Friday, December 20, 2013

Commercial greed triumphs over scholarship


The shit is now hitting the fan in the matter of faculty posting their articles on university websites. My colleagues and I have just gotten a "takedown order" from our university. I'm not sure how I am going to handle this. I have always considered my publications page the heart of my scholarly career and the most important thing in my online presence. Pretty soon that page is going to be a mess, with posts of preprints instead of final pdfs, and links to (often locked up) journal websites. Whenever someone figures out an easy way to set up a quickie repository with a reprint button, I'll do that. In the meantime, I really hope that and Selected Works can withstand the pressure from the commercial publishers, and allow my pdfs to remain online at those places.

This round of scholarly regression was kicked off when Elsevier started patrolling its "property" in the form of journal articles posted on various faculty websites. was particularly hard hit. Elsevier hassled many universities, including Harvard, and, evidently, Arizona State University. I guess the one billion dollars in profit earned by Elsevier's journals division (yes, that is billion) was not enough for the company, and they felt they had to go after those profiteering professors who had the gall to want to distribute their research more widely.

The best recent article is:

"How one publisher is stopping academics from sharing their research" by Andrea Peterson, Washington Post, updated Dec 19, 2013.

See also:
 "The Scholarly Clampdown" by Jill Emery on ALCTS Collection=Connection
"Elsevier is also sending takedown requests to UK universities," by Ross Mounce.

My notification came through a mass email, forward to all faculty, from an administrator. It includes this statement:

"However, this recent flurry of demands [takedown demands by Elsevier] suggests the arrival of a new season of litigiousness among publishers. To reduce both the number of such requests and the associated administrative burden of responding to request after request, would you please ask your faculty members to review their websites to ensure that no direct reproductions of copyrighted material are posted or to obtain the required permission to post those materials as needed? Again, in most cases, simply linking to the journal or publisher website will be sufficient to direct the reader to an approved means of accessing the materials and will not invoke the ire of the publisher."

I'm sorry, but simply linking to a journal website will not do the job. I have found that I get a significant number of hits and article downloads from Mexico and Latin America. My colleagues south of the border do not have subscriptions to most U.S. or European journals. They need to get the full articles, preferably in final pdf format for proper citations.

My university likes to be in the vanguard of scientific, scholarly, and professional developments. But this time, it looks more like the rearguard than the vanguard. Commercial forces are steadily eating away at universities and at scholarship. I am getting sick of providing free labor so that commercial publishers can make a bundle and then turn around and steal my own scholarly production.

So I am waiting to see what happens to and Selected Works; they may have to bear the burden of my pdfs for a while. When this new wave of commercial greed is coupled with the ethical questions discussed by Kansa et al (2013), the combination might be enough to tip the balance and lead me to avoid publishing in commercially-owned journals (or reviewing for them). One reason I have been hesitant to make the plunge is that most things I have been publishing lately are co-authored with students. Students need the prestige of major journals to build their careers, and I am torn between supporting OA journals and supporting my students at traditional journals. Another reason for hesitation is the lack of high-quality OA journals in my fields.

I've been meaning to discuss the Kansa et al. paper for a while, so I think that will come up here soon. And looking forward, the opening Wednesday evening sponsored symposium at the SAA meetings in Austin will be a panel discussion on "Publishing in archaeology in the 21st century". It should be an interesting event. Sarah Kansa will participate, John Yellen, a bunch of journal editors, and a few others, including me.

Kansa, Eric C., Sarah Whitcher Kansa, and Lynne Goldstein
2013    On Ethics, Sustainability, and Open Access in Archaeology. The SAA Archaeological Record 13 (4): 15-22.

I'm not quite ready to sign, but I'm getting closer......  (from The Cost of Knowledge).


Karen Schollmeyer said... took down one of my papers a couple of weeks ago at Elsevier's request-- but it was an author's proofs pdf, not even the published version! When the journal sent me the pdf, they specifically stated it could be self-archived, so I'm a bit confused about why Elsevier made them remove it. Maybe they have some new software that's auto-searching and not discriminating well? It is frustrating-- like you, many of my Academia hits are from other countries where most people don't have Elsevier access, and I would like to at least provide the author's proof versions!

Karl Hutchings said...

A number of my colleagues and fellow professors had this very ("what to do about access") discussion a short time ago. In the heat of the moment I suggested a radical solution that may warrant discussion - at least I'd be interested in hearing what others think of the idea.

Since many of us publish on highly specialized topics, and since we're commonly asked by Journal editors to submit a list of potential peer reviewers anyway, it seems to me that my articles (at least), are being peer-reviewed by a very small group of academics - in fact, I'm confident that most of us know each other. So if this is the case, what service is a "publisher" actually providing apart from centralized distribution and their "reputation". Supposedly, "publishers" provide some editorial "arms-length" separation from self-publishing as well as some "authority" with respect to quality, but increasingly we are seeing that their efforts are just not reliable anymore; there are too many sloppy editors making decisions based solely on solicited feedback. In other words, peer-reviewers have commonly replaced whatever benefit might have been provided by editors, making the latter irrelevant.

ePublishing and centralized access is readily available to anyone with average computing skills these days, so my suggestion is that we begin to conduct peer-review within our own area or topical "working groups", and that these groups coalese in a centralized on-line presence (repository), or a series of interlinked repositories.

Within these groups there would be nothing to gain from approving and "publishing" shoddy research; to do so would jeopardize the reputation of one's own group, and hence, one's own work.

The repository could have a wiki-style front end that additionally permits scholarly discussion, and would register views and downloads.

This is, of course, a skeleton of an idea (i.e., formats and styles would have to be agreed upon, etc.), but, it could(?) work. The biggest hurdle might be convincing university admin that these groups provide rigorous peer-review, since issues of tenure and promotion hinge on the respectability and authority of the peer-review process.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Karen - Maybe the journal's "self-archiving" allowance only covers a personal university webpage? I don't know.

Michael E. Smith said...

@Karl - Your proposal is similar to the procedure followed in physics and astronomy, with arXiv. I don't see that as a satisfactory solution for archaeology, largely because there is too much poor quality work and gatekeepers serve a needed purpose. There is far to much bad work published already (in my opinion), and I think opening things up like that would lead to a flood of shoddy papers that would then be cited as if there were adequate.

Perhaps my reservations concern primarily the archaeology of complex societies. There is a heavy influence from the humanities in this area, and this seems to have produced excessive polemics and a flood of non-rigorous standards of data presentation and argumentation. Given this situation, I think that a scientific-type publication system as your propose would backfire and lead to a flood of poor quality work. One problem of current scholarship in complex-societies archaeology is a poor ability to judge between solid and speculative claims, and flooding the market with marginal papers would not help. But perhaps some kind of hybrid model will emerge down the line......

Jorge Fondebrider said...

Thank you to treat this subject in your blog. Elsevier has given form to a monster but they are not the only one's and not even the worst. In my country is illegal to give author's right to a publisher. But the history goes exactly as in the comic you posted because evaluation institutions ask you to publish abroad, in high impact factor journals. Living in a Third world country, this sounds even worst since our taxpayers (not very accomodated indeed) are given financial support to Elsevier. We have to do something to stop this but you are right in that it will not be easy...
Vivian Scheinsohn

Michael E. Smith said...

@Vivian - I agree, this is a very difficult situation without easy and clear answers. I am considering changing the links on my university webpage to access my papers on I wonder whether that will satisfy the university bureaucrats. I am certainly not going to ask them.