Update on Elsevier’s failings in Gold #openaccess

Preamble: A large number of publishers now have “open access” offerings and have been actively promoting them, including on Twitter. I have been checking with several of these to see whether the “open access” is properly and labelled. Some (including Elsevier’s Cell Press and Wiley https://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/01/openaccess-wileys-apc-policy-is-clear-cc-by-what-about-rightslink/ ) are, some aren’t and I have tweeted results. Elsevier promoted a page of Open access publications and I investigated some of these in the same way. I found that several, from more than one journal, were badly labelled (e.g. no indication of Open Access or missing licences or ” © Elsevier All rights reserved”. In all of these I have recorded a minimum link trail, and others have duplicated my findings. I blogged this under http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/14/elsevier-charges-3000-usd-apc-and-then-retains-all-rights-is-this-openaccess-no-they-then-put-it-behind-paywall-32-usd/

 

Yesterday I received tweets from Alicia Wise, Elsevier’s Director of Universal Access, which I reproduce and will comment on:

@petermurrayrust Peter, thanks for pointing out these issues although I continue to feel disappointed you do this in such a negative way 1/3

@petermurrayrust Today we have bottomed out 3 inter-related systems issues and are working on a full description and response to each 2/3

@petermurrayrust I will post these to the comments section of your blog when complete and also tweet a note about that post. – Alicia 3/3

 

There has been some twitter reaction and I include some from Chris Rusbridge one-time Director of the UK Digital Curation Centre.

 

@wisealic as far as I can see @petermurrayrust goes pretty dispassionately with the evidence, and has also praised successes, & corrected

@wisealic
@petermurrayrust for the amounts Elsevier is charging & its public stance, we have a RIGHT to expect it to work properly!

@wisealic
@petermurrayrust if 3 inter-related systems still need fixing months after OA is introduced, this is a MAJOR failure by #Elsevier

 

I await AW’s comments but add some scene-settiing.

 

I am doing this because the scholarly publishing market is seriously broken, as a market. There is no price sensitivity, no substitutability, no standards, and the customers (University librarians) have been completely ineffective in creating acceptable practice. Rather they accept whatever the publishers offer them. Stephen Curry has recently suggested we need regulation (http://occamstypewriter.org/scurry/2013/08/12/scholarly-publishing-time-for-a-regulator/ and I’ve also been urging this for some time. UK railways (11 B GBP) consumes much public money and only works because it is regulated. Scholarly publishing worldwide is a similar size and problem. If we had a regulator, they would be highlighting the current failings, not me. I am simply showing, among other things, the desperate need for accountability and regulation.

 

AW’s “I continue to feel disappointed you do this in such a negative way” highlights the problem. CR has agreed that Elsevier has failed massively and that is why I am massively negative. The arrogance of her remark highlights the problem – Elsevier knows it can treat customers with indifference because there is no control. In safety-critical industries such as transport or energy the failings we are seeing would have led to groundings, plant closures, questions in the house, etc. Here failings are treated casually because the industry can get away with it. My dealings with Elsevier are no different in principle from dealing with a bank or an energy supplier and I treat them with the same degree of respect and trust as I do banks and utilities.

 

We are apparently going to be told about systems issues. I will retain judgment, although the signs appear to be there. This isn’t the first time I have challenged them (https://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/12/elsevier-charges-to-read-openaccess-articles/ ). There is no public justification for systems failures.

 

These failures have led to:

  • Authors being denied what they paid for
  • Some customers being charge unnecessarily

In an industry which cares about customers the least that should be done is authors should get their money back and so should customers and they should get letters of apology. Let’s see if it happens.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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12 Responses to Update on Elsevier’s failings in Gold #openaccess

  1. Ed Chamberlain says:

    Given the cash we pay, I would indeed expect ‘system issues’ (the IT equiv of leaves on the track?) to be handled quietly and quickly, rather than as a blanket excuse.
    Speaking personally as a librarian, I tend to agree with your assumptions of the market as broken and partially at least, the reasoning why (we have walked into this without realising what has happened). Two caveats, scientists still publishing and editing with Elsevier et. al for free has arguably helped fuel the beast (until at least academic spring happened) and most decisions over large content purchasing are generally done at academic request and under academic oversight and steer (as is much library activity).
    But we’ve discussed this before.
    It does all beg the question of ‘how do we enforce finch?’. I’m not sure regulation as such is needed initially, rather a more pro-active approach on the part of the consumer. Open Access presents a valuable opportunity for libraries and librarians to re-orientate themselves away from some bad business practices, including nasty cancellation practice and a lack of transparency. We are already seeing some strange offerings around discounts on APCs. We should consider the consequences of walking into this blindly and accepting them.
    The are still good arguments to suggest that big deals are still giving value for money to universities, but over time I’d expect any dramatic international growth in OA to impact upon the validity of those arguments.
    It is now clear to most of my profession that we need to re-balance relationships with journal publishers, and OA is a grand opportunity to do so. Many academic libraries are taking an active role in administering OA publication (Green and Gold), Cambridge included. We are just beginning to realise that ‘enforcement’ is probably a part of this workflow as publishers and not always making genuine OA offerings clear and useful.

