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Archive for January, 2012


For a long while now I have felt that the business model from the Academic Journal Publishers is wrong. It cheaply exploits the work of academics and then sells it back to them. With the growing Open Access movement I have been waiting to see when many Academics wake up and realise the power they have.

This morning a number of reports have come out that indicate that a tipping point may have been reached. Elsevier will be watching this with extreme worry, and so they should!

Elsevier’s Publishing Model Might be About to Go Up in Smoke

Academic publishing is a very good game indeed if you can manage to get into it. As the publisher the work is created at the expense of others, for free to you. There are no advances, no royalties, to pay. The editing, the checking, the decisions about whether to publish, these are all also done for free to you. And the market, that’s every college library in the world and they’re very price insensitive indeed.

Back when physical, paper, copies of the journals were an essential part of any scientists’ life the cost structure could, perhaps, be justified. It is expensive to typeset, proofread, complex texts and then print them in numbers of hundreds or perhaps low thousands. However, now that everything is moving/has moved online then the amounts charged for access to the journals seems less defensible. More like the exploitation of a monopoly position in fact.

No, there isn’t a monopoly on scientific journal publishing: but there is on the last 50 to 60 years’ worth of papers that have been published and are now copyright of said publisher. This is leveraged into the power to make college libraries pay eyewatering amounts for subscriptions.

There’s not much new about this analysis and investors in Reed Elsevier, the owners of Elsevier, either do or should know all of this.

However, there’s something happening that might change this, for Reed Elsevier shareholders, quite delightful position. That is, a revolt of the academics who provide both the papers and the readership.

A start was made by British mathematician Tim Gowers, in a blog post here. That wasn’t the very start, but it looks like one of those pebbles that starts the avalanche rather than the one that just tumbles down the hillside. And there’s a great deal to be said for a scientific post which references Spike Milligan‘s superb book, Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall.

And yes there is a great deal to be said about a post that references Spike…

Elsevier — my part in its downfall

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

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I certainly don’t think so and I am not the only one.

Dr Mike Taylor at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol wrote the following article in the Guardian:

Academic publishers have become the enemies of science

The US Research Works Act would allow publishers to line their pockets by locking publicly funded research behind paywalls.

This is the moment academic publishers gave up all pretence of being on the side of scientists. Their rhetoric has traditionally been of partnering with scientists, but the truth is that for some time now scientific publishers have been anti-science and anti-publication. The Research Works Act, introduced in the US Congress on 16 December, amounts to a declaration of war by the publishers.

The USA’s main funding agency for health-related research is the National Institutes of Health, with a $30bn annual budget. The NIH has a public access policy that says taxpayer-funded research must be freely accessible online. This means that members of the public, having paid once to have the research done, don’t have to pay for it again when they read it – a wholly reasonable policy, and one with enormous humanitarian implications because it means the results of medical research are made freely available around the world.

This has slipped through under the radar. I wasn’t even aware of it until yesterday until an email on a  list a subscribe to (thanks Danny Kingsley) came through my desk which included the following:

The Research Works Act (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.3699) is basically saying that publishers have intellectual property invested in work that they publish, so that the NIH and other mandates making research available open access are illegal.

Peter Suber says of the Act:  “A new bill, The Research Works Act (H.R.3699), designed to roll back the NIH Public Access Policy and block the development of similar policies at other federal agencies, has been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives….Essentially, the bill seeks to prohibit federal agencies from conditioning their grants to require that articles reporting on publicly funded research be made accessible to the public online. Supporters of public access need to speak out against this proposed legislation.”

Arthur Sale said in a post to GOAL: “There is one aspect of the proposed Act HR3699 that is very interesting. It is an admission by the publishers involved that they do not at present have any intrinsic intellectual property right to control the disposition of the Version of Record  otherwise known as the ‘publisher’s pdf’. The Act is an attempt to create a new right. You should read the full proposed Act (see Note 4). It is absurd, and badly drafted, perhaps deliberately to mislead.”

More on this can be found here:

  1. “Research Bought, Then Paid For”, Michael Eisen – New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/opinion/research-bought-then-paid-for.html?_r=1
  2. “Librarians, Open Access Advocates ‘Vehemently Oppose’ Research Works Act”, Michael Kealley, The Digital Shift – http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/01/publishing/librarians-open-access-advocates-vehemently-oppose-research-works-act/
  3. Elsevier-funded NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney Wants to Deny Americans Access to Taxpayer Funded Research – Mike Eisen – http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=807
  4.  Trying to roll back the clock on Open Access: Research Works Act introduced – American Library Association – District Dispatch
  5. January 9 – http://www.districtdispatch.org/
  6. An example of one of the letters to Congress opposing the bill is Tim O’Reilly’s here: https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/hr3699/comment/263013
  7. Several AAP members have stated they do not want to have anything to do with the bill. Here are a couple of examples:
    1. Pennsylvania State University Press says No to Research Works Act – http://bit.ly/x9UzXE
    2. Peter Suber asks :” Can AAP Members stay neutral in the row over the Research Works Act?” http://poynder.blogspot.com/2012/01/can-aap-members-stay-neutral-in-row.html

 And on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23ResearchWorksAct

https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23RWA

https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23stopRWA

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Nothing sinister about this – I’m curious.  We have some iPads for teaching this year and I want to make the best use of them.  The “hive mind” might think of more stuff than I.

http://twtpoll.com/badge/if/?twt=2jls90&b=1&bt=1

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I have been to a few meetings around what various organisations are planning on doing for the Centenary of Word War I, one of which included discussions around a brand for the New Zealand celebrations. The idea around this brand is to help organisations tie together their activities so that there is a common platform for people to refer to.

ImageI was interested to see the following report coming out of Australia.

Australian govt may brand Anzac Day

The Australian federal government is reportedly looking to brand the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australia and New Zealand forces during World War I.

A market research company has been paid $103,275 to conduct focus groups nationwide last year on branding Anzac Day, News Limited reported.

“It is a political intervention which should be snuffed out immediately, not just because it’s a waste of money but because Anzac Day … (is) profoundly celebrated and commemorated,” former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett said.

A Department of Veterans’ Affairs spokeswoman told News Limited the concept for “a national brand or motif” came after an Anzac Centenary Advisory Board meeting on October 14.

She said the government was tendering for a design and that ideas would be focus group tested.

Victorian RSL boss David McLachlan would not comment until he had seen the plans.

I am not sure you could brand Anzac day, but if they are looking at something similar to what we were discussing then I don’t see what the problem is. I would need to see more details.

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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