HUGE pushback on science paywalls – University of California cancels Elsevier subscription

Breaking: UC terminates subscriptions with Elsevier in push for open access to publicly funded research

Library Communications February 28, 2019

TO: The UC Berkeley academic community

FROM: Paul Alivisatos, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost
Barbara Spackman, Chair, Academic Senate – Berkeley Division
Jeff MacKie-Mason, University Librarian and Professor

RE: Outcome of UC Negotiations with Elsevier

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to share the outcome of the University of California’s negotiations to renew its systemwide license with scholarly journal publisher Elsevier, which have been underway for many months.

What’s happening

While we did make progress, particularly in the past few weeks, toward defining a model for open access publishing of UC research, Elsevier was ultimately unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research, as stated in UC’s faculty-driven principles on scholarly communication, while integrating open access publishing fees and subscription fees into a single cost-controlled contract.

The Academic Senate today also expressed its support for UC’s position with regard to the Elsevier negotiations.

In the end, cost, in particular, proved to be an insurmountable challenge. For example, Elsevier’s most recent proposal did not include any cap on the total amount UC faculty could end up paying in article publishing fees. Their model also would not have allowed us to fully subsidize article fees for authors who lack the funds themselves. To meet UC’s goal of open access publication for all UC authors, Elsevier would have charged authors over $10 million per year in addition to the libraries’ current multi-million dollar subscription. The university is not willing to accept a deal that increases Elsevier’s profits at the expense of our faculty. As a result, UC has announced that it will not be signing a new contract with Elsevier at this time.

While we do not know exactly when, Elsevier is expected to begin limiting UC’s access to new articles through its online platform, ScienceDirect, possibly very soon. This will mean some changes to how UC scholars access certain Elsevier journal articles.

What content will — and won’t — be affected

• What is affected: At some point, Elsevier may begin to turn off UC’s direct access to articles with a 2019 publish date and the backfiles of certain journals (download list). However, open access versions of many of these articles are available. Visit Alternative access to Elsevier articles on the Library’s website for advice on where and how to look. You can also submit a request, and the Library can help you get a copy of the final, published version of an article.

• Most Elsevier articles published in 2018 or earlier will still be accessible via ScienceDirect. Because UC’s prior contracts included permanent access to previously published content, you will still be able to get immediate access to the full text of most articles via Elsevier’s ScienceDirect backfiles, just as you have in the past.

• Open access articles in Elsevier journals are also unaffected. Many authors choose to pay an open access fee (called an article processing charge, or APC) when they publish, so it’s always worth checking to see if the article you’re seeking is available open access from the journal’s website or elsewhere online. Learn more about how to search for open access versions.

• Elsevier e-books and other products licensed by UC (e.g., Compendex, Reaxys) or by UC Berkeley (e.g., Scopus, Mendeley, Embase) are covered under separate contracts and remain available as before.

Learn more

Find the latest information on the Library’s Elsevier journal negotiations page.

h/t to Charles the Moderator

source: https://news.lib.berkeley.edu/elsevier-outcome

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66 thoughts on “HUGE pushback on science paywalls – University of California cancels Elsevier subscription

  1. About time too. Public pays for research then copyright gets handed to a journal and you have to pay to read it. What a scam. How has this been allowed for so long?

  2. This is an interesting issue that has different effects on different realms.
    While the initial research and publishing may have been paid for with public dollars, the long term storage and ready access are not.
    It costs money to maintain server systems and provide access which has not been paid for with public money.

    Just like solar energy is free (in the form of sunshine) converting it to electricity and transmitting to users IS NOT FREE.

    • I do not really know the economics of doing so, but given the declining costs for maintaining mass storage, perhaps the University of California could directly contract for cloud storage of what it’s faculty produces, and cut Elsevier out of the process entirely.
      Publishers do not quite have the role they served before desktop publishing software emerged, so the University could just “publish” themselves.

    • And why, Rocketscientist, do you think Elsevier or any similar large publisher would maintain long term storage and access once it becomes unprofitable? Most science journals used to be published in hard copy by scientific societies. Elsevier and others scarfed these up in the period when printing and postage were becoming a burden and the volunteer members of the societies who ran the journals, mostly older members, were not savvy enough to make the transition to electronic publication and archiving themselves. Libraries where were the journals were archived. I like Toma Halla’s suggestion that libraries return to their traditional role.