    • pm286 says:

      Thanks Ed,
      I know you are sympathetic to the problem. But there is no visible progress from libraries as a whole and I shall sound somewhat negative in that direction.
      >>Given the cash we pay, I would indeed expect ‘system issues’ (the IT equiv of leaves on the track?) to be handled quietly and quickly, rather than as a blanket excuse.
      The major system failure is an institutional (publisher) failuer. When Springer copyrighted my open images this wasn’t a software bug, it was their assumption that they owned “their” content exclusiverly.
      >>Speaking personally as a librarian, I tend to agree with your assumptions of the market as broken and partially at least, the reasoning why (we have walked into this without realising what has happened). Two caveats, scientists still publishing and editing with Elsevier et. al for free has arguably helped fuel the beast (until at least academic spring happened) and most decisions over large content purchasing are generally done at academic request and under academic oversight and steer (as is much library activity).
      Scientists are not blameless but they have not had any guidance.
      Who makes the decision to sign contracts with publishers that restrict my freedom? Why have CUL signed away my rights to index the Elsevier literature?
      >>It does all beg the question of ‘how do we enforce finch?’. I’m not sure regulation as such is needed initially, rather a more pro-active approach on the part of the consumer. Open Access presents a valuable opportunity for libraries and librarians to re-orientate themselves away from some bad business practices, including nasty cancellation practice and a lack of transparency. We are already seeing some strange offerings around discounts on APCs. We should consider the consequences of walking into this blindly and accepting them.
      Money is not the primary issue – control of our/world scholarship is.
      >>The are still good arguments to suggest that big deals are still giving value for money to universities, but over time I’d expect any dramatic international growth in OA to impact upon the validity of those arguments.
      Big deals don’t give good value for those who don’t work in Universities #scholarlypoor. CUL could insist it was the reference library for the whole of the Cambridge region, not just its employees.
      >>It is now clear to most of my profession that we need to re-balance relationships with journal publishers, and OA is a grand opportunity to do so. Many academic libraries are taking an active role in administering OA publication (Green and Gold), Cambridge included.
      I was extremely disappointed to read the CU Open Access policy on Green OA. Paraphrasing it said “let’s see what terms the publishers come up with and enforce those”. Not “we have a right to immediate Green access and we are going to insist”
      >>We are just beginning to realise that ‘enforcement’ is probably a part of this workflow as publishers and not always making genuine OA offerings clear and useful.
      Why is it left to me to highlight the problem? This should have been done 5 years ago by libraries. If it had been there wouldn’t have been the problem we have now. Even a simple statement of OA practices would have been really valuable.

  2. Ed Chamberlain says:

    Your assuming academics are willing to listen to librarians? I’ve heard frustration on both sides on this issue. We’ve been advocating OA in many forms for years, although we are not perhaps the loudest profession …
    a
    re: scholarly poor, we pay for and provide walk-in access to online resources to anyone (for free), although its not especially well highlighted or advertised imho.
    Policy has moved on post finch with clear support of CC-By –
    https://www.openaccess.cam.ac.uk/about

    • pm286 says:

      Thanks for the discussion 🙂
      >>Your assuming academics are willing to listen to librarians?
      I’m assuming that funders and policy makers will listen to librarians. If libraries worldwide , for example, had backed SPARC loudly and publicly on aspects of OpenAccess we wouldn’t see the current problems over CC-NC. If, before Finch, libraries had established CC-BY as the standard it would have been a much harder fight for piublishers
      >>re: scholarly poor, we pay for and provide walk-in access to online resources to anyone (for free), although its not especially well highlighted or advertised imho.
      Agreed. I didn’t know this and if CUL is serious it should be running public workshops and telling the world
      >> Policy has moved on post finch with clear support of CC-By – https://www.openaccess.cam.ac.uk/about
      Agreed.

  3. Alicia Wise says:

    Dear Peter,
    Thank you for pointing out these concerns. It’s a good thing to have someone so focused on pointing issues out for us, though the immediate assumption of the worst is not entirely helpful. As you know the infrastructure underpinning publishing is considerable, and has evolved over a very long period of time with the scholarly communication system itself. We readily acknowledged the large scale of change and investment in this infrastructure that is required to support new open access business models, and we readily acknowledge that systems issues are inevitable. We have teams in place proactively planning system enhancements, and we work hard to repair errors as they occur. Nevertheless, it is useful to be alerted to problems and concerns so that we are able to address these.
    As I mentioned to you on twitter, we have investigated the various issues you raised and have found different problems behind each. In this first response I can provide you and your readers with an update on the last issue you raised. Using this article as an example – http://www.currenttherapeuticres.com/article/S0011-393X%2813%2900009-X/abstract – you expressed concern that we are systematically charging PPV fees for open access articles. This is not the case. Our investigations show that this article is correctly displaying as an open access article on our ScienceDirect platform, but not on our Health Advance platform. Thank you for alerting us to this – the Health Advance team is currently working to correct this and to understand why the correct settings were not picked up for this article.
    More soon on your other points, and with kind wishes –
    Alicia Wise
    Director of Universal Access
    @wisealic

