure: I work for Nature Publishing Group)

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Grace, many thanks for commenting. I’m glad to see someone representing the publishers commenting here.

      I wasn’t actually talking about the archiving/backup itself – I was taking it for granted that there were backups of these things out there. A company would have to implode very fast indeed for the availability of “dark” archives to be necessary to “save” the literature. Good to know a hard drive failure isn’t going to wind-up eradicating some part of the literature.

      My bigger question (which you can perhaps answer?) is what happens to the *copyrights*. My understanding is that a hypothetical bankrupt publisher would still own these, and then if the company went into receivership, these would be assets that would be dispatched to help pay back creditors.

      And even forgetting bankruptcy, when a company is merged or acquired, IP/copyright assets often find themselves belonging to a new master. Those who follow the technology world may see parallels with the case of the Java programming language, which was developed by Sun Microsystems but which is now property of Oracle (which acquired Sun recently). While Sun had been a good steward of Java (a language which is used by many, many programmers), Oracle is now treating it (and its surrounding patents) as an IP weapon that can be used to damage or extract money from Google. The user community is stuck nervously in the middle.

      It’s sort of hard for me to imagine a worse steward for the scientific literature than Elsevier (Rupert Murdoch?), but what, in principle, is to stop a company with *no* interest in the scientific literature (beyond profit) from acquiring copyrights to the literature and doing truly asinine things with them? The rights to these papers are “assets” (we’ve made them so by signing away our copyright), and public corporations have fiduciary responsibilities to shareholders to extract value from them. Is there any provision to protect the integrity of science against these kinds of forces?

  12. […] But if you go there today, you’ll see that the satire is on hold for a day. @FakeElsevier is sending readers to a blog post–a sincere blog post, titled DEAR ELSEVIER EMPLOYEES, WITH LOVE, FROM @FAKEELSEVIER. […]

  13. fakeelsevier says:

    Does no one from Elsevier care to chime in?

    • The problem could be that they are confused. They thought that their one job was to make money buying low (getting manuscripts for next to nothing) and selling high (journal subscriptions). The journals are widgets to them. It matters not what the widgets are, or if some people are upset with limited access to the widget juice. They think too many people are getting unrestricted access to their wonderful widget juice. This is not good news in an economy where scarcity is required to protect access to their widgets.

      I also agree that some scientists don’t care if their articles are hidden in journals that have very limited circulation. It is just a line on a CV. I propose that we try to convince those scientists that they will get more citations if they publish in OA sources. There is plenty of research out there that shows the correlation.

  14. Liz Smith (@lexemes) says:

    I always hoped that when I got my 15 minutes of fame it would be for my stellar rendition of ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ or my best-selling detective novel. Oh well.

    I’ve had some fun sparring with @FakeElsevier on Twitter because I appreciate the cathartic effect of humour, too. But I think it’s one thing to create a fake account for satire and mockery and quite another to offer serious commentary anonymously. It’s slightly troubling when people purporting to be academics–whose anger comes at least partly from the belief that publishers take your intellectual property–are not willing to put their name to their own thoughts. It’s a little ironic, too. Say what you want about Kent Anderson, at least he isn’t hiding. Mike Taylor, Matt Wardell and Stephen Curry aren’t either, which is why I’ve been willing to talk to them.

    Social media has changed academic communications in many ways – but it shouldn’t eliminate transparency. So FakeElsevier now that you’re moving beyond 140 characters and aiming to make real substantive, thoughtful arguments, I think it’s time you let us know who you are. I’ll be happy to engage then.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      Come on, Liz, that makes no sense at all. Either FakeElsevier makes good points or he/she doesn’t. Dismissing his arguments on the basis of who he or she may or may not be is the purest form of ad hominem.

      For that matter, you don’t really know who I am. You know that I give my name as Mike Taylor, but since we’ve never met I might, for all you know, be an Eskimo schoolgirl. Whether I am or not makes no difference to the value of my arguments.

      And that of course is one of the huge benefits of online discourse. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Arguments can only be judged on their own merits. Hey, that reminds me of something … what is it, now? Oh yes, I remember — science! You know — double-blind peer-review and all that.

      So, here we all are, all scientists, and all evaluating evidence on its own strengths and weaknesses. Don’t bow out of that. You’ve been asking for OA advocated to dial down the outrage and calmly lay out the issues. That’s exactly what FakeElsevier has done here, probably as well as any article I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot). Now that you have what you asked for, backing out on the basis of the author’s anonymity is going to make you look cowardly.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Hmm… a predictable strategy for deflecting an actual discussion of the issues.

      I haven’t revealed my identity to date because my feeling has been that doing so only distracts from what I’ve been trying to do. I’m not ashamed of what I’ve written — I’ve penned similar thoughts publicly under my own name — but I don’t feel a need to “take credit” for FakeElsevier either. The point is that any one of us could have written this stuff; anyone who wants to be, can be FakeElsevier.

      Heck, everyone in the community should hereby consider this an open solicitation for content (ed. note: no, really, please help, it’s kind of hard to keep this up 😉 ).

      Twitter meme anyone? “I AM FAKEELSEVIER!”

      (Worth a try, in any event.)

      All that said, if this is really such a stumbling block, I’ll leave it up to the community to decide if this matters, or if you’re just stalling from confronting what’s written here. For now, I’m taking the 1,200 followers and several thousand reads of this blog post per day as an endorsement that we’re doing something right here.

      What do you say, community?

      • mal says:

        Are the opinions of someone who has been working in a particular field of research any more valid than those of a lay person who has stumbled across a blog? If not is there a basis to decide which criticisms are valid or useful and which are just hot air?

        Is the desire to remove anonymity not one of the main reasons for open peer review

      • DrugMonkey says:

        mal- and some of us think the bleating for open peer review is just as misguided for the same reasons.

      • fakeelsevier says:

        Let’s not confuse open *access* and open *peer review*. As DrugMonkey alludes, there is substantial room for debate over whether peer review should be anonymous or not. That is NOT what this argument is about, and it is a completely different debate from whether or not everyone should be able to *access* the literature, irrespective of their wealth, or the wealth of their institution. Let’s not confuse the issue.

        The primary reason for anonymity in peer review is to allow reviewers to be free to offer an honest appraisal of work without fear of petty retribution from more senior/powerful colleagues (it also helps prevent “you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours” type situations, though not perfectly). Much of grant review is also done anonymously for these same reasons.

        There are fields (e.g. computer science), where review is typically *double* blind (i.e. the reviewers don’t know who the authors are either). How do they judge the validity of the work in the absence of knowing the reputation of the author and their institution? Simple. They read the paper. (Amazing concept, no?)

      • mal says:

        Let’s not confuse open *access* and open *peer review*.

        I think one of the issues is that access and review kind of have to go hand in hand if you want to have a system that academics use.

        There is already an excellent way to publish everything completely open access – its called the internet. Anyone with a a connection can post, very, very easily. I could upload a complete research paper and have it appearing in google in a very short time.

        If that was all that academics wanted they could easily make everything they do open access but the rub comes in the process of marrying this with the review, dissemination and accreditation process within a community. There is no obvious mechanism for validation or recognition if you stick a research output up as a blog post and academics choose instead to publish in journals that will get them ‘prestige’.

        Obviously this puts us in the position where Elsevier is able to take make such ludicrous profits and that’s certainly not good for academia but I feel that without tackling the technological and social solutions to the problem it is difficult to enact sea-change.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        “How do [reviewers] judge the validity of the work in the absence of knowing the reputation of the author and their institution? Simple. They read the paper. (Amazing concept, no?)”

        Silly @FakeElsevier! The reviewers know whether the paper is good or not based on which journal it’s been submitted to, of course!

      • fakeelsevier says:

        Mal: I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re not actively trying to confuse/derail this debate.

        Open Access is NOT the same as no-peer-review or posting unfiltered shit on the internet. Never has been. Open Access and peer review coexist quite nicely. PLoS does it (and PLoS Biology reviewing is quite rigorous / difficult to pass. The review is done ENTIRELY by scientists, and in many instances, the “herding” of reviewers is also done by academics. Academics in computer science do the lion’s share of reviewing themselves without any assistance from journals (by far the most respected work is published as conference proceedings, and no commercial entities are involved).

