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Scientists Organize Elsevier Boycott 206

Posted by Soulskill
from the information-wants-to-be-free dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The academic publisher Elsevier has attracted controversy for its high prices, the practice of bundling journals for sale to libraries and its support for legislation such as SOPA and the Research Works Act. Fields medal-winning mathematician Tim Gowers decided to go public with a blog post describing how he'll no longer have anything to do with Elsevier journals, and suggesting that a public website where mathematicians and scientists could register their support for an Elsevier boycott would further the cause. Such a website now exists, with hundreds of academics signing-up so far. John Baez has a nice write-up of the problem and possible solutions."
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Scientists Organize Elsevier Boycott

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  • Will referee? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jginspace (678908) <jginspace.yahoo@com> on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:57AM (#38838745) Homepage Journal
    They've been asked to say that they: "1) won’t publish with them, 2) won’t referee for them, and/or 3) won’t do editorial work for them ... At least do number 2)" ... most of those signed up have gone for all three however it seems like roughly one in ten have prevaricated on the "won't referee" pledge - what is the magnetic allure of refereeing for Elsevier journals?
    • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:04AM (#38838815)

      Some sort of backwards-ass sympathetic magic? You don't get picked to referee unless you're solid in your field, so there's an irrational fear that they'll stop being a big deal if they stop refereeing (even though refereeing is anonymous)?

      • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:01AM (#38839373)

        Not likely. Being a reviewer is a PITA, and generally doesn't advance you in any way. I once applied for a grant that asked how many papers I'd reviewed in the past year, but they just wanted a number, completely unsubstantiated, so I doubt they put much weight on it.

        Scientists do peer review because it's a duty. Not publishing with a journal you don't like is an easy choice. Refusing to participate in peer review with them just means they'll get someone else to do it, and poor papers may slip through.

        • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Defenestrar (1773808) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:31AM (#38839721)

          ...Refusing to participate in peer review with them just means they'll get someone else to do it, and poor papers may slip through.

          Thus degrading the quality of the journal and after about 10 years people will learn to treat it as one of the trashier neighborhoods. The problem is the impact (factor and public) that the article will have in the transition period. Also, the editor will have to keep hitting up the scientists who don't refuse until they burn out. This can actually be a feedback loop where the reviewing scientist decides that they must get asked to review because they publish so often in that journal, so picking a journal with a lower review load may be worth looking into. Forgoing review is a nasty and dirty type of boycott which definitely flirts the line between dereliction of duty and the need to advance science by publishing in a public forum (which country-club nit-picky-HOA Elsevier is not). Most of those journals are good, and often the sale to Elsevier was to free up their editorial board and professional staff for the real work on the journal. This problem has been building for years and there's not much that will solve it outside of legislation and possibly international treaty. Even the US legislation which says papers written on research performed with public money should be free to access (perhaps with a 6 month delay) has too many loopholes for it to work well.

          • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 27, 2012 @01:43PM (#38841705)

            "Thus degrading the quality of the journal and after about 10 years people will learn to treat it as one of the trashier neighborhoods. The problem is the impact (factor and public) that the article will have in the transition period."

            Sure. If you want to ruin a journal over the long term and you don't care about the quality of the science that gets published in the meantime, it's a great way to go. Most scientists DO care about the quality of the science that gets published though.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              in the last couple of years, the NEJM has dropped in quality. I suspect for the same reasons.

        • by xwwt (2475904) Works for Slashdot
          What I haven't figured out (and this is an outside in view working in an aggregation business for a number of year) is why authors don't create an open publishing platform and kick companies like WK or E to the curb? It would be a simple thing to make a publishing business run for the sole purpose of review and share. Papers submitted to the site are passed to reviewers round-robin style. Reviews on the work are shared with peers. To publish you must referee, to referee you must publish and rate high.
          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Because all the authors are scientists who want to do science, not run a (pro bono) publishing company or social media site.

            The whole idea of enforcing algorithmic rules for referee and author reputation is very tricky. How do you treat new authors? How do you avoid whoever is in charge tweaking the algorithm for their benefit?

      • by Idbar (1034346)
        Yeah, that's exactly what you want to reply back to your adviser when he asks you to review that paper for him.
    • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:09AM (#38838849)

      It's a vague sense of duty. For any given potential paper, there is a limited number of suitible peer reviewers. I'm trying something so odd right now I can think of less than 8 people who are are knowledgable about the materials and spectrosopic method off the top of my head. The people still willing to be a referee possibly feel that their field as a whole shouldn't suffer with suboptimal peer reviewers simple because another scientist is trying to get published in an Elsevier journal.

    • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:10AM (#38838865)
      Refereeing a journal article is a rather thankless job. There is no pay. There is very little kudos from your colleagues. It is a service to the community. To say you will not referee is something that impacts others who need to get published. Refereeing is something that can hurt you personally because of the time commitment. Not refereeing is something that hurts others.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Refereeing allows you to scrutinze your competitors, preventing them from getting publications on subject you yourself are also working on, delaying them and/or at least making sure they acknowledge your own work. Even with double-blind reviews it is often clear to the reviewer who the author is and in many cases even vice versa, especially in small fields where this is even predicable.

    • Will referee? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lurker1997 (2005954)
      Being a referee is part of being a scientist. Someone is taking the time to review your work and you are returning the favor. With a bit of luck, you also get an advance glimpse of some of the work that is being done in your area.
      • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:32AM (#38839049) Journal

        Being a referee is part of being a scientist.

        Being a human being with integrity is ALSO part of being a scientist.

        If one wants to think one being worthy to be known as a SCIENTIST one must at least have the integrity to know that keep on feeding leeches such as Elsevier does the scientific community a dis-service

        Restricting the access to information is an antithesis to scientific principle.

        • by lurker1997 (2005954) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:54AM (#38839283)
          I have published a number of papers in a particular Elsevier journal. When I submit papers, the editorial staff of this journal promptly replies with detailed reviews completed by knowledgable reviewers that in almost all cases have significantly improved the papers I have written (or occasionally prevented something stupid I did from being published at all). That same journal is one of the few that I regularly read for new advances in my field. This is actually the first time I have ever heard something negative about Elsevier, but as a big company there are undoubtedly all kinds of things they do that some people don't like. Normally when thinking about a particular journal, I don't give much thought to who the publishing company is. Regardless, I will happily review other articles for the journal I publish in, because I appreciate the work others have done in reviewing my work, and I am happy that journal remains a source of high quality information about my field. I don't agree with Elsevier's behavior as described in the summary, but one often has to take the bad with the good.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            [...] but one often has to take the bad with the good.

            Only for as long as you choose to, and as long as everybody thinks like you the bad will just get worse.

    • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:16AM (#38838905)

      what is the magnetic allure of refereeing for Elsevier journals?

      It isn't as much as refereeing for Elsevier journals, but to referee for well established and respected journals. Being invited to be a referee of one of those journals is seen as a sign of respect by the scientific community and a public acknowledgement of one's technical and scientific mastery. After all, if a community has to choose who will edit the scientific work done by their own community, they will choose the best in their field, not a snotty-nosed clueless newbie.

      Then, the real problem is that Elsevier managed to control the publication and access to journals which are seen as humanity's forum for specific scientific areas. So, Elsevier manages to get that "magentic allure" by proxy, not for the company's own merit. As soon as journals are published elsewhere, Elsevier will lose any prestige they might have, and although scientific papers will continue to be published, the world will be a better place for not being forced to shelve 40 euros for individual papers or thousands of euros for a subscription. Let's hope this boycott represents the tipping point.

      • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <petermardahlNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:26AM (#38838997) Journal

        I think the process for choosing reviewers is a lot less about respect than you think. You can get picked for a review by just having published a bit in the same field, by being named by someone else who is too busy to do the review himself, or because the editor knows you personally and he asks you to do the review as a favor.

        Yes, picking leaders in the field is preferred, but they are often unavailable! Reviews take time.

        --PM

        • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:50AM (#38839237) Journal
          Indeed. I did some reviews when I was a PhD student. Someone at a journal knows my PhD supervisor and says 'do you have anyone who knows a bit about this stuff?' He then nominates me, and I do a review. Typically the paper is reviewed by about 4 people in this way, and then a committee reads the reviews and decides whether or not to accept. You usually have to fill in a set of questions including how you'd rate your knowledge of the subject. I've had papers back from review where a reviewer rates his knowledge of the subject area as 1 out of 5 (although this usually doesn't stop them from listing a load of criticisms...)
      • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:30AM (#38839035) Journal
        If you have the support of the community, it's apparently not that hard to replace an established journal. In 2001, the Journal of Object-Oriented Programming was shut down by its new publisher. The Journal of Object Technology stepped into the gap, with the same set of reviewers, but no print publication just open access online-only publication. I'm a bit surprised that more fields haven't followed suit. If you've got a dozen respected researchers who are willing to do reviews, it's easy to start a new journal.
        • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Informative)

          by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:00AM (#38839351)

          Undoubtedly it is easy to start a new journal. The hard part is to turn it into a credible one, and the hardest part is to turn it into the "go to" forum for scientific and technical discussion of a specific subject.

          This call by Tim Gowers isn't intended to fix the problem of starting a new journal. This problem has been fixed for decades now, with the inception of the internet as the main platform for knowledge access and distribution, cheap computers and cheaper software. What Tim Gowers intends to achieve is the hard part of the problem: how to turn freshly created or obscure foruns into the main forum for scientific discourse of every scientific and technical field, and destitute the current midlemen to those forums who are restricting access to those journals as old fashion trolls.

