An Update to Elsevier’s ‘Mirror Journal’ Concept

A modest proposal: Given Coalition S’s recent Rights Retention announcement, what about embracing Elsevier’s cynical invention of the “mirror” journal concept? Recall that Elsevier has, in a stroke of evil genius, created over 40 “mirror” journals—each identical to its tolled/hybrid counterpart except for the “X” appended to its name:

To meet the evolving needs of our community and expand our open access publishing options, we are piloting the concept of open access “mirror journals”. These journals are fully gold open access but share the same editorial board, aims and scope and peer review policies as their existing “parent” journals – and the same level of visibility and discoverability.

Bullshit aside, the “mirror” journal concept was plainly designed to end-run Coalition S’s coming ban on hybrid journals. Elsevier’s mirror-journal scheme is in such unblushing bad faith that Coalition S had to publicly slap down the ruse.

So here’s the idea: Why not take leading Elsevier journals and mirror them—republish them—on an open platform like PubPub? The Rights Retention policy, after all, requires immediate, embargo-free CC BY archiving of the author’s accepted manuscript (AAM). So a newly published journal issue could be mirrored (i.e., republished) based on the CC BY–licensed AAM versions of its articles, harvested from whatever repositories they call home.

There’s always a catch, alas. Coalition is only requiring the no embargo CC BY rights retention for manuscripts whose authors have received funding from its members. Yes, the Coalition will “encourage” all publisher to extend the new policy to all “all authors”—not just Coalition S-funded scholars. Encouragement is not a promising lever, but it’s still time to heat up some popcorn and watch this unfold.

‘Big Tech Funds a Think Tank Pushing for Fewer Rules. For Big Tech’

Daisuke Wakabayashi, writing for The New York Times, buries the lede in his story about big tech’s funding of soft-gloves antitrust education:

The long era of restraint in antitrust enforcement in the United States can be traced back, in part, to an ideology that tied economic analysis to legal cases. The view was that it’s not enough for a company to dominate a market and crush competitors, there must be evidence of so-called consumer harm — usually in the form of higher prices. That notion permeated through the American judicial system with the aid of economics seminars for federal judges funded by corporate donors.

Google et al. are merely riding a wave, funded generously decades before Sergei and Larry started grad school, that placed economics at the center of U.S. antitrust policy-making.

‘Open-access Plan S to allow publishing in any journal’

From Nature’s story on the Plan S “Rights Retention” announcement:

“Very few” publishers allow the combination of both CC-BY and zero-embargo sharing of AAMs, says Bianca Kramer, a librarian at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Publishers often ask authors to sign agreements that stipulate that AAMs can be shared only under a more restrictive licence. For instance, some 2,800 journals from large publishers do allow scientists to post their accepted manuscripts immediately online, but fewer than 20 allow both zero embargo and CC-BY licensing, according to an assessment by Kramer and librarian Jeroen Bosman, also at Utrecht University.

There will ripple effects from the decision—hard to predict ones. The pressure, ironically, for big publishers to go gold OA may decline, for example—since this green route works too, and they’ll have a hard time opting out.

One ancillary benefit: overlay journals (which gather and re-assemble papers from repositories and other OA sources) should have a new forest of articles to harvest.

Students as a Promising Asset Class

From a Wired story on so-called income share agreements:

ONE DAY IN 2017, Lauren Neuwirth sank into a chair in her university’s financial aid office feeling out of options. She was finishing her second year at Purdue University in Indiana, a school she’d chosen for its top-ranked engineering program. Neuwirth, who grew up near Milwaukee, was working two jobs to cover her living expenses and quickly running through the money her mother had set aside for college. Federal student loans only covered some of Purdue’s pricey out-of-state tuition. She worried that to remain in school she’d have to take out expensive private loans or join the Army.


But then Purdue offered her another way to pay. Investors—including wealthy alumni, a hedge fund, and the Purdue Research Foundation—would front her $50,000 to cover two years of college. In exchange, she’d owe them 14.8 percent of whatever income she earned in the eight years after she graduated. Neuwirth agreed. Last fall, her fifth and final year as a double major in food science and biological engineering, she received a job offer from the agribusiness Cargill at a salary of $56,000. If all goes as planned, she’ll eventually return a healthy profit for those investors.

An American story: Underfund a public good—higher education—and, as a bonus, create a new investment market. If hedge fund managers can bet on mortgages and pork futures, why not a human being?

Purdue—the hook for the largely positive Wired story—even metes out different terms and award amounts according to its own students’ future earnings:

Instead of assessing borrowers based on their creditworthiness, ISA investors evaluate students’ earning potential. And that’s where things get tricky. At Purdue, one feature has proved particularly controversial: Students with the lowest earning potential receive the worst repayment terms. For example, Savannah Marina Williams, a senior from Auburn, Indiana, working toward a degree in the low-paying field of education, was fronted roughly $30,000 by Purdue, nearly $20,000 less than Neuwirth, the bioengineering student. But Williams is obligated to pay roughly the same share of her income as Neuwirth, nearly 15 percent, and she’ll be paying it for 10 years instead of eight.

The logic is unassailable: Since the student has already been objectified as an investment vehicle, why not punish her for pursuing the university’s mission statement?

The market has, perhaps inevitably, already been securitized:

At the same time, more investors are starting to view students as a promising asset class. Christopher Ricciardi is a managing partner with FlowPoint Capital Partners, a New York investment firm; he is known as the “grandfather of CDOs” for his role in popularizing collateralized debt obligations, the tools that seeded the 2008 financial crisis. This past fall, FlowPoint unveiled edly, an online marketplace that matches schools selling “shares” of their students’ ISAs with accredited investors. Ricciardi envisions that the market for ISAs could replace the entire $10 billion private loan market and then some, growing to at least $20 billion.

Students as a promising asset class.

‘The datafication in transformative agreements for open access publishing’

Samuel Moore, in a post on the researcher data clauses increasingly tied into transformative agreements:

The datafication embedded within transformative agreements is worrying not just because of the increased surveillance it will entail, it also illustrates more general misdirection of the transition to open access and the potential danger of universities to use researcher data as part of negotiations. Open access was initially premised on the idea that publishers are extracting from the free labour of academics and privatising the gains through closed-access publications. But through transformative agreements, publishers are still parasitic on this labour in addition to their new strategies of extractivism.


Jeff Pooley is professor of media & communication at Muhlenberg College and director of mediastudies.press, an open access scholarly publisher.

pooley@muhlenberg.edu | press@mediastudies.press

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