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.

‘How to Stop the Cuts’

A sharp and unflinching call from Sara Matthiesen for faculty to not just analyze and critique, but organize against higher-ed’s never-let-a-crisis-go-to-wasters:

As the labor negotiator, strategist, and scholar Jane McAlevey has explained, the ability to create a crisis for their employer is what gives workers the power to improve their conditions. While the strike is McAlevey’s preferred example, we have seen from our own administration that there are a variety of ways one can induce crisis. If professors are going to keep administrators from capitalizing on this crisis, we need to turn the tables and become skilled, savvy, relentless organizers hell-bent on making crises work for us, in service of and in solidarity with the most vulnerable in our ranks. We have the evidence. Now we need the courage to act.

The piece is worth reading alongside Adam Kotsko’s complementary plea from May.

The SHAPE Disciplines

From this morning’s wince-inducing LSE Impact post:

Social sciences research is not only important for the development of effective policies, but it is equally crucial in terms of the direct contribution it can make to the private sector in stimulating growth and improving productivity, as well as in achieving the goal of a wider prosperity scorecard. 

It’s an index of the unblushing norm-erosion (in the UK more than anywhere, possibly) that the counterpoint to commercialism is policy advice—that there’s no felt need to pay even lip-service to advancing knowledge for its own or critique’s sake.

The piece includes an embarrassing acronym proposal—one that apparently designates an existing coalition:

An aim of this initiative is that these disciplines become known as the ‘SHAPE’ subjects – ‘Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy’.

‘Higher education has much to learn from the world of work’

Dangerous gibberish from an Inside Higher Ed commentary, on never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste grounds:

Before, [colleges and universities] represented only a relatively small cohort that recognized the importance — and potential — of providing flexible learning pathways that can help their students acquire the skills they need to find a good job in a turbulent economy. That cohort will only grow as higher education and employers begin to navigate a landscape that has been dramatically altered by COVID-19 — and as more colleges and universities realize they have much to learn from the world of work.

The piece‘s author, Maria Flynn, is president and CEO of JFF. JFF describes itself as “a national nonprofit that drives change in the American workforce and education systems to achieve economic advancement for all.” Its core values? “Mission-Driven,” “Bold,” Transformative,” “Rigorous,” and “Passionate.”

Among its “partners” are Google and Walmart, a fact that goes unmentioneded in the IHE tagline.

This feels a lot like astroturf.

‘University Presses in the Age of COVID-19’

Some mid-COVID changes at university presses, as collected by Ithaka S+R in its latest press directors’ summary:

A move away from print wherever possible, including converting to online submission and contract systems; electronic proofs, review and exam copies; and eliminating the print catalog. 

A pivot to virtual exhibits and disciplinary conferences.   Putting more books into print on demand (POD). One director claimed they moved 2,000 already digitized books into POD in 12 days by remapping their supply chain and changing all of their workflows. Another said they were eliminating all short run printing and going straight to POD.  

The press directors are reporting, unsurprisingly, savage revenue hits:

According to their latest projections for the 2020 close this month, most are expecting to miss budgeted revenue by 5-15 percent, mostly due to poor fourth quarter print sales during the pandemic lockdown.

And they expect worse for FY 2021:

Projections of 20-40 percent decreases in revenue are the norm for the presses we spoke with. All presses expect cuts to library collection budgets and drastic cuts to library book budgets, especially print.

‘Why Rich College Students Are Getting More Financial Aid Than Poor Ones’

Martin Kurzweil and Josh Wyner, in a Times opinion piece decrying the decades-long drift toward “merit” aid (i.e., not based on need) in U.S. higher ed:

Some leaders of colleges have wanted to end this competition by collaborating with other colleges to reserve the vast majority of aid to students who clearly have the need. But these leaders haven’t so far because they fear it would run afoul of federal antitrust law.

We have the discipline of economics to thank for the antitrust orthodoxy of the last 50 years—that consumer prices are the one and only yardstick. This myopic, self-undermining approach—in the name of consumer welfare—has led to all kinds of perverse outcomes. In higher ed, there’s this boost to merit-aid, and, more recently, the gutting of admissions officers’ anti-poaching ethics code.