      • Online storage and access costs involve a couple of computers and net connection. Total cost for all journals ever published supported online is probably a few thousand a year. Saying they need to make a profit to store some electrons is asinine as it is false. After a blackout period of a year, they should all be free access. $50 a paper to read to see if it might be what you want, but often isn’t, is a jackass model that prevents their use.

    • These papers are mostly text-based with a few graphs thrown in – cost of storage and bandwidth are no longer an issue.

      • Since I don’t have a bandwidth throughput limit on my account, I can support two computers for journal access. So could many others, with duplication for systems that are down. Corporate storage is pointless. At UCLA they had a supercomputer in a basement in the Chemistry dept. with about 500 PC’s on racks all running concurrently. Ten of those could support net access of all science of the world.

      • “The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place.”

        • scientists … give it to publishers for free

          They are so darn desperate to get published that they’re willing to pay the publishers.

          Economics is mostly BS, but the law of supply and demand is rock solid.

          • UC system can set up its own set of journals, one for each field of study, and pay editors and reviewers and retain all intellectual property rights. The economics is rock solid.

    • “To meet UC’s goal of open access publication for all UC authors, Elsevier would have charged authors over $10 million per year in addition to the libraries’ current multi-million dollar subscription. ”

      I expect that first few million would have paid for the servers and electricity.

  3. I was told that this started in Europe. It has been a concern of librarians (and others) for a long time. Loss of access to hard copy subscriptions given up some years ago a big concern. All bubbles burst?

  4. Oh noes! No more access to ‘Anthropocene’, ‘Chinese Herbal Medicines’, ‘Current Opinion in Green and Sustainable Chemistry’, ‘Emotion Space and Society’, ‘Journal of Chiropractic Medicine’, … Oh noes, this is a disaster! Seriously – look at the list and even the surfeit of journals with reasonable titles. They are all packed with publicly funded research made available for huge profits by just one of the predatory publishers. It’ all a giant scam and no wonder there is a replication crisis.

    • DaveW

      Well the problem is also like this: when some skeptic publishes a death-blow to some or other outrageous claim, like the “consensus exists” paper, it goes into the system and is accessible to academics free through their university affiliation, and for $30 or so to individuals who do not know where to find sci-hub.tw.

      Then, stung by the demolition of their first silly paper, the Team as whips out a paper that consist of two doses of “Nneaaaaahhh!” and one dose of “So’s your mother!” This appears within a few days in a free access (paid) journal. It is immediately hailed by the Team as a “rebuttal” and “refutation” of the paper they had a problem with, and stored on SkS.

      You can see this process recorded in the Climategate emails. Anytime someone reads, understands and accepts the skeptical analysis of the original crap paper, the Team trots out the reference to the hasty rebuttal that is freely accessible.

      Making all papers available to the public solves at least part of the problem. I am fortunate to have legitimate access to academic publications through a university so I get to read all the relevant work, and can review papers because I can check their sources. We should not have to be “lucky” to access knowledge.

      The world of academic publishing is scandalously concentrated and extortionate. There is no other way to characterize it. It’s awful and exploits people and institutions.

      It is not free to maintain the system, because peer reviewers have to be there or the papers have no credibility. Libraries will have to charge, but $30 for a 5 page paper? When an ebook of 300 pages is $5? Academic papers should be $0.99 per download.

      Amazon could pull it off for a fraction of the Elsevier cost. Let’s see Silicon Valley do something beneficial to the whole of humanity.

      • Crispin,
        Interesting idea to have Amazon take over scientific publication: a dollar a download would be fair enough – less than it used to cost to photocopy a paper (depending on size, but a dollar today isn’t so grand as it was back in the days of photocopying). Can’t see it working though. At the moment I could publish my research online at no extra cost to my university, or if they baulked, use my own internet connection. Nobody would accept it though – it only counts for students, reputation, grant applications, tenure, and promotion when it is in a named journal preferably with a high Impact Factor. Also, Amazon would probably start exerting the same bias and bullying that you note for the Climate Mafia, as FaceBook, Twitter, etc have recently.