          This is why Tim Gowers is appealing to the community to stop helping Elsevier out, and instead redirect their efforts to create or contribute to open access journals. Elsevier's power is in manipulating a flock of sheep to not only give them their work for free but also pay them hansomely to access that which they did themselves. Once Elsevier loses the ability to manipulate them to do their bidding, the scientific community, and therefore humanity, wins in multiple ways. So, it is a social problem, not a technical one, and to fix this problem then that specifc segment of society must change. This is what Tim Gowers (and others, too) ultimately intends to achieve.

        • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@p10liWELTYnk.net minus author> on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:31AM (#38839723) Homepage

          Replacing an abandoned journal is rather different from trying to displace a journal by force. Setting up the website is easy, even finding reviewers is probablly not that hard. The difficult bit is convinving people to chose your journal over the established one. Oh and someone has to pay for your new journal (afaict reviewers do get paid even if it's only a nominal ammount) so if you are open access you will probablly have to charge authours to cover the cost of peer review. If you aren't open access and aren't affiliated with one of the big publishers (see below) you will have a hard time getting people to read your papers.

          It's important to realise that individual academics and students within instituations don't directly pay for access to most papers from our budgets just like we don't directly pay for "core" software (we do pay for some more specialised software out of our own budgets but windows, office, matlab, endnote and so on are all covered centrally). Those things are paid for centrally as part of block subscriptions. If academics actually had to pay the prices that are shown to the general public I suspect there would be a very quick move towards open access journals.

          • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @12:01PM (#38840073) Journal

            Setting up the website is easy, even finding reviewers is probablly not that hard. The difficult bit is convinving people to chose your journal over the established one

            That's why you need buy-in from a few established name. In most fields there are a dozen or so people that almost all of the community respects. If these people are the board for your new journal, then it is instantly credible. In the case of JOT, having Bertrand Meyer as the editor does this, and if you look at the board you'll see a list of names of people at the top of the field.

            Oh and someone has to pay for your new journal (afaict reviewers do get paid even if it's only a nominal ammount) so if you are open access you will probablly have to charge authours to cover the cost of peer review

            Reviewers are sometimes paid, but most of the time, for academics, this money just goes into their grant fund or, in some cases, into a general department fund. It's not really a motivating factor. I've never received money for reviews I've done for journals. Again, using JOT as an example, they don't pay reviewers, nor do they charge authors.

            It's important to realise that individual academics and students within instituations don't directly pay for access to most papers from our budgets just like we don't directly pay for "core" software

            That depends. If the journal is in one of the bundles that your institution subscribes to, then it is 'free' to the end user. If it isn't, then you pay $30 or so, and this comes out of your grant, which means filling in extra paperwork. I've been in exactly the situation that I outlined in another post: papers that I wanted to read were in an Elsevier journal and my institution only had the subscription for the latest few issues - if I wanted older papers I had to pay. As a PhD student, doing this meant getting approval from my supervisor, filling in a form, getting him to sign it, and so on. As a lazy PhD student, this meant just reading papers that cited the one I was interested in that were published in open access journals, and citing them instead...

          • It's important to realise that individual academics and students within instituations don't directly pay for access to most papers from our budgets just like we don't directly pay for "core" software (we do pay for some more specialised software out of our own budgets but windows, office, matlab, endnote and so on are all covered centrally). Those things are paid for centrally as part of block subscriptions. If academics actually had to pay the prices that are shown to the general public I suspect there would be a very quick move towards open access journals.

            That's part of the 40-44% Facilities and Administrative costs (F&A) [unr.edu] that comes out of your grant.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cjb-nc (887319)
      Elsevier's standing relies on providing top quality, peer-reviewed journals. They cannot keep that up if the peers will not review for them. It is the cornerstone of their business model.
    • Maybe those academics who feel strongly about this issue are going to referee with the explicit purpose of rejecting all the papers assigned to them?

      A bit dishonest I know, but a rejection with the comment "not appropriate for this journal, try x or y" isn't too damaging to science...
    • by call -151 (230520) *

      Possibly that is because of various special volumes of journals. Sometimes, there will be special issue of some journal for a conference or in memory of some notable researcher who just retired/died/was celebrated, and for those people are generally more willing to referee. So perhaps some of those people don't want a blanket refusal because they still would be willing to referee articles for a special issue. That's just a guess. But I hope this agreement pushes the choice of journals for such special v

    • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bgeezus (1252178) on Friday January 27, 2012 @01:39PM (#38841625)

      what is the magnetic allure of refereeing for Elsevier journals?