        Please explain to me how your argument logically makes any sense given the existence of PLoS.

      • mal says:

        ok so this sub-thread started about the issue of anonymity. My initial comment was about the fact that there is a valid desire to get rid of anonymity in certain quarters of the community hence the mention of open peer review.

        I wasn’t saying you should or shouldn’t reveal your identity – simply pointing out that the issue of anonymity is not entirely clear cut and its not necessarily a ploy to deflect the discussion.

        In my second comment I was not trying to suggest open access is the same as no-peer-review or that it requires open peer review. What I wanted to say was that free access is not the principle driver for many academics at the moment otherwise they would use OA already.

        The issue is getting academics to ‘want’ to publish in OA and that (I think) requires marrying not only the publication and review process but also the wider social issues, from funders and other parties that place the ‘prestige’ in certain journals. I think PloS and other open access journals are absolutely a step in the right direction but the evidence that they are not the final step is surely that Elsevier made such huge profits in 2011.

    • bill says:

      Exactly the kind of cheap tactic we’ve come to expect from Elsevier.

    • blah says:

      “Social media has changed academic communications in many ways”

      Yes – there are these things called Open Access journals – they’re revolutionary – a vast improvement on traditional publishing.


      I know you’re perhaps commenting as an individual, and not on behalf of Elsevier but… are you seriously arguing for transparency? Isn’t that what we academics are also demanding with our Elsevier boycott (not just Open Access transparency, but also transparency as to where and how Elsevier gets all it’s vast profits from, and how much institutional library subscriptions cost …etc). I your complaint about a lack of transparency rather ironic!

    • Rooker says:

      The “if you want to have a real discussion, reveal your name” argument is usually an attempt to shut down, or at least derail, a discussion that’s going against the person saying it. If you have something relevant to say on the subject at hand, stay on topic and say it.

      If FakeElsevier isn’t qualified to speak on the subject, that will become clear to those who are and can tell the difference. If they are qualified, then their name doesn’t matter. Either way, there is no need for someone to put their career at risk of petty retribution for speaking out about what they believe is right.

    • Melancholia says:

      Liz Smith:

      Wow, you are using the same tactics everywhere! The first question you asked me on Twitter was about my identity. When I partially described it (published with Elsevier, signed, I got a respectful response. This tone did not last long; you exploded in the next round.

      You wanted to understand the reasons for the anger of the scientific community; I offered to have discussion, public or private (your choice) about this, you did not reply. Isn’t it an opportunity to get some ideas about these reasons? Tom Reller did the same, as also did another employee of Elsevier, who’s name I am not inclined to disclose at this point.

      The validity of the arguments of fakeelsevier does not depend on his identity. This applies to any substantive discussion, period.

      What exactly do you want to know to have a meaningful discussion and why? Full name, affiliation, short CV, full CV, home address, driving records, medical records, Social Security Number? Or may be just the first name will be enough?

  15. srsly? says:

    “It’s slightly troubling when people purporting to be academics(…) are not willing to put their name to their own thoughts. It’s a little ironic, too.”

    *cough* *cough* everypeerreviewever *cough*

  16. I’m FakeElsevier and so is my wife!

  17. Bill Tozier says:

    I’d love to write a paper with you sometime when this all falls down, @FakeElsevier.

  18. […] Loon could have predicted it, really: @FakeElsevier has been accused of being a pseudonym. […]

  19. cistronic says:

    Reblogged this on cistronic and commented:
    Came across this via the satirical twitter-stream!/FakeElsevier – in part the argument is very much along the lines on CargoCult Science I wrote last year (i.e.

    Admittedly, this is my first attempt at reblogging … let’s see how this works out.

  20. Mr. Gunn says:

    I think a significant amount of the attention you’re getting is due to the intrigue of the anonymity. Too much of the debate here is shrill. Thanks for injecting some humor and fun into things. Keep it up, @FakeElsevier (all of you).

  21. fakeelsevier says:

    For posterity, here’s the round-up of Tuesday’s “I am Spartacus” moment:

    Thanks everyone for your support and for contributing your wit. Sorry if I left anyone’s tweets out.

    Now, Liz. Any interest in engaging in civilized debate, or are you actually not interested in issues?

    The cattle are waiting for your answer.

  22. As an ex-editor I don’t think Elsevier is the problem. They are just a company (like any other) that works to maximize profit.

    The problem is academia. I created an open-access peer-reviewed academic journal in 1992 (i.e., twenty years ago). Has there been a huge stampede towards OA journals in the last two decades? No. Why: Academics want to publish in the highest cited journals, and the highest cited journals are the ones which get the best papers (hence the Catch-22).

    When and if academics as a group decide to publish in OA journals, the publishing model will change over night.

    The current discussion is predicated on the belief that it’s easier to forciably change Elsevier’s business practises (good luck with that), than to get a significant proportion of academics to act in for their communities short-term interest, and their own long-term benefit.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Again, no one is proposing to change Elsevier’s business practices. The whole point of the boycott is for academics to change our behavior. It’ll take some people standing up to the status quo to do that, and it will probably take some rallying of attention to get enough people to feel comfortable to “storm the beach”, but changing Elsevier’s business model needn’t be a high priority.

      I think that the funding agencies can and should command academics to behave appropriately, but again, it doesn’t matter if Elsevier plays along or not. They’re currently exploiting our cowardice and desire for self promotion, and they’re trying to manipulate the legislative process, which (I believe) should make everyone angry, but yeah, our fate is our fate.

      It’s time for us to start doing the right thing, and Elsevier (and their clumsy public relations) be damned if they can’t adapt to that.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      “As an ex-editor I don’t think Elsevier is the problem. They are just a company (like any other) that works to maximize profit.”

      Those two sentences contradict each other.

      We’re here to make science; they’re there to make money. How can anyone be surprised that there is a conflict?

    • Mike Taylor says:

      “Has there been a huge stampede towards OA journals in the last two decades? No.”

      Let me offer an alternative answer to that question:


      • fakeelsevier says:

        Indeed, when I started doing science, I don’t think I had ever even *heard* of Open Access, and that wasn’t even that long ago. Now, a large fraction of my papers are “gold” open access. I feel that increasingly, for a change, I do have *real* options.

        I’m heartened a bit by the idea that this may a situation similar to gay marriage or other civil rights issues: things sometimes can seem hopeless and the anti-change rhetoric can be infuriating, but the fact that we’re even having the debate is a sign of how much things have changed and are changing. Elsevier’s attempt to buy congress to assert the status quo is disturbing, but it’s probably an act of desperation.

        Let’s keep up the pressure and see if we can’t make the future happen a little bit faster.

    • Melancholia says:

      There are two problems, in fact.

      One is Elsevier (and some very objectionable practices of Elsevier are, apparently, evennot mentioned anywhere yet). From the point of view of a scientist, it is indeed the worst scientific publisher in the world. And it does not matter that it publishes the Cell. This only makes the situation worse. Elsevier did not launch Cell, it bought it. To the best of my knowledge (mostly limited to mathematics, I admit), Elsevier did not launch any top class scientific publication; it bought them, and then started to slowly decrease their level. In contrast, another not very nice big fish, Springer, did launch a lot of publications. In mathematics, for example, Springer created a new model for mathematical books publications, emulated later (for free!) by other publishers.

      The second problem is the academic community, I agree. I understand the community to some degree. Scientists are concentrated on research. Usually this requires a lot of hard work, a talent and inspiration, and thinking 24/7 on your problem. This leaves no much time to think about the system. You fill in the form a secretary asks you to fill in, you sign the copyright transfer agreement because everybody does this and you a not aware of the dramatic changes compared even to the situation 10 years ago.

      What the academics should do is to refuse to sign the copyright transfer agreements. They should keep the copyright, and give a publisher a non-exclusive, non-perpetual license to distribute their works. Details can be worked out and should not be the same for everybody.