  5. There seem to have been major problems with Elsevier negotiations of country-wide subscriptions in Germany, Sweden, Taiwan, and Peru since last summer, plus Hungary more recently. So this UC outcome is not new

    • Yes, all Swedish universities have cut off their subscriptions.

      The official comment on the decision was rather amusing. They enumerated the various legit ways to access Elsevier papers, academia.edu, researchgate, write to the authors etc, and then at the end “and of course there is the elephant in the room sci-hub.tw” with an injunction that of course it shouldn’t be used since it is illegal etc etc. I suppose they mentioned just in case there was still some unworldly academics around who didn’t know about it.

  6. Interesting. If it facilitates open access to public research that sounds like a win for science and taxpayers.

    Not a scientist but am in favor of access to data.

  7. Taxpayers pay public scientific research (I)
    Taxpayers pay the salary of the scientists while he writes articles and books (II)
    Taxpayers pay the fee scientific editorials charge for publishing (III)
    If taxpayers want to access what they have already payed three times, they must pay a fourth time.

    Scientific publishing is one of the biggest businesses on Earth and they are holding science hostage.

    And one of the biggest problems is that most science that is being written is not being read. It is all a huge waste.

    We spend several percentage points of our GDP on science, a huge amount compared to any other time in history and we are not getting what we should out of it. Most science produced is tremendously mediocre and driven by the need to publish however anywhere.

    A sorry state of things.

  8. Sorry guys, a layman’s question so please forgive my naivety.

    As I understand it, there is a crisis within science over peer reviewed studies. From memory, The Lancet published a number of studies that demonstrated between 50% and 70 % of all scientific publications were not replicable.

    As I also understand it, there is considerable competition to be published in a recognised journal as the paper is peer reviewed before publication, but standards vary and there are even pay per publication opportunities that further erode the peer review standard.

    So, is this an admission by the University of California that the current system is not working rather than simply it being too expensive. After all, there must surely be a subjective value of, value for money apportioned to peer review studies.

    Might this also open the door, just a crack, to blog reviewed science. i.e. where papers are submitted to reputable blogs for open access, public scrutiny, and valued comment from credentialed individuals who have been suitably vetted.

    I have no idea if it is possible, but we have all witnessed some whopping exposures of peer reviewed papers when they are examined by people without an axe to grind on this site alone.

    • Scot…think of peer review as advanced spell check….that’s really all it is
      ..no one has the time to try and duplicate the paper to see if it’s replicable

      the perception of peer review has been totally baterdized , it was never the end..
      …the fact that 50-70% of papers can’t be replicated is exactly how peer review should work

      • I’ll agree, and add that nobody ever even tries to replicate ~99% of published research. Most of it is only relevant to the people who did it, whatever the quality of the work. To my mind that is the biggest failing of the system we have built on ‘publish or perish’. I mostly perished.

    • It wasn’t all science, HotScot. It was mostly medicine and psychology. In some senses, neither of those disciplines are branches of science. They’re both mostly epidemiological studies.

      Caveat: genome-wide assessments are looking to help evolutionary psychology upgrade to a biological science.

    • No author has the time to answer 1000 or even 30 blog criticisms, and the constant streams of responses they could generate.

      • The difficulty is that most papers wouldn’t even generate one blog comment. And with good reason.

  9. Elsevier is a monopolist. Use anti-trust laws to regulate them as a public monopoly and strip out all “excess profits” (all profits above normal competitive-market profits).

    Since marginal cost in the electronic publishing market is zero, this is the efficient price to have a regulated Elsevier charge. It sounds like there is far more than enough money in existing institutional contracts to support this zero price for end users and still provide normal profits for Elsevier owners/investors.

    Just no fat salaries for management or board members. Managing to get their grubbies on a monopoly is not merit.

    • (VERY) HUMBLE PROPOSAL:

      OBSERVATION: All academic research appears to flow through the same process. This is ludicrous, and scientists and publishers are both are liable for this “one-size-fits-all” hot steaming mess. Academics are at fault for accepting so-called “high quality journal” publication of suspect (ie unreplicated) research as valuable currency for career advancement.