      Refereeing is a complicated thing. As much as you might hope that all scientists and scientific papers are honest and accurate, this is not always the case. I've refereed for several low-quality journals, not because I took any pride in the act, but because people were submitting low quality papers directly based on my work. If I don't serve as a reviewer for these kinds of papers, then I don't have an opportunity to make sure they did things correctly. And whether or not it's correct, a pile of misinformed papers can still gain traction in the larger community. This is becoming more and more the case, particularly since graduate students (in general) are becoming less and less inclined to do very deep and detailed literature reviews. Reviewing is not about supporting a journal. It's an important duty to prevent the spread of misinformation, and also to make sure that the existing work is described in a proper context. Promising to abstain from reviewing certain journals would be a great disservice to your own work and to your scientific field.

  • We are finally making some progress here.
  • 404! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Flipstylee (1932884) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:07AM (#38838833)
    "Ban Elsevier

    Please take the pledge not to do business with Elsevier. 404 scientists have done it so far:"


    Just got me thinking...
  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:11AM (#38838875)

    They seem unnecessary in the internet age. Set up some sort of social networking system for scientists.

    Also keep getting disturbing reports of journals censoring works for political reasons or because they're afraid that certain factions within the science community will boycott them.

    The whole thing is anti science. Create a forum where all scientists can share information freely without fear of being censored or favoritism. If other scientists don't find your work compelling then they don't have to listen to it.

    It will also make disclosing all the information about a given study easier since hopefully more of the work will be within the system.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by XxtraLarGe (551297)
      The point of journals is for profs trying to get tenure to get published for some obscure piece of research, and so the publishers can sell said journals for ridiculous prices to universities who don't care about the cost because they can always jack up the price of tuition. That's also the point of most education conferences.
      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        I'm sure a lot of that is done for the same reason that medical conferences always seem to take place on sunny, tropical islands.

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:27AM (#38839003) Homepage Journal

      The point of journals is the value of their reputation. A well respected scientific journal is useful because they've repeatedly put their name on the line publishing scientific papers, and when the vast majority of those papers are valid and well reviewed, you can have some hope of trusting an as yet unread paper. "Censorship" in the form of verification and peer review, is one of the driving mechanisms of science, because not all ideas are made equal.

      It's not the dead trees that make journals valued, but the credibility they help maintain. Having well-respected scientists be widely opposed to your journal is a deadly circumstance, as trust is all you have.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Karmashock (2415832)

        How is that even remotely scientific?

        That's ad verecundiam. What should matter is the science.

        Now if you're worried about having some kind of filtration mechanism so scientists aren't bombarded by bad science then there are many ways of doing that without appealing to an opaque editor that has everyone's trust but has no transparency.

        Remember Bernie Madoff. Prior to the scandal he was an extremely well respected man in the finance world. Everyone trusted the guy. He was a legend. But no one audited his work

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          The editor usually IS one of your peers. He's generally someone with an established, excellent track record in a field. He wades through the crap that comes in (think Firehose), then passes on the stuff that isn't wildly inappropriate or unintelligible to other reviewers. He's triage.

          If there was only one journal, a bad editor could theoretically do some damage. But that's not the situation. First, most journals have multiple editors, and there are multiple journals. If a journal starts rejecting good

          • If there were a public record of everything that was rejected, when, by who, and why... then I would be fine with it.

            There is no transparency. Not only can such people do damage there is no doubt that there are people doing damage all the time.

            Come on... Murphy's law. If it can happen it will happen.

            I'm okay with keeping the journal system if it can be made more transparent. But frankly there are some credibility issues cropping up that do require some sort of reform at the very least.

            • by ceoyoyo (59147)

              Yes, the review process does need some tweaking. Reviewers' comments should be made public, with their names attached, after the review process is over. I'd also like to see options for a more interactive (but still anonymous while it's happening) review process, so reviewers can ask questions and have them answered more quickly. Journals, including the big ones, are experimenting with these things. Nature has been introducing several new review options along these lines over the last few years.

              Journals

        • by Vario (120611)

          While I do not want to defend the journals I think your comparison with Bernie Madoff does not work here.

          While he might have been well respected, he had an incentive to cheat and abuse the trust by putting the money in his own pocket. Why should any journal profit from suppressing or pushing a certain kind of research? It is more the other way around: as an editor I would be looking for breakthroughs and unusual findings as they increase the influence of the journal.

          • Oh you don't know the Bernie Madoff story then. He didn't need the money. I thought everyone knew that.

            it was worse then that... he did it because he could do it. It was all fueled by contempt. Bernie was a very wealthy guy before he started his Ponzi scheme. He was very well respected for doing REAL work. I mean, he ACTUALLY earned that respect for really good work in the finance industry. Look the man up PRIOR to the ponzi scheme and you'll see he was a very big wheel.