  23. […] Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier. An Open Letter. ‘Magic mud’ uncovered on Vancouver tidal flats key to shorebird populations When I grow up, I wanna be a public health worker Diving with wild crocodiles I am science … or am I? […]

  24. The Anonymous Author says:

    What about the fact that double-blind peer-review *won’t work* for those of us who run labs and do field experiments? You can diagnose who I am from the methods sections of my papers alone (which instruments we own, which primers we are wont to use, whose methods we build upon) or often by the remote field location described. Plus as an Editor myself, what I often see is that the author becomes absolutely fixated upon a specific person, whom they just *know* is the anonymous reviewer. I’ve never, ever seen them actually fixate on the correct person. With double-blind you’d just get double-wrong double-assumptions of double-guilt. In other words, haters gonna hate.

    A journal is like a pigeon coop, you can build it any shape you want, but in the end you’re stuck having to shove pigeons in all the holes.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      I’m certainly not advocating double-blind peer review. As I said to “mal” in the comments, above, the style of peer review as an issue is completely distinct from the issue of access. Not having universal access is clearly intolerable, but there are lots of ways that I could imagine peer review shaking out in a putative “new world order”. Given our past interactions, I know that you know that distinction, but just want to make that clear for the sake of others who stumble onto this blog post.

      Already, *today* there are a number of different models of peer review in use — single blind, double blind, open reviewer identity after publication, open reviews after publication. Personally, I like this diversity from venue to venue, since each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Currently, the distribution of the different styles is not uniform/dispersed enough across fields, and it would be interesting if multiple models were available even within the same venue, e.g. if one could *opt* for double-blind review, sort of analogous to the way that PNAS has multiple review “tracks” (note: that’s not an endorsement of the “non-direct” tracks at PNAS, though those do represent alternative models, for what they’re worth). There are many more alternatives beyond the ones I mentioned above, including hybrids.

      It’s exciting to think what we could do, given a clean slate. Maybe the current peer review models are still the best for the internet age, and maybe they aren’t. However, we’re going to need to fight for that clear playing field if we’re going to find out. Right now, we’ve handed the keys (and our wallets) to the likes of Elsevier, and we have left our futures to their demonstrably bad stewardship. It’s time we start controlling our own fates.

      • The Anonymous Author says:

        I like your reply and it makes sense. I personally favor not fixing what ain’t broke, but ending up with a product that *everyone* can access. But us senior citizens are notorious for our capacity to cling to Ye Olde Wayes in the face of all reason.

        Your correspondence with TPTB at [Real] Elsevier brings to mind an experience I had 10 years ago, when I spent many days in my lab explaining myself to big cameras for a Discovery Channel segment. When we parted ways, I humbly thanked them for the noble service they were doing by bringing science into people’s living rooms. The director responded, “Hey no way, we love filming scientists. We don’t have to pay them.”

  25. Fake Moral Superiority says:

    Hi Fake Elsevier and friends (because you seem to have only friends around here), I am actually a long-time Elsevier employee – or maybe an Eskimo schoolgirl. Or no wait, I am looking at my pay check right now and I am an Elsevier employee, yep. Regardless, identity does not seem to matter in this place, you have all made that very clear. And it is not about the money. But unfortunately it is not about the facts either: it is just about emotions and parroting, being part of the anti-Elsevier club, and passing moral judgment in a way that is appalling and uncalled for.

    Let me give you one fact for you to chew on (there might be more to follow in subsequent posts). Elsevier does not get any subsidies or grants, unlike almost all OA journals, and it is not a charity, like so many of its competitors. All of this leads to the conclusion that, for our company to be successful and profitable (wake-up call: companies need to be profitable to survive; grant backed charities do not), it needs to deliver superior products and services because we do not have a monopoly and we need to stand on our own feet. So, we have to do a better job than the others – not just as good as, but actually better – otherwise we would be out of business.

    Just stating the obvious here, I would think, but have not seen it mentioned anywhere. If you care to respond to this observation, I would appreciate hard facts instead of the usual tired anti-Elsevier whining. Surely we have seen enough of that and it is starting to come across as, I don’t want to sound too unfriendly, but this is – I am trying to think of a nice way to say “pathetic” that doesn’t sound too unfriendly but cannot think of another word. Sorry about that, we are still among friends here, right?

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Greetings, angry Eskimo schoolgirl.

      You’re right — you got us, you FOUND OUT OUR SECRET– we’re just doing all of this because it’s cool to be anti-Elsevier and because we’re all part of some sort of club or cult or something (we have shirts to prove it, btw). It couldn’t possibly be that this upswelling of anger against from the community against Elsevier is because Elsevier has a long history of working against the academic community’s interests.

      You’re right. Elsevier has a God-given right to compete in the marketplace and make a profit.

      If that means locking up the literature so that researchers can’t do their jobs, so be it.

      If that means the public can’t see the literature, so be it.

      If that means you make up actual, honest-to-goodness fake journals that falsely tout Merck products because Merck paid you to, so be it. (

      If that means you publish pseudo-science journals, like “Homeopathy”, and make it look like a real journal, so you make an extra buck, so be it. (

      If that means you publish journals full of plagiarized articles, because you’re too lazy or don’t care, or aren’t equipped to tell the difference, so be it. (

      If that means you run international weapons conventions — the kind that warlord dictators go to to get weapons to oppress their people — so be it. (

      If that means buying congress to try and cement your crumbling business model and astronomical profits, so be it. (

      You have a right to make profit at whatever cost.

      Actually, WAIT A MOMENT. You don’t. The money is coming from the government, and they get to decide how they spend it. Elsevier is a third party subcontractor, and they get exactly *zero* say in how things go down. If the government wants to give grants to support Open Access publishers because they seem them supporting their interests, then that is their damned business. And it’s my damned business because I’m a taxpayer. It’s every American citizen’s business to see that some ridiculous Anglo-Dutch megacorp with a in-fucking-credibly bad track record for shady dealings is not siphoning money out of what limited money is available for scientific research, while at the same time making it impossible for the scientific literature work the way it’s supposed to.

      But no, you’re right. It’s just a club or something. Sure you don’t want to buy a t-shirt?

      • bill says:

        Oh come on, be fair. Elsevier ditched their arms dealing division.

        Sure, they only did it after pressure was applied via the (vastly more profitable) academic publishing division.

        But still, you know, credit where credit’s due. Elsevier doesn’t kill babies. Directly. Any longer.

      • Virginia says:

        What is truly infuriating is that Elsevier (and other such publishers) is double-dipping into governments funds in this current model, and all for profit. What other business could get away with that, especially in today’s current political and economic climate? Take Science, for example. To publish there, a scientist has to pay several thousand dollars just to have their article included. Okay, fine, the government builds these costs into the grant award for the scientist’s research. Now, the article has been accepted and published by Elsevier, and the library has to pay for a subscription. Guess who funds the library? Taxpayer dollars. Public funds and other governmental grants.

        If Elsevier and their employees want to make a profit, yes, that is their right. It is also our right to point out why this is a disgusting model. Making 36% profit by fleecing the government is not exactly my idea of an ethical business model. Making 36% of the profit, while researchers, who do original work and produce original findings receive not a dime of these proceeds, and can’t even share their work without the blessing of a publishing giant? Unconscionable.

        P.S. Not advocating for the pay the author system here, just pointing something out – if profit is not the goal for the researchers, why should it be the goal of the publishers?

      • mbeisen says:

        To hell with double dipping. They are triple dipping (subsidies for research, salaries of peer reviewers, and money for journals).

    • Mike Taylor says:

      “Unfortunately it is not about the facts either: it is just about emotions and parroting, being part of the anti-Elsevier club, and passing moral judgment in a way that is appalling and uncalled for.”

      If you really think that, can I recommend that you read Scientific reputations and clashing worldviews? It’s a reasonably short article that does the best job I’ve seen yet of articulating why there is so much anger. But don’t take my word for it — here’s Elsevier VP Liz Smith: “I found this an interesting and thoughtful post. … I still get the point you’re trying to make. … Thanks for sharing it.”

      “Elsevier does not get any subsidies or grants.”

      Au contraire. Elsevier’s income is almost entirely from government grants. Those grants are given to researchers, who convert them into science and give that science to you. So there is an additional stage insulating you from the humiliation of having to accept government money directly, but the effect is identical. If the government stopped funding science, you’d go out of business just as quickly as PLoS or anyone else.

