What is the next step for those boycotting Elsevier’s journals? Neil Stewart writes that one thing academics can do to bring about open access publishing immediately is to take the ‘Green’ road to open access and enjoy higher citations counts by placing their work in institutional repositories.
The recently launched campaign to boycott publishing, editing and reviewing papers for any of Elsevier’s stable of journal titles, instigated by Tim Gowers, has been gathering steam over the last couple of weeks. The campaign has received a great deal of publicity from some very prominent sources, and an eloquent explanation of why one academic chose to join the boycott was recently published on this blog. The issue of access (or the lack thereof) to scholarly research is being debated across the web as never before, with a number of prominent commentators arguing for open access to research.
The boycott is based on what seems to be a general dissatisfaction with Elsevier’s journal publishing practices, with three aspects of these practices cited as being particularly objectionable:
- The prices Elsevier charges for access to its titles, and the resulting profits it makes.
- Elsevier’s so-called “bundling” of subscriptions, whereby libraries are forced to buy titles in large packages, with the packages containing both titles of interest and those to which libraries would not necessarily otherwise subscribe.
- Elsevier’s support for the Research Works Act (RWA), a piece of legislation which seeks to roll back open access to scholarly research by reversing US government funder mandates, such as the mandate to deposit National Institute of Health-funded research to PubMed Central.
The boycott has been criticised for being incoherent, a view which I have a certain amount of sympathy with, given that Elsevier are by no means the only publishers supporting the RWA, and that they certainly aren’t the only publishers engaging in charging high and ever-increasing prices for journal subscriptions ( the so-called “Serials crisis”), or in bundling subscriptions. It seems to be Elsevier’s size, perceived domination of the journals market and resistance to open access that has made them the target of the campaign, perhaps as being representative of commercial journal publishing as a whole.
What can’t be denied is the scale of the public relations disaster for Elsevier- whether or not the boycott is itself coherent, the campaign has resulted in nothing but bad publicity for the company, much of it coming from the academic community- the very people who provide Elsevier with content. Richard Poynder has argued that Elsevier’s lack of a public face has exacerbated this problem (though there is some evidence they are now making a concerted effort in this regard) – and even when Elsevier’s spokespeople attempt to defend their practices, they come across as secretive by being unwilling to divulge their prices, as Steven Poole has pointed out. A recent statement from the company has provoked more ire by stating that “We oppose in principle the notion that governments should be able to dictate the terms by which products of private sector investments are distributed, especially if they are to be distributed for free”, ignoring the fact that both the research used to create articles and the peer review used to validate them are provided by academics for free. The fact that the campaign has been instigated by academics themselves (as opposed to librarians, who have been banging on about these issues for ages, or indeed other interested parties) is in my view positive- anything that makes academics question why they are, for example, voluntarily transferring their copyright to publishers can only be a good thing.
So what are likely to be the long term effects of the boycott? To quote Zhou Enlai’s opinion on the effects of the French Revolution, I would argue “It is too soon to say”, but a couple of prominent commentators have offered complementary visions of the future of scholarly communications and publishing. In an excellent post, open science advocate Cameron Neylon has argued that, within ten years, traditional models of journal publishing will be gone, and “Several major publishers will not survive the transition. A few will and a whole set of new players will spring up to fill the spaces”. Neylon suggests that so-called “Gold Open Access” is the likely model on which the new landscape will be predicated, where authors pay to publish, using funds from either their institution or research funder to do so, for example the huge, growing and increasingly respected PLoS One journal. Martin Weller suggests that it should be that venerable institution, the University press, which might be one of the players to step into the journal (or journal-like) publishing breach.
Ten years is a long time, though, so how can cash-strapped academics make their research openly accessible in the meantime, thereby maximising its dissemination and impact? I would argue that the best way is to follow the “Green” road to open access, by archiving research in your university’s Institutional Repository (full disclosure: I manage City University London’s repository City Research Online). Doing so results in your articles being made openly and freely available to anyone who wishes to access them via the Web (and this really does work: over the last 3 months, City Research Online has had papers downloaded by visitors from more than 55 different countries); securely preserves your research for posterity; and (the killer argument) has been shown to increase citations to your articles when compared to research which remains “closed”. If that’s not generating “impact” for your work, I don’t know what is.
So, whether or not you feel able to support the Elsevier boycott, and regardless of changes to journal publishing and scholarly communications over the next decade, you can make your work openly accessible now. Get archiving!
I fully support content being made available via repositories – but not if that means rolling back on peer review. Green open access is good, unless it adds further delays to those academic publishers already impose. Post-publication peer review (open peer review – if you’re brave ) fits well with the repository model, and with institutional dissemination objectives (apart from chasing impact factor scores for REF).
Thanks for the comment, interesting points. As you say, there should not necessarily be a conflict between Green OA and peer review- full take-up of Green OA would likely have an affect on publishers’ subscription charges, but would not affect the peer review process itself.