            Why did he do it then? He didn't need

        • Spoken like someone who has never actually done scientific research. Here's what happens:
          1) You learn about a subject by listening to people who have done research in the past. At that point, the science you're learning about is pretty well hashed out and non-controversial.
          2) You gain some knowledge, and start to poke around the edges of the commonly accepted knowledge in your field.
          3) You have some open questions where your professor or PI either told you "that isn't settled", or you're hearing two differe

          • No.

            Bernie Madoff was a sacred cow prior to the scandal. Think of a scientist that is/was so well respected that no one would even think to question his work. There are people that if they told you 1+1=3 you'd assume YOU made the math error because these people are never wrong.

            Bernie also was cited by some people repeatedly for fraud. Some traders did the research. They calculated his returns and then looked at charts and tried to figure out how he could have possibly gotten those results. They reported Bern

            • I am not a scientist.

              But I am a human being. I know how humans work. Scientists can't escape their own humanity or the inherent weaknesses of human social structures.

              I'll ignore for a second the fallacy that belonging to a group means you automatically know how it works. But, the sentiment is largely correct. But if you make suggestions for improvement, please make sure you understand the field you're commenting on.

              Keep a log of all rejected papers, who, what, when, and why... and another record for accepted papers listing the same criteria... and I am content. You could do it with a spread sheet or a ledger. I don't need anything fancy here. Just a record open to all.

              Please read what you wrote again. And then compare it to your own record keeping. And then note your requirement "

              • If I'm sounding arrogant, then I apologize. Despite whatever impression I might be projecting I am well aware of my own ignorance.

                I humbly accept counter proposals. The only thing I won't accept is that opaque unaccountable entities be trusted simply because they're "respectable."

                I am human. I know they're human. I know what that means. Whatever else I don't know, I know that much. And with and by that little bit I do know... I know that can't be trusted.

                So there has to be transparency and record keeping as

                • Thank you for acknowledging your limitations. It's rare, and it means I now need to hold up my end of the bargain. I'll keep it brief, and high-level.

                  What we have right now isn't perfect, but it is consisting of small steps in the right direction. Journals are providing a certain amount of vetting that allows researchers to spend more time doing novel research, instead of poring over bad research others are doing. It has problems, in that journals are essentially extracting rents from their monopoly on repu

                  • WIkipedia only costs about 10 million to run a year and they're a much higher traffic system then what we're talking about.

                    If you spread the cost amongst the universities we're talking about such a small amount of money it could be funded outright with an endowment and then perhaps an extremely nominal fee is charged from the universities for the privilege of POSTING or submitting articles. I think reading the system should be free and open to everyone especially laymen. The cost won't matter though. It wil

        • How is that even remotely scientific?

          Its not.

          What should matter is the science.

          In theory, you are right. In practice, it hasn't been able for any person to keep up with all the purported science in any but the narrowest of fields for centuries, and that problem is just getting worse. The peer review process used by journals is intended to serve as a first-cut proxy for review by the larger community, and individual readers review of the work that actually appears in particular journals drives the order and

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:43AM (#38839159) Journal

      There are several points to journals. The first is to have a fixed, published and immutable, snapshot of some research that people can refer to in the future. At the very least, this has to be hosted by someone other than the author (for obvious reasons), and it generally needs a DOI assigned so that it can be easily referenced and uniquely identified in the future.

      The second, obviously, is peer review. Anyone can, for example, put a bit of research on their blog or on arxive.org. They can then get feedback immediately, which is useful for them, but people wanting to read about a subject want to have a filter - a set of papers that they can read that the community agrees are up to a certain standard.

      • As to referencing it... again that won't be a problem. We can do that some sort of social networking system. The design is open to interpretation. Possibly some sort of personalized wikipedia type thing. It doesn't really matter. Let scientists put whatever they want online. When they press "publish" it's published. They can't take it down after that. Let anyone see it.

        As to peer review, any registered scientist can comment. Obviously you don't want just anyone commenting. But probably no harm in letting ev

        • You're missing the point of journals. Any scientist can publish any insane idea. That's what technical reports are: things that are the result of research (or thought experiments, or random ramblings) but are not peer reviewed. These are trivial to publish and get DOIs assigned for. A journal paper or a conference paper that's in the proceedings is a bit more than that. It's something that (some subset of) the community has put their stamp of approval on. If you read the proceedings from the latest SI
    • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:44AM (#38839165)
      The problem with a free forum is signal to noise. It would have to have some kind of reputation system, such as scientists rating/flagging each other's contributions. That way, you could add some respected scientists to your 'trusted' list, and things that they trust would be highlighted/promoted to you. Essentially a web of trust model. This has obvious downsides, such as scalability and the inherent formation of cliques and the like.