      “For our company to be successful … it needs to deliver superior products and services.”

      It does indeed.

      That’s why you’re in so much trouble.

    • Steve Lawson says:

      “So, we have to do a better job than the others – not just as good as, but actually better – otherwise we would be out of business.”

      Is that what you think this is about? You think people are mad because Elsevier is just so darn good at what it does? That people are jealous of Elsevier?

    • mike poller says:

      Elsevier does not have the right to charge publishing fees for my taxpayer-funded science, then hold it for ransom until you get paid, again, by my taxpayer-funded libraries.

      This is taxpayer anger, not just academic anger. You get one bite at the public trough… You need to be so good you make it on subscriptions, or you make it on publishing fees. Choose one little eskimo girl.

      A pig gets fat, a hog gets slaughtered. Elsevier needs to stop being a hog.

    • Ben says:

      Dear FMS

      Just one point in response, probably made already. Elsevier receives a huge grant from the taxpayer – it just doesn’t look like it.

    • William Nicholls says:

      Hi Eskimo Schoolgirl, I run into Elsevier all the time I’m really, really impressed by how effectively you hide the information I seek. You folks are really, really, good at keeping me from seeing anything useful in your many publications. And you’re really, really good at making profit. Better than Google (~27%), GE (~11%), Dell (~6%), PG (~13%), Wal-Mart (~3.5%). I hope you’re paid well enough to afford mink mukluks considering how really, really good Elsevier is doing and how really, really good you must be at your job. Unfortunately, I can’t afford nearly $30 per paper so I can’t contribute to your raging success. And I can’t really judge all that “added value” since I only get to see the Elsevier tollgates. But those are really, really good tollgates and they keep out interested riff-raff like me!

  26. jesse says:

    “Elsevier does not get any subsidies or grants, unlike almost all OA journals, and it is not a charity”

    I’m glad Elsevier doesn’t think they are a charity, I’ll be expecting a nice check next time I review a paper.

  27. “As far as we are concerned, publishers have ONE JOB: disseminating the results of our work to the widest possible audience.”

    I think you’re missing one very important value add that quality publishers bring to the table, and that’s preservation. It’s one thing to have files sitting on a server that everyone can access, it’s a whole nother thing to have backups and to make sure that the content is properly preserved, or curated, and maintained over time, including transfering to new formats.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Explain to me how your comment makes any sense given the existence of PubMedCentral, an open access repository that has archived some 2.3 million articles to date. Also, many existing open access journals (e.g. PLoS) do an excellent, if not better, job of providing multiple formats, and yes, they take care of backup and archiving too.

      There are variety of really excellent avenues for archiving the literature. Is this really the differentiation that you see closed access journals providing, in exchange for owning copyrights and locking up access to the work? I think you’ll have to do better than that.

      • Cool, I feel your anger. You are a real bully. If you’re happy with the current state of digital preservation than I think you are very naive. Relatively very few journals are preserved by LOCKS and Portico and PubMed.

        Good luck with your bullying strategy as a way to defeat Elsevier. I’m sure you’ll be very successful.

      • fakeelsevier says:

        “You are a real bully.”

        Which part of what I said constitutes “bullying”? I am reading over what I wrote again and again, and I am genuinely confused. Is any argument that you don’t agree with “bullying”?

    • Mike Taylor says:

      Thanks for the reminder, Jeffrey. You’re absolutely right that preservation is just as important as initial distribution.

      The question now, though, is whether publishers are best placed to provide that service. Historically, the answer was no: we trusted library rather than publishers with our print holdings. And when we are talking about open access documents, the answer is no again: it’s super-convenient that we get all PLoS ONE papers from but it is only a convenience. If the PLoS ONE site went away, the articles are all in PubMed Central anyway. And if that went away, they are all in LOCKSS. And if that went away, they are replicated hundreds or thousands of times over in the vast distributed archive that is every researcher’s had drive. There is simply no way to eradicate a PLoS article short of global nuclear war. [An aside: speaking as (among other things) a zoological nomenclaturalist, this is one of the reasons that I am so annoyed by the fact the the International Code on Zoological Nomenclature still considers printing on paper as an indispensible part of publication.]

      The broader observation here is that in an open world, we are free of silos. Not so long ago, we had to use a publisher’s own facilities for preservation, indexing, searching, aggregation, discovery and more. Sometimes those facilities were excellent; sometimes, not so much. But how much better to live in a world where anyone can build such facilities! No-one had to pay Google to make a much better search engine for academic papers than anything the publishers had come up with. When information is just put on the open web, such things happen on their own — there’s always someone interested in building a new service, and often it’s a service we’d not even thought of before.

      Take down the walls. We could build anything.

      • Please see “Potential Crisis May Be Brewing in Preservation of E-Journals.”

        Not everything is in LOCKSS.

      • Just to back your point up Mike – thanks to I have all PLoS ONE articles ever published on my computer, via what was pretty much a one-click, download process using a torrent client. Many other people have done this too.

        If all journals allowed themselves to be redistributed like this, then yes – it’s highly unlikely we’d ever loose a single of copy of a single article (unless it was an extremely unpopular, unloved journal – in which case, it would not be that much of a loss).

        Perhaps libraries should become seeders for journal torrents…?

      • Thanks so much for this reference, Jeffrey! I’ve been looking for months for a study like this! And the article even reinforces the need for libraries to step in! Fantastic, this will be immensely useful for the OA movement! If libraries are necessary for long-term archiving, why should we use publishers at all? I mean, we write it, then send it to publishers for formatting and then we buy it back only to put them into out libraries – why not put them in libraries in the first place! What are journals other than tags these days, anyway?

        So many thanks again, Jeffrey, you don’t know how much I needed this reference!

      • The Anonymous Author says:

        You know, when I contemplate the horrors of a full-out nuclear exchange, one of the scenarios that really keeps me up at night is me sitting in a bunker worrying if I’ve been referring to Branchiostoma as Amphioxus all these years …

        En seriousa, I like your ideas and thanks for bringing them up. As one of the few people in this discussion who remembers the Reagan Years, I just had to chuckle at that one sentence.

    • Jeffrey hits an important point: corporations are financially unstable, especially compared with institutions such as universities. In fact, I think publishers are much too unstable to be trusted with our literature, which is why there are things like LOCKSS and Portico. However, Jeffrey is also right in that the coverage is sketchy and the time lost in providing efficient access (in terms of locating relevant literature) would be considerable after one of the larger corporations went the way of Enron or Lehman Brothers.
      Therefore, in following Jeffrey’s advice, I’d like to suggest we stop using publishers altogether and rather entrust our most valuable assets with the entities who have the longest tradition in archiving our works, as Mike mentioned: libraries.

      Libraries already archive our Bachelor, Master’s and PhD theses (and Habilitations in the few countries where they exist) and most of them already have green OA institutional repositories. Adding our papers shouldn’t really make all that much of a difference and we stand to save a few billion dollars every year.

      Thanks, Jeffrey, for pointing that out!

    • DrugMonkey says:

      One of the greatest things Elsevier has done is to drill back and PDF down to page 1, issue 1, vol 1 of many (most?, all?) titles. For that I salute them.

      I am not sure that the fact we relied on their vision to do so works in their favor for the current argument. What if they’d decided that was *not* a good idea way back a decade ago? Where would we be?

      • Joe says:

        Yes, for a hefty fee to libraries. We repurchased electronic access to many of the journals backfiles we also had in print. They didn’t twist our arms to hand over the money, but they know that the faculty really want to get electronic backfile access, so we paid. If they really cared about access to the literature, then they would provide free backfile access like many journals at Highwire Press at Stanford.

    • Alex Merz says:

      On the scale of intellectual history, no digital archive has any meaningful any track record. Certainly not Elsevier.

      As you well know — but somehow avoid mentioning — archiving has traditionally been the job of libraries. But above you clearly imply that primary responsibility for archiving should reside with publishers and not libraries.

      Is this your position? If so, what is the evidence that Elsevier or any other commercial publisher will fulfill this function in an optimal manner? What happens if Elsevier (or a similar commercial publisher) is bought out by a publically-held company which then decides that the expense of archiving is not an activity that benefits its bottom line — especially if libraries have abdicated that traditional role?