      PROPOSED SOLUTION: There are at least 3 major classifications of research work-products:

      Classification 1: unreplicated research – this work-product should be published in special-purpose “provisional” journals. Unreplicated research could be cited, but must disclosed as “provisional”.

      Classification 2: after the central thesis of “provisional” research has been successfully replicated, the classification would be changed to “final”, and is considered eligible for editorial selection & “final” publication in “quality journals”. Research not meeting the “replication” standard will retain the “provisional” classification be withdrawn.

      Classification 3: Purely speculative theory (eg: initial release of general relativity or string theory) could be classified as “speculative” for years (or decades). (Note: some sort of “peer review” may be appropriate for filtering purely speculative theories).

      NOTE: A “provisional” or “speculative” classification does not necessarily imply inferior academic effort. Academic administrators would need to separately evaluate the quality of all 3 classifications when determining career advancement.

      OBSERVATION: Current academic “peer review” is broken (proof: the stunning %age of research that simply cannot be replicated).

      PROPOSED SOLUTION: abandon “peer review” for “final” publication in “quality journals” in favor of editorial selection of research having successfully passed the “replication” test. Collateral benefits include strong encouragement to disclose data and document methods.

      OBSERVATION: Relative to initial costs of research (eg academic salaries, etc) plus current journal subscriptions, the public expense to warehouse & distribute “speculative”, “provisional” and “final” digital research without “subscription fees” is trivial.

      PROPOSED SOLUTION: Nations with large research facilities could easily afford this process; smaller nations could “affiliate” with larger nations. Interoperability between nations would be highly desired.

      o Short of odious “academic eminent domain”, securing access to legacy research will be expensive.

  10. Yandex search engine sometimes has links to free full texts/pdf of scientific reports that other search engines just do not show. To check using Yandex you have to accurately type in the published title & navigate through what gets pulled up.

    • If you have the DOI for the paper always try sci-hub.tw first. It is much simpler.

      I agree that Yandex often have links that are suppressed by western search engines, so as long as you don’t do any searches you wouldn’t like the russians to know about it is a good choice. It is vastly superior to Google for cyrillic-character sites.

  11. Someone pointed me to a site sci-hub.bz which allows free access to papers.
    Wikipedia describes it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sci-Hub
    Users are in jeopardy of copyright trouble.

    Current pay-walled journal method is not working for many people, and they use sci-hub instead.
    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/whos-downloading-pirated-papers-everyone
    https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/sci-hub-s-cache-pirated-papers-so-big-subscription-journals-are-doomed-data-analyst

    • I’m not sure whether copyright is a problem for the citer. When citing a paper no-one asks whether you paid for the paper or not.

      • Users are in jeopardy of copyright trouble.”

        She means users of sci-hub are those who access the copyrighted material to read it without paying.

        • Why and how? What you said is absolute nonsense.
          As an internet pirate for over 10 years, I have a good idea of what is possible or not.
          Accessing is relatively easy. Most blocks are at the DNS level(normally supplied by your service provider). Quite easily changed- use google dns or open dns. I am living in Australia now and the government has asked providers to block various torrent sites. I just changed the dns and everything is available now.
          The internet police are not interested in people who download papers.
          They are interested in people who download movies and music, also child porn.
          At best, they can determine that you have accessed the site, but not if you have downloaded something.
          If you torrent then you are at risk to some degree. In which case you use a seedbox at less than $10 a month.
          Apart from that, you can use a vpn. That will cost $5 a month.
          If you are questioning the morality of pirating, then that is another discussion.
          My morality is fluid.

          • What you said is absolute nonsense.

            It is? You mean this part?

            “She means users of sci-hub are those who access the copyrighted material to read it without paying.”

  12. Other problematic events in science publishing were the statistical overuse for evaluations (like journal impact factors) and the hierarchical application (presumption of quality) favoring publishing in national/international journals. These damaged state academies and other more local publishing entities along with the forming of tribes within societies, too often becoming distant from their larger memberships. Not even to get into what it did to teaching quality.