      The thing is that journals are actually a decent solution to these issues. They curate content on your behalf, and you decide which journals are more reputable than others. By doing some of the leg-work for you, they handle scalability and make the format relatively open to all comers. They also have the advantage of already existing: scientists already know which journals are better than others, understand the process of submitting to journals, and so on...

      My point is that while you could entirely ditch the journals, and build a whole new system... this would be inefficient. It would seem simpler to take the current journal system, and just fix the things that are wrong with it (in particular, the exorbitant costs and the lack of open access). On the one hand, you may say it's hopelessly idealistic of me to expect for-profit journals to willingly move towards a more open format. On the other hand, there are already highly successful open-access journal ventures (e.g. PLoS [plos.org]), which are indeed pushing the journal system towards open access. So there is hope that we can reform the journal system.
      • Well, as to signal to noise, the issue I have is that I don't trust the journals as a filtration mechanism. It's not transparent. They don't report which articles they reject or why. That's a big problem. "just trust us" is not something I'm willing to accept from anyone at this point. It's also not scientific. It's ad verecundiam.

        As to journals solving the problem... there have been some very bad science published in the Lancet in the last few years for example... and that's supposed to be a very well resp

        • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:23AM (#38839619)
          Transparency is generally a good thing, and I agree that many aspects of the publishing process are needlessly opaque. This should be fixed. But anonymous peer review has certain advantages. It provides an opportunity for reviewers to be completely honest. Think about a junior scientist reviewing a paper by a more well-established peer: they may fear that a critical review will seriously hurt their career. Think about scientists not wanting to be critical in a review of a friend's paper, or conversely people punishing papers because 'they rejected my last paper!' And so on. The journal editor serves the role of maintaining the anonymous peer review system. (Note that in anonymous peer review, the reviewer is still free to disclose their identity by signing their review; and indeed many scientists do this.)

          Of course there could be ways to do anonymous peer-review in an open forum system (e.g. using trusted editor-like intermediaries, or using verifiable keys that can establish trust without disclosing who posted the review). It could be done; in fact nothing prevents all of this from happening right now (even now, authors could individually post their rejected articles, including all peer-review and editor comments, to their institutional websites; this at least partially happens through arXiv [arxiv.org]).

          My point about efficiency was that for a given final state X, we can either tweak our current journal model until it reaches X, or we can start from scratch building a new initially inefficient system A, and then tweak that until we reach X. Both will have serious growing pains, but it seems to me that it will be easier (in particular, easier to get scientists on-board with the changes) by smoothly transitioning from the current system to the final desired state of X. Doing it smoothly means no downtime; each adjustment can be tested and the community can decide whether they like the change. So, again, I agree that there are many things about the journal system that could be fixed, and which modern Internet technology can help fix (open access, transparency, better logging of opinions/comments/etc., allowing any scientists to comment on any article, creating a space for public debates/discussions, etc.). I just think that the most kinetically favorable path to that new state is a series of changes from the current journal system (for all it's faults, the community is doing a lot of great science these days!).
          • As to transitions... of course. I wouldn't suggest we just shut the journals off cold turkey. In fact, I'm certain that the old guard will stick with them until they retire. The point is to get the next generation using this system. In part they might find it liberating to be peer reviewed by their ACTUAL peers and not their soon to be predecessors.

            And that said, if you can actually fix the journal system then GREAT! Fantastic. That would be wonderful. I have no confidence in anyone being able to do that. I

      • The problem with a free forum is signal to noise. It would have to have some kind of reputation system, such as scientists rating/flagging each other's contributions. That way, you could add some respected scientists to your 'trusted' list, and things that they trust would be highlighted/promoted to you. Essentially a web of trust model. This has obvious downsides, such as scalability and the inherent formation of cliques and the like.

        Those who do not understand the Slashdot moderation system are doomed to reinvent it.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:08AM (#38839461)

      Journals are a filter. They're supposed to prevent some things from getting published - the low quality, scientifically dubious and shoddily done research. It's hard enough keeping up with the reviewed, edited and published work, never mind some kind of free for all "scientific" networking site that would probably be 90% drug and equipment supplier spam within a week and the other 10% long papers espousing crackpot theories.

      • Well, we would be restricting it to scientists so the spam should be limited.

        Furthermore there are a lot of easy methods for filtering work out. Come on... we've all used about a million social networking sites at this point. There are WAYS to filter content in an unbiased way.

        Another issue here is scientific group think. This is something science has been prone to for centuries. Most scientists believe something is impossible or that the world works a given way. A few people on the side protest and are ign

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          "Well, we would be restricting it to scientists so the spam should be limited."

          How? How do you define a scientist?

          "Furthermore there are a lot of easy methods for filtering work out. Come on... we've all used about a million social networking sites at this point. There are WAYS to filter content in an unbiased way."

          I'm not sure social networking sites are what you want to use as an example. Facebook is unbiased? Slashdot? Even Google has been investigated for bias in search rankings.