      • Alex Merz says:

        Many of the above comments were posted while I was drafting mine. I’m delighted to see that your position is more nuanced. This link, , is particularly useful.

        With respect to current publishing practices, this part of the discussion underscores the importance of having our work permanently archived at NLM and in similar archives, and the insanity and destructiveness of RWA and similar nonsense.

      • Libraries used to purchase physical artifacts that they could preserve. Now the model has changed, and libraries license data. They have to abide by the license, which generally means they can’t make copies and re-distribute them.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        “Libraries used to purchase physical artifacts that they could preserve. Now the model has changed, and libraries license data. They have to abide by the license, which generally means they can’t make copies and re-distribute them.”


        Which is exactly the problem!

        Barrier-based publishers not only charge us for content we’ve given them, they only rent it back to us when we do pay them, so that we are totally dependent on their competence and benevolence for continuing access to our own content.

        (Excuse all the italics — inside, I am shouting.)

        Can you, or anyone, really be surprised that we are not satisifed with this arrangement?

        And can you really think that “Libraries have to abide by the license, which generally means they can’t make copies and re-distribute them” is an argument in favour of the status quo?

      • Let me check my understanding — you’re saying that libraries should be able to license ebooks and then make multiple print copies for the library’s patrons, right? It soulds like your beef is more with copyright than with for-profit publishers.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        “Let me check my understanding — you’re saying that libraries should be able to license ebooks and then make multiple print copies for the library’s patrons, right?”

        No, indeed. I am saying that publishers should be paid up front an appropriate fee for the work that they do in turning a manuscript into an article; and then they should impose no limitations on what the world can do with the result.

        Gold OA, in other words.

        I am much more confident that today’s PLoS articles will still be around in a hundred years than I am that Cretaceous Research articles will be. Because we don’t know what’s coming in the next century but we do know that in the absence of restrictions we’ll find ways to cope with difficulties and exploit opportunities.

      • Mike: I am concerned about gold open access. I invite you to visit my blog: (Scholarly Open Access), where I detail some of the abuses that are occuring. Look at “list of publishers” for examples of how easy it is for people to abuse gold OA.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Jeffrey, you are right to be careful about Gold OA publishers: the model can of course be abused to work as a vanity press. But as always the answer is to be careful who you work with — go with publishers who you trust. Personal recommendation is usually best, but I also think that Jeffrey Beall’s List of Predatory Open-Access Publishers is a useful resource that people should consult.

      • Thanks for plugging my list, Mike. –Jeffrey

      • Mike Taylor says:

        … but I don’t need to tell you that! 🙂

    • Publishers, with or without commitment to open access, may have different strategies (and therefore distinct levels of added value, according to you) for dealing with preservation. If one says that “most firms from this niche fail on X”, I see an opportunity to explore X on this niche (which btw is taking place). I cannot read this as “therefore this niche failed on X”.

      So to mention PLoS and PMC as competitive players against Elsevier — since they take preservation as seriously as the best others — is a completely valid point. Even with the existence of less apt companies that you might use as a straw man. If your competitive strategies are based on an average competitor and not the most menacing ones, you’re doing it wrong.

      But I’m glad that you mentioned preservation, since it always makes me wonder what would happen with my publication if the journal is discontinued (my conclusion would not please you).

      And by the way, I don’t believe Elsevier will be defeated — it seems that many companies now prefer to cuddle the government (rent seeking) that to actually please their customers by fighting the competition with better products for a
      lower price. And they’re so successful at it that they have no shame in doing so.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Bully here again.

      Jeff: genuine question, with full benefit of the doubt supplied to you: I’m confused why you’re singling out sketchy *open access* journals. There have always been sketchy journals, including closed access ones. Some of the examples you highlight on your website wouldn’t fool anyone (particularly the “Greener Journals” one, which is infantile). An un-generous read of your blog would say that you are attempting to paint all of open access with the brush of some silly bad performers. This is, of course, a logical fallacy.

      You might counter that I am painting Elsevier with the brush of the worst of the closed access world (e.g. by calling attention to the fake journals and “Homeopathy”), but in that case, I’m painting only *that* one publisher, with the paint they themselves supplied (this is btw, why I believe that Elsevier is being targeted / “bullied”, while NPG, Springer, et al. are getting a temporary pass).

      Do you believe that sketchiness is a product of open access? If so, I’d like to hear your take on PLoS and the open access journals that researchers in the real world actually take seriously. Do you think that these are sketchy? Do you think that real researchers take the sketchy OA journals you highlight any more seriously than they take “Homeopathy”?

      • Hey, Bully, how’s it going?

        Thanks for the message sent in-between picking on the fat guys. To answer your question, I am studying predatory and questionable gold open-access publishers because it’s my research interest. (I don’t use the term sketchy to describe them).

        You: “Do you believe that sketchiness is a product of open access? ” Me: No, not necessarilly.

        Me: Unfortunately, many good people have been fooled by the predatory open-access publishers. Their goal is to trick people, and they’re good at it. The OA model has changed the “customer” from libraries (+ other subscribers) to the authors.

        Look at the editorial boards of bogus journals and you’ll see some worthy researchers (yes, some have had their names listed unawares).

  28. Zoe says:

    Can’t tell you how much I wish I was surprised by Eskimo school girls’s miscomprehension of all arguments made so far.

    I’m not though.

  29. Fake Moral Superiority says:

    “Can’t tell you how much I wish I was surprised by Eskimo school girls’s miscomprehension of all arguments made so far.
    I’m not though.”

    Thanks, Zoe, for your meaningful contribution to this discussion. Before you go looking for the speck in my eye, should you not remove the plank from our own?

    But let’s go back to the facts. Here is what Fake Elsevier says above,

    “It’s every American citizen’s business to see that some ridiculous Anglo-Dutch megacorp with a in-fucking-credibly bad track record for shady dealings is not siphoning money out of what limited money is available for scientific research, while at the same time making it impossible for the scientific literature work the way it’s supposed to.”

    Wow, I am glad you have managed to keep emotion out of the discussion, Fake Elsevier, as I had asked. And don’t you just love juxtaposing American vs. Anglo-Dutch? This makes “Anglo-Dutch” sound really ominous: the villainous Anglo-Dutch strike again! I keep re-reading it but just does not feel like bullying to me – does it to you? It is so, what is word that I am looking for … rational. And then you bring up the gun show, the good old gun show, where would we be without it? No matter that Elsevier was in no way linked to this, you guys just bring it up, over and over and over and over again. This is exactly what I meant with tired whining. And I am sorry that I say “you guys” here because I know you are not a club, I realize that now. You are just a community of Independent Thinkers who all, coincidentally, think exactly the same.

    But let me end on a more positive note. Somewhere higher up in the chain you say you wish you had a “clean slate” and that it is time you start controlling your own fates. Guess what, you have a clean slate, every day is a clean slate!! You can start a new journal today! If it is so easy, and you don’t need publishers, why don’t you? People who are accusing Elsevier (and other commercial publishers, but we prefer Elsevier as our favorite enemy, right?) of exploiting a monopoly are simply mistaken. There is no such thing. You can do this today. Stop blogging, start a journal. Be creative instead of destructive. This would make your arguments a lot more valid and credible. Think pro-active instead of reactive. And just go for it.

    • “If it is so easy, and you don’t need publishers, why don’t you?” That’s exactly what I propose: leave publishers and use libraries: they’re already publishing and archiving our works anyway. We don’t need no stinkin’ publishers 🙂 Now that the publishers even dare us do it, why don’t we?

      • Mike Taylor says:

        ” “If it is so easy, and you don’t need publishers, why don’t you?” That’s exactly what I propose.”

        More than that, of course, it’s what PLoS actually did. You remember, Make Moral Eskimo Girl of Superiority: PLoS, who all the conventional publishers scoffed at and said they would never make it. You know, PLoS, who made a small operating profit this year with no grant support while having grown one of their journals from zero to the single biggest academic journal in the world in six years from a standing start.

        So, yeah, that’s what happens when we go off and start out own journals. Like Bjoern, I doubt the wisdom of your daring us to keep doing it.