  4. Alicia Wise says:

    And just to confirm… the article is now open-access at: http://www.currenttherapeuticres.com/article/S0011-393X(13)00009-X/fulltext
    With kind wishes,
    Alicia Wise
    Director of Universal Access
    @wisealic

    • Alice,
      It *is* worrisome that in an *entirely* open access journal that your web teams and associated staff just don’t seem to get this right from the outset. I can understand the metadata backend argument from your later reply and the desire to implement a more robust system that will work efficiently for the future. What beggars belief is that you can build a website for an *entirely* open access journal that even includes code/logic that might display a message about charging for access! Likewise, how difficult it is to remove the “All rights reserved” label – which I note is *still* there despite the article in question no longer suggesting a charge is levied for access? This points to a large failing within Elsevier among its broader staff to understand OA and licensing etc. I’m sure you and some of your colleagues are all over this, but is it filtering down to the people that also need to know enough not to do stupid things like slap “All rights reserved” on OA journal websites? You and the small group of OA people at Elsevier can’t possibly monitor everything the company does with regards to OA and licensing, so what is being done to educate the wider company staff of the issues? It’s not as if these things don’t keep on happening and they *do* affect how we perceive Elsevier and undermine what positive steps the company is trying to make in this area.

      • pm286 says:

        Thanks,
        I generally agree with your analysis. There was insufficient design for OA which was seen as an add-on. I have more examples and they are costing people MONEY. Unless Alicia reassures us the problems are all solved (and I doubt it) I shall continue to post them.

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  6. Alicia Wise says:

    Dear Peter,
    The other issue you raise relates to the clarity of labelling of articles as open access, and the clarity of labelling the license terms under which these articles are available. Over the past year, we have been working to upgrade our core metadata management systems to ensure that we have a central, consistent overview of all of our open access content. These developments are now complete and in coming months, we will be working to integrate the new metadata across our large number of platforms and back office systems.
    ScienceDirect will be the first product to benefit from the new metadata, and with the next release (coming soon) there will be improvements in how open access content is labelled on ScienceDirect. In fully open access journals a “Open Access” text label will appear below the journal title on articles. In hybrid open access journals this “Open Access” text label will appear below the article title. For the licensing terms, as you know, we have offered authors a choice of licenses since April 2013. For these articles our production systems have the relevant metadata to signal which license (e.g. CC-BY, CC-BY-NC-SA, CC-BY-NC-ND) applies to the article and this information will be more visible in the next release. We are investigating how to populate this license metadata information for older open access articles.
    Roll out to our products and services will continue through the remainder or 2013 and into 2014. While this is very much a work in progress, it is one we take very seriously indeed and are determined to get right.
    With very kind wishes,
    Alicia Wise
    Director of Universal Access
    Elsevier
    @wisealic

    • pm286 says:

      Thank you,
      >>The other issue you raise relates to the clarity of labelling of articles as open access, and the clarity of labelling the license terms under which these articles are available. Over the past year, we have been working to upgrade our core metadata management systems to ensure that we have a central, consistent overview of all of our open access content. These developments are now complete and in coming months, we will be working to integrate the new metadata across our large number of platforms and back office systems.
      Noted.
      >>ScienceDirect will be the first product to benefit from the new metadata, and with the next release (coming soon) there will be improvements in how open access content is labelled on ScienceDirect. In fully open access …
      journals a “Open Access” text label will appear below the journal title on articles.
      please clarify completely and precisely what “fully open access” means. Are these journals ALL licensed under CC? Do authors get choices of licences ? Is it possible for a paper to appear without a licence?
      Please confirm that this applies to BOTH the HTML and PDF versions.
      >>In hybrid open access journals this “Open Access” text label will appear below the article title. For the licensing terms, as you know, we have offered authors a choice of licenses since April 2013. For these articles our production systems have the relevant metadata to signal which license (e.g. CC-BY, CC-BY-NC-SA, CC-BY-NC-ND) applies to the article and this information will be more visible in the next release. We are investigating how to populate this license metadata information for older open access articles.
      Please confirm that this applies to BOTH the HTML and PDF versions.
      >>Roll out to our products and services will continue through the remainder or 2013 and into 2014. While this is very much a work in progress, it is one we take very seriously indeed and are determined to get right.
      Please confirm that the “all rights reserved” notice will be completely removed from any “open access” article.
      I will write more when I get your reply to these points.
      Sincerely

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