Elsevier strikes again: Predator or merely parasite?
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2015/05/04
According to the doubtfully reliable Wikipedia, “Elsevier B.V. . . . is an academic publishing company that publishes medical and scientific literature. It is a part of the Reed Elsevier group” which is “an Anglo-Dutch multinational publishing and information company co-headquartered in London, United Kingdom and Amsterdam, Netherlands. It operates in the science, medical, legal, risk, marketing, financial, and business sectors”.
Actually, Elsevier is strictly in the business of making money, not of providing information, and its activities have included MISinforming or DISinforming, as illustrated by these actions:
⇒ Elsevier took over and soon destroyed Medical Hypotheses, after having withdrawn an article that corrected a published error: It was claimed that there had been 300,00 AIDS deaths per year in South Africa, whereas the official count was reported by Statistics South Africa as about 15,000 — “Censored by Elsevier”; “Public Health Service of Italy accepts work of Ruggiero et al.”; Chapter 3 in Dogmatism in Science and Medicine: How Dominant Theories Monopolize Research and Stifle the Search for Truth (McFarland 2012).
⇒ Now Elsevier is in the process of doing its destructive work on the Medical Journal of Australia: “Editor of Medical Journal of Australia fired after criticizing decision to outsource to Elsevier”.
The decision-makers at the company that controls the Medical Journal of Australia do not understand — as the Journal’s now-fired editor does —that the such “technical” matters as the procedures by which articles are submitted, the “infrastructure”, is inseparable from editorial matters. It determines how the Journal presents itself to prospective authors.
My own experience of publishing in an Elsevier journal can best be described as intense frustration at unnecessary complications: creating accounts, navigating ambiguous web pages, filling out numerous forms, putting up with inept computerese — all these only because Elsevier is so anxious to make profits, charging exorbitantly for reprints and requiring authors to pledge not to make copies of their own work available freely to others. Elsevier, not the author of an article, takes the copyright to articles in the journals it publishes. It does not forbid authors from sharing PREprints with the rest of the scientific community, but “Preprints should not be added to or enhanced in any way in order to appear more like, or to substitute for, the final versions of articles”, so that prospective readers will need to access articles via libraries that subscribe — at exorbitant rates — to Elsevier publications, or via reprints supplied to authors at outlandishly exorbitant charges: the article I published runs to 5 pages, and reprints would have cost me $220 for 100 (minimum order), decreasing per copy to $400 for 400 — for the economy version without covers; the deluxe off-prints with covers would have cost $430 for the minimum 100 (but less per copy for more, e.g. “only” $925 for 400). As everyone knows, once something has been printed, there is negligible marginal cost in running off any number of extra copies.
⇒ The exorbitant charges that bring Elsevier extraordinary profit margin led mathematicians to organize a boycott of Elsevier journals: “Why are we boycotting Elsevier?”; “Mathematicians organize boycott of a publisher”; “Scientists sign petition to boycott academic publisher Elsevier”; “Why Elsevier?”; “The Elsevier boycott one year on”.
In 2010, on revenues of ~$3.2 billion, Elsevier’s profit was 36% (“Why scientists are boycotting a publisher”, Boston Globe, February 2012). Such a profit margin will make jealous even the racketeering Rx-drug industry (Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare by Peter C. Gøtzsche).
⇒ The possibility of cheap online publishing has brought an explosion of hundreds if not thousands of “journals” that librarian Jeffrey Beall has described as “predatory” since they offer nothing but opportunity for anyone to get published in “academic journals” if they can pay for it.
Beall’s survey of predatory publishers lists 693 in 2015, up from 18 in 2011, 23 in 2012, 225 in 2013, and 477 in 2014.
Is Elsevier not also predatory in the same way? It too offers authors online “open access” publishing for supposed more and quicker exposure, for a price: “Fees range between $500 and $5,000 US Dollars depending on the journal”.
And Elsevier too is responsible for the explosive growth in numbers of journals. In 1991, Elsevier took over the prestigious British journal THE LANCET. But prestige alone evidently doesn’t bring in enough money, so Elsevier has traded on The Lancet brand to proliferate publications: The Lancet Oncology since 2000, The Lancet Infectious Diseases since 2001, The Lancet Neurology since 2002; in 2013 were added The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, The Lancet Global Health, and The Lancet Respiratory Medicine; in 2014, The Lancet HIV.