      • Ah, good point, Mike, missed that little journal in my excitement that an Elsevier employee actually supported my suggestion to make them redundant 🙂

    • neurobongo says:

      “… the good old gun show, where would we be without it?”

      Well, without that, we’d still have the fake journals, the plagiarism, the lobbying, the pseudoscience journals, the bankrupting university libraries, the tax-funds double-dipping, and the preventing access to science parts.

      But, yeah, our collective case pretty much rests on the “gun show”. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Joe Kraus says:

      Concerning “Guess what, you have a clean slate, every day is a clean slate!! You can start a new journal today!”

      Maybe not today, but a bunch of colleagues and I did just that. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it isn’t exactly rocket science. We use an OJS installation.

      And, I talked to some colleagues about starting another OA journal within the last week. But, we would probably use WordPress and maybe PressForward for the platform.

  30. bill says:

    And then you bring up the gun show, the good old gun show, where would we be without it? No matter that Elsevier was in no way linked to this

    That is false, and since the facts of the case are so easy to obtain I believe it to be a deliberate lie.

    (And of course, neurobongo is quite correct: even if your reprehensible employer had never dabbled in the weapons trade, there’d be plenty of fuel for the current boycott.)

    • Nobody likes to be called a liar so let us be serious for a moment here.

      I realize this may look like nitpicking to you but you need to understand the structure of Reed Elsevier as a company: Elsevier is one leg and Reed Exhibitions is another separate one. A subsidiary of the latter company called Spearhead organized the defense shows until 2007. Spearhead is NOT a part of Elsevier and nobody within Elsevier would even be actively aware of its existence (even today). So when the defense shows were exposed, there was a lot of internal pressure too, particularly from the Elsevier side, to get rid them as soon as possible – which then actually happened fairly quickly. But then subsequently seeing Elsevier continuously being accused of organizing the shows basically just for the sake of being anti-Elsevier demonstrates a lack of respect for the actual facts. Facts matter, regardless of what has been said here in the past 24 hours, and they should be speak stronger than emotions.

      At the same time, I realize all of this may still seem like nitpicking to you. But now at least you cannot say you did not know.

      • fakeelsevier says:

        Um. OK. So are saying that you don’t work for Reed Elsevier?

        I understand what you’re trying to say, buy surely you see how your org-chart defense is perhaps not all that… compelling. If the corporate structure allows money from the publishing side profits — not to mention brand name — to support other subsidiaries, then I am not seeing how whether you personally knew makes a difference.

        But, hey, I am in a generous mood. Have a pass on the arms show thing. Might as well not distract from the other stuff, like the fake journals for money (which absolutely WAS under the Elsevier sub-umbrella). I won’t go through the whole list again, because frankly it is exhausting.

        And none of that speaks to the larger issue of how Elsevier does a poor job serving the interests of the government who funds it, or how its business model is harmful to the normal operation of science.

        You’ve repeatedly accused me of being emotional, but that assertion is just as empty as the first time you said it. This post is a rational argument about the ways in which Elsevier is at odds with the academic community, and the ways it could adapt to avoid having its business model disrupted. I am sorry that this upsets you, but please don’t confuse your own emotion with mine.

      • One of several main problems with this discussion and that elsewhere (only to name two of many these days is that it is exceedingly rare to have any constructive dialogue with publishers at all. Either, publishers debate some minor, sometimes even tangential point researchers make, or they try to defend themselves by either saying “it’s complicated” (meaning your demands are impossible to fulfill) or by explaining why any transition to OA takes more time or suggestions from researchers (of all people!) on a business model to make OA sustainable.

        Not once have I heard a publisher say: “ok, we screwed up, you call the shots. We’ll go OA and fix all the other missing functionalities, working together with the other publishers to allow our innovations to spread across the scholarly literature and not just to our tiny section of it.”

        OA is really only one of the most egregious mis-functionalities which hamper research – and these affect the entire scholarly literature. The fact that we as researchers even know which journals come from which publisher and who makes what kind of money with what kind of shenanigans is itself very telling: if publishers did their job, we wouldn’t even know any of this, because we couldn’t care any less, as long as things worked.

        So me personally, I’m very emotional, because I shouldn’t have to waste my time on this: I should just be reading the literature, doing my experiments and then telling my colleagues about them. I’m looking forward to the day when this will be possible again – with or without commercial publishers in the process.

      • Melancholia says:

        Sure, my left leg is not responsible for what the right does. Some bullies say that there is something like CPU in the head, but does it matter, really? My left leg is a completely independent entity, definitely capable of pressuring my right leg.

        Well, the company we are all talking about here is Reed Elsevier. We call it Elsevier for short.

        From “A short history of Elsevier”, published by Elsevier (i.e. Reed Elsevier) itself: “The 1993 Reed merger brought new strength to Elsevier Science Publishers” ( To pretend that Reed is something unrelated is quite disingenuous.

        This short history is very enlightening, in fact. Highly recommended reading. The extending the history of the company by 300 years by an appropriation of the name of another one is a feat in itself.

      • bill says:

        If you don’t like being called a liar, don’t tell lies, and when called on it don’t quibble about what kind of lies you are telling.

        But as others have said, have a pass on the arms dealing if it helps you sleep at night — after all, as far as we can tell, The Company Whose Name Is Apparently Legion did jettison that business when it became more trouble than it was worth.

        There are plenty of other issues that you haven’t even tried to address.

  31. We always have to play or reduce to the lowest common denominator don’t we:
    “And it’s my damned business because I’m a taxpayer. It’s every American citizen’s business to see that some ridiculous Anglo-Dutch megacorp with a in-fucking-credibly bad track record for shady dealings is not siphoning money out of what limited money is available for scientific research”
    Poor American citizens against the world….. go Team America!

    Just focus on the facts FakeElsevier, leave out the emotions.

    Peer review is intricately tied up with publication. I suggest there maybe a tendency (emphasis on maybe) for ‘established’ names to be more willing to review for ‘established journals’ and perhaps (again, perhaps) they provide a more expert review than non-established figures. The equation is not as simple as disband Elsevier = free high quality science for the world. I guess you’d also have to next take out Macmillan press, and as for ‘Science’ ….where would all the hype (and retractions) go to!!!

    Moreover, you are incorrect about the ‘widest possible audience’ being the objective for most scientists (although it is not a bad objective). Whilst we might think it is, we want our work to be read by those who ‘count’ with everyone else coming out as objective 2. What Elsevier does is distribute your paper, wrapped in a ‘Neuron/Immunity/Cell’ wrapper under the noses of those who approve the grants and provide the jobs.

    It is another form of that concept which happens to ensure the poor American citizen makes more money from arms dealing than anyone else on Earth. In turn this means the American government takes more tax receipts from arms dealing which means, surprise surprise, that American science gets more money. What goes around comes around – just food for thought – that grant money came from somewhere.

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Can people PLEASE stop telling me to “look at the facts”, when presenting completely fact-free, citation-free, gut feel arguments? We’re scientists. Let’s have some citations / evidence, please.

      Let’s add some facts to your “argument”:

      You imply that Elsevier / Cell press journals have a lower retraction rate than other high impact journals. In fact, Cell has a very high retraction rate, only slightly lower than Science, and higher than Nature ( )

      You imply that more established investigators provide better peer review. This is not bourne out in the controlled studies that have been done on it ( Not surprisingly, senior investigators have less time to do a thorough review. It is interesting to speculate that this might contribute to the high retraction rates at the “glamour” journals (indeed, my own papers in these journals have enjoyed some of the thinnest, most superificial reviews I have ever received).

      You imply that only the right people need to see a paper. I shudder to think who you think the right people are, but surely you must mean the people who have the most money? Lovely way to run science. Leaving that aside, let me just point out one tiny nugget of fact. I work at a certain institution in the US with an ungodly large endowment — enough to buy the entire Wellcome Trust, and still have plenty left over — and we don’t even have access to all of the journals put out by Elsevier. I even have one paper (that I regret, btw) that I will never see, unless I pay $40 (which is not going to happen). Even if you accept the odious and incorrect notion that science should only be done by the rich elite, please note that even the elite that you prize so much don’t have access to the full literature. Or do you have to be British and work for the Wellcome Trust to be good enough to do science, in your eyes?