  13. Why have journals? There’s no reason you can’t have a Wikipedia of all scientific research. Universities could support the costs of this by using a portion of the profits they make from the patents, or some other method. The Wiki can simply have folders or sections for all of the various scientific disciplines. I’m sure a procedure could be devised to peer review articles, but there could also be sections for non-peer reviewed. Scientists could also be encouraged to improve the articles with multi-media presentations of evidence, methods for massaging the data to look at it in different ways, etc.

    It is really a travesty that this information isn’t freely available to the public. The best way we can advance science is to communicate the research as quickly and cheaply as possible to the most number of people who are interested.

    • Peer-review is useful in catching some mistakes and improving journal work. Sometimes. Often it is just a lot of bitching about whether a reviewer likes the paper.

  14. Rats. The parent company, RELX, is a UK stock, and isn’t on the US options market. Otherwise I would buy sone Puts (essentially, a bet that the stock will go diwn by a specific future date), and I don’t like the idea of selling short.

    If selling short doesn’t bother you, something like this could easily spook investors into dumping their shares, dropping the stock price. You might want to look into it. If you make some money, you really should send 10% to Anthony for providing this platform, 🙂

    • Just a reminder: short-sales & puts kind-of sort-of look alike. However, when selling short, if the stock price increases, you get a margin call.

      Puts are a much simpler vehicle, but I don’t know the relative price difference.

    • Then get even by using sci-hub.tw. It is almost certainly financed by the Russian authorities, at the very least it is tolerated by them.

  15. Communism and socialism the two intellectual darlings of major universities ends at the book store. When it comes to publications it is total crony capitalism all the way.

  16. I seem to remember that one of the visions that drove Tim Berners-Lee to develop the www was open access and peer review of scientific papers. Fascinating how that aspect has been ignored for so many years.

  17. As an economist (and retired, so not too active in research and publishing anymore) I’m not too familiar with how hard science peer review and publication works. So this may seem like an ignorant question, but that’s why: is there anything in the hard sciences to compare with SSRN? On publish or perish, I find interesting what seems to be happening with law review publications, where articles are first posted to SSRN and then later picked up for publication in law reviews. Seems to me that SSRN is somewhat like the first step of what Javert Chip proposed above. If this model were followed for all fields where “publish or perish” matters, all work would first be “published” to an open access and unreviewed forum like SSRN. At that level, it either gets ignored, or if interesting to others in the field the work gets downloaded a lot. Download counts matter to those who publish to SSRN. Apparently, in legal academia, work that gets downloaded a lot provokes the interest of law reviews.

    Seems to me that SSRN is an alternative model to the traditional peer review process: it opens up the review process to any and all “peers” and sidesteps the problem of peer review as gatekeepers of perceived orthodoxy. I imagine open access journals are intended to do the same, but are they as open as SSRN? I’m asking, because my exposure to what is going on in other disciplines is limited.

  18. Universities, via their libraries, should just bite the bullet and publish all their research, in house. They’re already doing this for many Masters theses and Ph.D dissertation publications. The chumps are those newly minted Masters or Doctorate recipients who think their papers need the added exposure of publishing in a “prestigious” quarterly journal or magazine. Those publications charge them to submit their article, charge ALL would-be readers for access, and charge huge subscription fees to libraries, which have only limited access in exclusionary journal rooms. Professors who want to teach from any of these materials have to be extremely careful in telling students to copy certain pages, and the public, grasping for a hint of truth, often can’t afford the fees, EVEN FOR PUBLICLY FUNDED RESEARCH! This system has evolved into peak stupidity. The answer is as simple as a library’s digital collections on-line server, slightly repurposed to hold scientific articles and their supplemental materials. These libraries could also easily be set up to enforce the requirements of exposing and or archiving all data needed by its collection, in order to make all the papers replication ready.

  19. This is not about open access. It is just two giants fighting over money. UC wants a bunch of subscription journals plus having its researchers publish all their papers in author-pays open form. Elsevier wants a price that UC does not want to pay, so UC is not renewing its subscriptions, hoping to force Elsevier to lower its price. It is just a money fight.

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