          "Another issue here

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can think of two big ones(there are lots of other, smaller ones):

      1) The sheer volume of science being done. I don't think you appreciate just how much research is published, and how long it takes to fully read a paper. I cannot possibly read all the papers that I would like to as is, an I certainly find it beneficial to have a few of my peers perform basic checks for quality, coherence, relevance and correctness before I decide to invest my time in it.

      2) The system provides an organized way for tracking

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Set up some sort of social networking system for scientists."

      "ScienceBook"? (runs)

  • by tstrunk (2562139) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:14AM (#38838901)

    Publishing articles nowadays is terribly easy and does not cost a thing (arxiv); filtering and getting good referees however is not.

    My solution for this would be a public network of papers, where everybody can publish, read and 'sign' those papers. If you agree with a paper, you put your signature under it and the worth of this paper goes up. As your 'worth' goes up your signature also gains in weight, when signing other papers. Every paper gets a comment section, where reviews can be written and errors pointed out.

    If a well known professor therefore signs your work, others will catch up to it. A 'good' paper will gain in publicity quickly due to being sent around a lot. One would also need to include a system of diminishing returns, as to avoid groups signing only their own papers. Ironing out these points of abuse will be the hardest part of this system.

    The specification above only consists of four to five sentences and yet I would call it more robust than the currently arbitrarily chosen journals.

    • by Anrego (830717) * on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:35AM (#38839081)

      Sounds kinda like digg for scientific research.

      Which quite honestly scares me...

    • My solution for this would be a public network of papers, where everybody can publish, read and 'sign' those papers. If you agree with a paper, you put your signature under it and the worth of this paper goes up. As your 'worth' goes up your signature also gains in weight, when signing other papers. Every paper gets a comment section, where reviews can be written and errors pointed out.

      The problem with that is that you have to persuade other people — tenured professors, associate professors, funding agencies, etc. — that it's worth buying into your system. Once they buy in, it will work fine (modulo teething problems, of course). But if people don't believe that it counts towards your academic career, it most certainly doesn't count. Maybe that doesn't matter so much for someone with a Fields Medal or Nobel Prize as they've already shown that they merit tenure (or equivalent) anywhere in the world, but for someone earlier in their career it matters hugely.

      People want to publish in top rank journals because that's how they show they are doing top ranked work. Competition is ferocious (if usually polite).

    • by Elendil (11919)

      > Publishing articles nowadays is terribly easy and does not cost a thing (arxiv)

      Note that this is no longer accurate: Arxiv is now asking universities worldwide for donations. It isn't a mandatory license fee and it only amounts to a handful of commercial journal subscriptions, but it is no longer "not a thing".

      • by oneiros27 (46144)

        I think that's part of why the Public Library of Science [plos.org] went with their model -- authors pay to submit their article (which *does* get peer reviewed, but on technical merits, not if it's "interesting" to the edior). And then it's free to read forever.

        ArXiv has shown their value to the community, but they currently rely on support from organizations [arxiv.org]. Many people who use the site don't even know the issues -- it's not like they're running banner ads asking for donations like Wikipedia.

        Now, with the pay-up-

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Sounds like an interesting idea for a new type of open access journal. There's a considerable advantage to having lots of competing journals, run by lots of different people. Systematic abuse requires a large conspiracy. Your proposal requires some kind of central reputation tracker, with rules. Kind of like Google does with search. Except Google biases their search results.

  • Elsevier also publish some bad translations. eg http://turnersyndrome.researchtoday.net/archive/6/3/454.htm [researchtoday.net] And don't they publish New Scientist from whom I unsubscribed when they published the jesuit intelligent design fruitcake Paul Davies on the front page and refused right of reply from James Randi and others.
  • by jimwelch (309748) <jimwelchok@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:23AM (#38838963) Homepage Journal
    There is another part to the open access. Trade associations that publish specs. They want anywhere from $100-$1000 for a specification that MUST be used to manufacture equipment. Those specs are written by employees of many businesses (users). These associations do not pay taxes.These specs should be published as e-books for a reasonable price. $35 for example. They are still living in the 50s.
  • It is about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tp1024 (2409684) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:27AM (#38839001)
    Go to google scholar, research anything and you'll inevitable bumb into those extortionists. What is the point of having all that knowledge theoretically at your fingertips, if people cannot have access to it? No matter what it is - an icelandic volcano erupting and you want to know what this means for your plans to fly somewhere? Well, there are plenty of papers that will tell you about ash emissions, the impact of ash on airplanes, the concentrations of ash in the air and so on and so forth.