      Mixed up in what you say, there is something that actually is a real issue, so I am going focus on that, skipping over your “point” about how Americans build bombs and shouldn’t get to decide how they spend their tax money (… or something…?).

      Credentialing! Indeed, this is important issue. Currently, scientists rely heavily on the reputation of a journal as a proxy for whether the work is actually valid or not, and as a proxy for real impact when making promotion and/or grant decisions. Of course, as we’ve seen in the retraction data above, this is a curious proxy, since journal “impact factor” is actually beautifully correlated with retraction rate (here’s the link again).

      And it’s curious that in the era where article-level citations are possible that we rely instead on journal-level measures of “impact”. Indeed, the data (oh noes! more facts) show that the impact factors of “high-profile” journals are driven by a small minority of the papers published in them (see this link and this link, from Nature Publishing Group, who despite occassional lapses, are actually pretty good about being honest about how silly impact factors are). This means that just because you have a paper in a Cell Press journal with a high impact factor, it doesn’t follow that it is going to be cited any more than it would in a less “flashy” journal. In fact, the vastly most likely outcome is that any given paper in one of these “high impact” journals is not going to be cited all that much at all. Alas, that’s how things usually go in science.

      However, it is true that journal impact factor is important today, whether we like it or not. I think that one could effectively argue that junior scientists today still need “glamor” journals in order to get jobs and tenure, whether or not this is good for science as a whole.

      That’s why it is a good thing that we increasingly have some options. As I’ve mentioned before PLoS Biology (and the other PLoS journals) have an excellent impact factors (for what that is worth) — much higher than the vast majority of Elsevier journals — and, more importantly they are well respected and well regarded (at least in the circles, and grant review panels, that I travel in). Many of the more glamorous also have “gold” open access options that you can pay for. Also, I’ll note that there are old-school closed-access publishers who at least haven’t been involved in fabricating the scientific record, or pushing pseudoscience, or bullying libraries into buying bundles full of journals they don’t want or need. You can do whatever you like, but I’ll choose Nature over Cell any day, for those reasons alone (and I’ll choose PLoS Biology over Nature, for the many reasons detailed above). I’ll also do my own small part to advance a world where this stuff is placed in proper perspective (by, you know, actually reading a paper to decide whether it is good or not).

      If you have facts to contribute, I’d be happy to hear them. This is a rational debate. You seem to think I’m being emotional because I used the “f” word, but please note that that simply how we yanks fucking talk. However, your points about the how “poor American taxpayers” are entitled and shouldn’t have a say in where their money goes, and the bit about how American companies deal in arms, and therefore scientists should be happy that Elsevier was mixed up in the arms trade are well taken. Well. taken. indeed.

  32. Read what I said very carefully. Then read it again. Some of it is tongue in cheek and meant to be jocular (although Science does have a high retraction rate and worse, often needs a bit of pressure to retract – I am sure you must have followed the ME debacle :, Also, just because you cite it doesn’t mean it is a fact either.

    I guess you will then realise that I agree with most of what you say. However, you are also in the privileged position of being a group leader in “an institution that I will have heard of”, with “an ungodly large endowment” (I guess you’re talking money). I was just stating that the non-OA route (in a Cell/Immunity/Neuron or Nature/ JEM etc. wrapper) provides a certain element of kudos (which, I agree with you, is probably misplaced) that the junior post-doc seeks to help them get their first/next grant – and that the purported quality of the reviewers (emphasis on purported) is part of that. The people I know who review for Nature take their time over it and are less likely to review for Plos One. There must have been a reason you sent your paper to the $40 a shot journal – I assume kudos played a role. With respect to Cell versus Nature – that is a complete no -brainer, but it hardly adds to the argument.

    Whilst I don’t care how often you write fuck (although I guess you don’t much in your papers – hence you are adding emotion) I just thought it a little puerile, and verging on xenophobic to bring it down to the American taxpayer versus Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. As you are so fact obsessed, it is probably more accurately portrayed as Anlgo-Dutch-American – being traded in NY, London and Amsterdam (

    Your final sentence:

    “However, your points about the how “poor American taxpayers” are entitled and shouldn’t have a say in where their money goes, and the bit about how American companies deal in arms, and therefore scientists should be happy that Elsevier was mixed up in the arms trade are well taken. Well. taken. indeed”

    By that, you realise that I was saying:

    1)American taxpayers SHOULD have a say where their money goes

    2) American scientists should NOT be happy that Elsevier was ever mixed up in the arms trade.

    However, scientific funding itself is an extremely murky world. Perhaps we should provide a Spearman rank correlation of arms versus papers (I appreciate UK is number 2….). Countries earn money from arms and some of that money goes into research- if we really want to make science truly ethical then a root and branch approach might be required- perhaps we should all be funded by Mel and Bill. If one is to become moralistic about arms dealing by the journals though, then some reflection upon the sources of our funding might be also necessary. I suspect there are worse evils at play. Getting on a pedestal to personally criticise those who work for Elsevier (even if it is an anonymous pedestal) means that you are very happy that your funding has never come from a slightly dodgy source. One source of HH money:

    Finally, you seem to think I am British and work for the ‘Welcomme Trust’ (I don’t think that exists). I guess you have access to the e-mail addresses here. It certainly smacks of rank-hypocrisy if you actually do know who I am from my e-mail address and I have know way of finding out who you are. I work for the NHS by the way.

    Oh, and I also absolutely, definitely think “you have to be British and work for the Welcomme Trust to be good enough to do science, in your eyes?”.

    (Just in case you don’t get it – we do very little well anymore except perhaps

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Oldstaffordian: If that was meant to be satire, then my apologies, but it looks like at least one other commenter was perhaps confused as well. I personally wasn’t getting a terribly “funny” vibe off of what you wrote, but perhaps my radar is off.

      As for my misspelling of “Wellcome,” thanks for for catching that — I’ve corrected it in my comment, but I shall live forever in shame for my bad spelling abilities (which, I fear, are congenital). As with most of FakeElsevier’s output, I am doing this from my phone in spare snatches of time while in transit from point A to point B. I should be more careful with my divided attention.

      As for anonymity, I would submit that if you enter your real name and email address into a website that you do not control, you probably don’t have a high expectation of anonymity. But my genuine apologies if you thought you *were* getting that. It wasn’t obvious to me from the comment moderation system that you weren’t volunteering that info publicly (indeed, on it explicitly shows me your info when it asks me whether to pass the comment or not). Also, if I connected the dots to the wrong British person with that name who publishes in Elsevier journals, then apologies again. I’d be happy to edit out that bit, if you like, so as not to perpetuate that mistake.

      As for more serious issues: xenophobia. Certainly not my intent. I don’t care what country companies or people are from. There’s a Swiss for-profit open access publisher called “Frontiers” that is trying to push things in a generally good direction, and I do my best to support their efforts. The fact that they are Swiss is irrelevant to me. If Elsevier were a well-behaved Anglo-Dutch mega-corp, then I would welcome (welcomme?) them with open arms.

      The rhetorical bit of describing Elsevier as “Anglo-Dutch” was largely meant as a point of information for members of the American taxpaying public, who might be okay with the idea that an American company was benefiting from tax largess (it also gives some flavor to just how enormous and conglomerate-y the company is). I agree that this is a misleading/cheap point, though, since we should be equally pissed off with an American company doing any of the things that Elsevier has done.

      The point about the murkiness of science funding is a very interesting and good one, and I’m glad you brought it up. In the US, defense dept. funding is not uncommon (paid for my Ph.D., actually), and much private money is sketchy at best: Madoff Ponzi scheme money, Koch brothers money, etc. Agreed that we are sometimes in the uncomfortable position of trying to do good things with “bad” money.

      Is open access a moral issue? Elsevier has repeatedly tried to frame it that way, but I don’t see it as such. I think that the strongest arguments are unemotional and not morality-driven. Elsevier harms the efficiency and integrity of our trade, and it is clamoring for bargaining rights that it has no logical business “right” to have. I would not personally fault any junior person (and it should be noted that *I* am a quite junior person) for publishing a paper in Cell or some other closed access journal. That said, however, I don’t think we have to accept the status quo, and I do think that everyone can do their part to shift the system towards a better operating regime, however slowly.