Having said this, there are increasing numbers of calls for the “decoupling” of the peer review process. Michael Nielsen (one of the most active anti-Elsevier campaigners) at some length.
that should be “has written about this at some length” above of course!
Why now? Where were scholars and researchers15 years ago when libraries could have really used your support? And why won’t you boycott citing articles published by Elsevier as well, the only real way to give this any teeth?
No one is going to risk this so close to the REF, particularly scientists, for whom it may be crucial.
“Why now? Where were scholars and researchers 15 years ago when libraries could have really used your support?”
I think the reason why now is that the gradual rise of social networking (including bloging) has now reached the point where a critical mass of researchers, for the first time, are really aware of the issues. If my reading is correct, that is good news, because we are only going to become more connected; and therefore I think more radicalised as regards the current exploitative publishing model.
Also, I think the audacity of RWA and its supporters claiming publishers produce published research pushed a few buttons that were never really pushed by signing away copyright, which seemed a technicality.
I had the same thought, don’t like Elsevier, stop citing them (including the articles you published previously in Elsevier). Try to get a paper published without citing Elsevier…
Want to support open access? Publish in open access journals (gold OA), no matter their impact factor (or lack thereof). That will get the train moving, traditional publisher will have to switch or disappear (i.e. they will switch). Then, of course, the complaint will be on author fees being too high for high IF journals, but let’s have that discussion in a few years, first things first.
I strongly prefer GoldOA to GreenOA. Why?
Self-archiving doesn’t guarantee full re-use rights, indeed many deposits don’t have any re-use licence details available – so it can often be very unclear what one (as a re-user) can do with GreenOA material. With GoldOA you get full re-use freedom (e.g. CC-BY) applied in a standardised manner at the very start of the document’s life.
Institutional repositories often* do not licence their deposits in a BOAI-compliant manner. Thus a human may be allowed to read a single deposit. But should I want to crawl 20,000 publications for text-mining research – I probably can’t **
So GreenOA is better than nothing. But it’s not what we should be aiming for IMO.
*I haven’t yet determined the full extent of this problem; work in progress.
Once definite example is http://www.bath.ac.uk/library/services/eprints/enduser-licence.pdf which imposes a non-commercial use clause (this is not BOAI-compliant).
** for an explanation see http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2010/12/17/why-i-and-you-should-avoid-nc-licences/ & http://iphylo.blogspot.com/2011/01/why-won-plant-list-won-let-me-do-this.html
Agreed. Green OA is a wonderful thing, but really only a (very necessary) stopgap on the way to a truly open future, where “open access” doesn’t just mean “you can read this for your own private study” but “use this to make more science!”
(Actually, that’s already what Open Access means, according to the Budapest OA Initiative’s declaration. But the term is often muddied and diluted.)
It’s a really difficult question for us repository managers. I would love to licence the entire content of as CC-BY for text & data mining. However, I think to do this I would need both the agreement of every individual paper’s author, and of the publishers who have allowed the material to be made Green OA, except in cases (such as BMJ articles) where they were made available under a CC licence to begin with.
Incidentally, it may be the case that CC-BY Gold OA papers are fully re-usable and minable etc., but I very much doubt that e.g. Springer or Elsevier would allow re-use of their Gold OA articles in this manner.
Am I correct on this? Anyone else care to comment?
once again apologies for the formatting error- something funny going on with the HTML code for comments I think…
Forgive me if it has been pointed out elsewhere in the blog, but isn’t there considerable irony that Elsevier are the chosen provider for citation statistics for the REF, given that, as Neil Stewart reminded us, open access increases citation rates and that the REF impact agenda is very much founded on wide, and easily available, dissemination of research, for which open access is surely crucial? Elsevier will be reaping rewards from the very processes which they oppose!
I am not at all fond of the idea of Gold Open Access, where scholars/universties bear the weight of publishing costs. For one, this doesn’t seem to solve the problem completely, just change the nature of the transaction. It also has the potential to cause publishing difficulties for independent researchers, early career researchers, and postdocs who may not have access to the funds to publish, but which are necessary for their career to develop.
I feel the way forward is as mentioned above the return of the University press. Online e-journals where a system of peer review could continue, interdisciplinary links forged, and that would allow universities to put their money into something sustainable..
There is gold that relies on other forms of support. As a librarian, I would be happy to contribute to the infrastructure costs of getting peer-reviewed research developed and online, available to all. If we took even some of the money we spend on subscriptions, we’d be able to do this without charging authors.
This is something I would like to get involved with too- particularly since we and other libraries are already running repositories. It can’t be too much of a leap to provide journal overlay services on top of institutional repositories. Bjoern Brembs has written about this: http://bjoern.brembs.net/comment-n835.html
A major problem with “Green” OA is that it potentially excludes the large number of scholars who work at institutions without libraries (e.g., small museums, etc.), or independent scholars. What solution would be proposed to circumvent this?
Open Depot would be a good bet for unaffiliated scholars- it’s an institution-neutral repository: http://opendepot.org/information.html, and is already available for submissions.