    A nuclear reactor has a problem and you want to know what engineers found out about the likely consequences or progression of the accident, or what people in this country and other countries did about mitigation? It's right there. BUT:

    $30.00 for reading a paper (which more likely than not will not contain what you are looking for) just makes it impossible to research anything at all - unless you are at least a millionaire. Just having access to one research paper per day will cost you $11000 a year. That has nothing to do with copyrights or protecting intellectual property or anything else.

    It is all about extortion - thank you for trying to stop it.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      You COULD go to a library and get it for free.

      • by tp1024 (2409684)
        I COULD go out, find a couple of flint stones, make a few blades from it, build a trap to catch a deer, proceed to make a fire all by hand and get something to eat. I could, on the other hand, also go to fridge for food and turn on my stove for cooking.
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Because the food in the fridge and the electricity or gas your stove uses is free, right?

      • by Convector (897502)

        But that would be socialism.

  • To my knowledge, science publications in NL are NOT simply shared. Elsevier and other journals put severe restrictions on publications. And cash in a bit on the side. In this day and age they aren't really necessary. An independent web based organisation would amply suffice IMHO. Sharing of electronic papers would also aid science.
  • by Terje Mathisen (128806) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:47AM (#38839207)

    Last year I sent an email to IEEE saying that I would leave the organization if they continued holding research papers hostage behind pay walls.

    I.e. authors were told that in order to get published they would have to assign their copyrights to IEEE and would have to remove any freely available copies on their own personal web page.

    See also http://politics.slashdot.org/story/10/06/30/2027226/ieee-supports-software-patents-in-wake-of-bilski [slashdot.org] and http://news.slashdot.org/story/10/06/15/177217/ieee-working-group-considers-kinder-gentler-drm [slashdot.org] about locking research behind DRM gates.

    With very little visible change to their attitudes, I decided to leave.

    Terje

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Huh. I left because of the volume of insurance spam I was getting through them. That and the organization itself being almost completely useless to me.

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:51AM (#38839241)

    It's easy enough to sign up, and to say you hate Elsevier (so do I). But if you're in a research group at a university, and you're the PhD student, you're probably not doing yourself a favor by signing this. Your name will show up in search results, so people may know you signed (if you used your own name and institute).
    In order to get your PhD, you will need to publish somewhere, and your prof will want you to get the highest "impact factor", because that's good for the whole group. You're in a way just an employee, so you better listen to the boss.

    By effectively saying "screw you" to the whole system of publications, and going online to a really open system, you gamble. Better make sure the prof agrees.

    But I applaud you, if you do.

    • by malilo (799198)
      I signed, but I'm a few months from graduating and I'm not worried AT ALL that my advisor will care. It helps that in my field the major journals are published by universities, and not Elsevier (who, needless to say, are a bunch of jerks). Personally, I think people take the "ooh, be careful with that possibly-unpopular opinion you might have, someone might tell your future tenure committee!" way too far.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:15AM (#38839535)

    Let's not forget, that Elsevier created two dozen completely fake magazines full of completely fake "articles", which were ads for pharma industry products disguised as medical studies. They then planted those in doctors' offices for doctors to read.
    Doctors based their trust on that, assuming it was factually correct, and prescribed millions of pointless drugs to patients, often endangering their health.
    All for the profit of the pharma industry. Which is clearly bordering on... how do you call that in English? Mass felony mayhem? Mass battery? (I mean "Massen-Körperverletzung")

    Nobody will argue that that wasn't a huge crime, and that Elsevier should not be closed down and its management put in PMITA prison.

  • by keeboo (724305) on Friday January 27, 2012 @01:05PM (#38841049)
    Plain and simple. Just to include another one: IEEE (the devil on Earth).

    Publishers take advantage of the fact that a researcher needs to make their work available in (what is considered) a reputable publisher.

    So, what happens:

    - You work your ass off for months, if not years.
    - Research done. You write a paper and submit that to congress X which will/may publish the approved ones in the Y journal.
    - You must format your paper precisely according to the publisher's standards. The publisher gets the whole thing ready for print.
    - You have to sign a COPYRIGHT TRANSFER document provided by the publisher. That's right, the publisher OWNS your paper. It's not yours anymore.
    You submit your paper.

    - The paper is peer-reviewed. And that is voluntary and unpaid, the publisher does not have such expense either.

    IF your paper is accepted...
    - You/your university/employer/whoever will have to pay a reasonable sum for congress expenses + whatever_they_claim_it_is_for.
    - Naturally, you will have to present your paper. So add travel/hotel expenses here.

    After all that...
    - Your paper is available to anyone... anyone willing and able to pay the absurd per-paper free, or the subscription, in order to download that.


    So, basically: the researcher provides print-ready material, gives away his/her copyright and pays the publisher ; the reader pays the publisher ; the reviewers work for free ; and the publisher laughs at everyone.
  • They will now publish Elsevere.

    (ducks)

  • from what happened to Pythagoras when he tried to keep everything a secret.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley

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