      P.S.: “‘an ungodly large endowment’ (I guess you’re talking money)”

      Hahaha. Touché, sir. Well played.

  33. Barbara says:

    I think perhaps by ‘right’ the commenter means “the people who are in the small circle working on this problem and who are working in places where there is an abundance of support for that work and they know which journals are likely to carry the articles they will care about.” It’s an assumption that isn’t entirely without grounds; many of the papers published in these journals assume a great deal of familiarity with highly technical stuff. That makes it possible to believe that “only a few people need to see it, and they are all working in well-funded labs, so there is no problem.”

    However now that much of this is indexes on the web we know there are massive numbers of people seeking this information who are turned away. Further, many students learning how to be scientists are not studying at well-funded R1 institutions but benefit from participating in research, and they and the scientists who introduce them to the field are unable to tap into the literature.

    • Barbara says:

      Or, having reread the comment, he means ‘right’ as in “those who provide rewards, with other uses of research being secondary.” Which is far more depressing than my interpretation. But I do think the “there is no problem” argument rests on the false assumption that only a relatively small number of researchers need this information and the rest of us should just read the newspaper because science is over our heads.

      What seems a new approach is to say “oh researchers can share THEIR work – their data, their reports. It’s only OUR work – the published paper – that they can’t share and if it has a limited audience, that can be fixed by the lazy scientist who just has to upload THEIR work to the web. See? No problem!

  34. Barbara – I agree. I am just trying to state the case for the non-group leader who wishes to escalate through the ranks. Whilst many funding bodies recognise the OA journals, unfortunately there is still a tendency to give perhaps more credence to the non OA (certainly, unfortunately in the medical world). Therefore, someone looking for a grant might be tempted to hedge their bets and place it in an established wrapper that when their grant application is peer reviewed is recognised by everyone on the funding panel and not just the more progressive peers. That is what I meant by the ‘right’ people. There is no point having your paper freely read if the people who employ you and give you grants don’t give it credence. Clearly fakeElsevier is the sort of group leader who is going to give credence, but not all will.
    Things will change with time and by all means, I haven’t anything against the principle of boycotting Elsevier – people are free to do as they wish. I just feel the tar and feather approach with Elsevier employees is a bit much. The letter should be to the shareholders perhaps?

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Please read the letter to the employees above again and consider whether I am proposing to tar and/or feather them. I may have gotten a bit cross with Eskimo girl, but the original letter is very much of the form of: I know you want to do good, so please consider thinking about how your actions, within the company, might achieve that.

      I’ll also reiterate the point that I made above that I do not fault any pre-tenure person for publishing in Elsevier journals if they feel that they need to to survive in science (heck even post-tenure people have their students to worry about). “Surviving” the gauntlet of getting a job, and funding, and tenure is ridiculously difficult these days. I’ve been accused left and right of being “emotional”, and I do admit that I burn with anger when I think about the extent to which Elsevier and its ilk take advantage of our fear and helplessness (all while draining even more money out of the system to enrich their shareholders).

      This is, indeed, why I started FakeElsevier. Not to make scientists or Elsevier employees feel bad about themselves, but to attempt to encourage the debate and make people feel like their (pre-existing) anger is justified. Certainly, change will never come if we continue to allow ourselves to be bullied into turning our research product into an asset to be sold by corporations who don’t care about the underlying integrity of what we do.

      I categorically do not fault you if you haven’t signed the boycott. I just want to spread the idea that this is not the way it has to be, and that we do have some hand in our eventual fate, however small, and we can bring about change. It’s idealistic, perhaps, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        I don’t get why “you’re emotional about this” is supposed to be a criticism. Hell, yes I’m emotional. I’m furious. That’s because publishers steal my stuff. I do get furious when that happens, and I am not about to apologise for it.

      • Benoit Bruneau says:

        Exactly. We can’t just shift to all-OA all the time, as we need grants and our postdocs need jobs (students will get a good postdoc with one or two papers in any decent journal). But we do need to start somewhere, and Fakeelsevier’s points are important to consider seriously.

        So about the anonymity: Fakeelsevier seems to write on East Coast time, is at an institution with a large money endowment, so I’m going with Harvard or MIT. He’s published in Cell and/or Nature, so that totally narrows it down to three or four people. He says he’s junior, but how do we know? Clearly doesn’t have small children or else wouldn’t have time to write this. Hmmmmm. Eureka! Fakeelsevier is….. Wait for it…… Eric Lander! I knew it all along! Or maybe Cliff Tabin. Either one will do.

  35. mal says:

    Elsevier appears to have announced they are withdrawing support for the RWA today!!!!

    • fakeelsevier says:

      This is good news, indeed, and cause for celebration, but let’s also all keep our eyes on the prize.

      The brazenness of Elsevier’s support of the Research Works Act is what stirred the academic community to action, but the roots and substance of our discontent all remain. Elsevier is only removing its support from a bill that increasingly had little chance of passing.

      The language of that press release shows how little has actually changed in Elsevier’s attitude: they’re still going after FRPAA, and they imply that they are willing to support RWA-like initiatives in the future. I don’t see any movement in their position on locking up the literature for profit.

      The academic community helped make this latest news happen, so let’s keep up the pressure and see what else we can do.

      If you haven’t already, please visit the SPARC website on FRPAA and check out their action links.

  36. mal says:

    yes indeed totally agree. the pressure needs to stay on – and not only publishers but the academic community as well to ensure OA becomes the norm.

    this article had some interesting stats today suggesting a high proportion of research outputs mandated to be OA are never delivered. These appear to be relatively small sample cases and may not be representative in other disciplines but I think the wave of interest in fighting Elsevier and the RWA needs to be harnessed to ensure OA sticks.

  37. San Fran Baby says:

    This is a very interesting discussion that I have read with…ermmm…interest!

    One comment – it was disappointing to see the borderline xenophobic use of ‘ridiculous Anglo-Dutch megacorp’ with the implied suggestion that poor little America was being taken advantage of by the evil Europeans!

    ‘Even Old New York, was once New Amsterdam, why they changed I can’t say, people just liked it better that way!’

    • fakeelsevier says:

      Glad you found the discussion interesting.

      A thousand lashes to me for careless use of geographic adjectives. I do suspect that the sentiment would have been very different were it an American corporation siphoning away European tax monies, interfering with European legislative processes, but seriously, I really didn’t mean it to sound xenophobic — I was going for “giant and multinational” as much as anything. I would (and we should) be just as pissed off at American companies pulling this kind of shit (don’t even get me started about Haliburton…).

      Hopefully, you’ve found the rest of the debate to be useful. Far too often we get derailed on side issues, and forget about the bigger picture. This is important stuff, irrespective of what stock exchange they trade on, and I’d hate to see us missing the forest for the trees.

  38. The Anonymous Author says:

    Highly recommend: Had lunch with two of the Ph.D. librarians who run our central library to talk about the above. If you think scientists are upset about these issues … whoa Nelly … my library colleagues were practically spitting blood. We talked at length about possible solutions, including scenarios where ridiculous subscription costs could be diverted to pay publication charges in OA journals. They’ve got me convinced that it will be important for researchers and librarians to get on the same page as we work within our Universities for change. But after all, they are *our* Universities, and if anyone can change them, its up to us …

  39. […] anonymous scientist recently posted an open letter to Elsevier employees expounding their own take on the causes of the increasingly widespread dissatisfaction with […]

  40. Bruce Caron says:

    @fakeelsevier Great job of stimulating conversation. I would like to suggest (or hope) that science and scientists might actually surprise us and move more rapidly onto emerging lower-cost, post-publication peer-review outlets where the actual work of validating and honoring the best work will still be done by peers (who will also be helping out with some corrections, suggestions, etc.). I wonder if some department/college will take the lead and commit to accepting ONLY open-access published work for tenure consideration.

  41. Why don’t you practice what you preach and publish this blog under a free license, say, CC-BY-SA? It would help the texts be more easily disseminated, people could publish it in paper magazines, translate to their language or otherwise spread it in whatever way they can.

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