The Weird Hype around the UC Springer Nature Deal

The headline for a much-shared Wired story on the University of California’s read-and-publish deal with Springer Nature:

Universities Step Up the Fight for Open-Access Research

“Today’s deal,” reads the subhed, “is a big milestone on the path to dismantling paywalls around academic journals.”

Here’s Inside Higher Ed‘s headline:

A Landmark Open-Access Agreement

The Times Higher Education:

Landmark US agreement is hailed as ‘significant milestone’ in shift to open access publishing in North America.

And Publisher’s Weekly:

University of California, Springer Nature Sign Groundbreaking Open Access Deal

The headline hyperbole is, on the one hand, weird: The UC deal, though large, is mostly conventional, of a piece with the deals made by European consortia since 2014.

The headlines, indeed, seem to be lazy press-release mimicry. The UC release:

UC reaches groundbreaking open access deal with leading global publisher

And Springer’s own:

Landmark Transformative Agreement reached between Springer Nature and University of California

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the deal, even for the U.S. The bigger issue is that the coverage is a gift-wrapped present for Springer Nature and the other publishing conglomerates. Read-and-publish deals are about preserving the current subscription gravy train—and they’re succeeding in crowning the thirty-seven percenters as the OA royalty. Deals like this, moreover, promise to worsen global publishing inequalities.

A better headline: “UC Capitulates to Commercial Read-and-Publish Deal.”

The Indebted Mentality

Chloe Reid, in an LSE Review of Books review of Caitlin Zaloom’s Indebted:

For these families, their lives are organised around the problem of paying for college. […] This preparation begins at a young age, with the parents of a two-year-old spending considerable time and energy planning how to fund their education. Such time and effort means that the families in Indebted must speculate whether college will indeed ‘pay off’ for their children.

The return-on-investment mindset that faculty rightly decry among students has, as one obvious source, this decade-plus financial scrambling.

‘Alison Macrina on Library Freedom Project and Tor Browser’

From Logic’s May interview with Alison Macrina:

Q:With both Tor and the Library Freedom Project, you’re making libraries places that are anti-capitalist not just because they’re free, but also because data harvesting won’t work in there. You’re making a Faraday cage around libraries.

Macrina: I love that. I do think of libraries as one of the most socialist institutions that we have in the US in 2020: they are funded with public money. They are not means-tested. They’re everywhere. You talk to the average librarian about why they got into the profession and there is a real love for the public. You can go into a library and you don’t even have to use it for its explicit purpose of looking at books or magazines or computers. You can just go there and be, even if you’re the kind of person that late capitalism has decided is not worthwhile. To the library, you are. And this is a radical idea. Libraries’ doors are still open, even as their budgets get cut. They’re special spaces and I want to help them expand what they’re capable of doing.

The closure of public libraries—a profound and unassailable necessity—has been among the greatest short-run costs of the pandemic.

‘MIT, guided by open access principles, ends Elsevier negotiations’

Huge news from MIT Libraries:

Standing by its commitment to provide equitable and open access to scholarship, MIT has ended negotiations with Elsevier for a new journals contract.

MIT cited its unique Framework for Publisher Contracts in the decision to cancel Elsevier. The Libraries director, Chris Bourg, did not mince words in the Institute’s press release:

I am disappointed that we were not able to reach a contract with Elsevier that honors the principles of the MIT Framework, but I am proud knowing that the MIT community — as well as hundreds of colleagues across the country — stand by the importance of these principles for advancing the public good and the progress of science.

The muscular cancellation is a piece with MIT’s leadership on OA issues, not least with its library’s cross-campus peer, MIT Press.

‘Will the University That Survives Have Been Worth Saving?’

Rebecca Kolins Givan, in a Chronicle commentary:

If our core values are sacrificed to save our universities through a single-minded focus on maximizing revenue, will the institutions that emerge have been worth saving?

Kolins Givan takes aim at responsibility-centered management (RCM):

RCM is, then, a system of values that prioritizes infighting and manufactured scarcity to extract an additional buck more than collaboration and a commitment to mutually beneficial decision-making that puts lives and learning first. Under that “eat what you kill” model, units (“responsibility centers”) compete with one another — it’s a cutthroat game of zero sum. One more student in an Arabic class means one less student in a math course, and the two departments are required to treat each other as mortal enemies. Courses taught at less than full capacity are categorized as wasteful, rather than essential elements of a robust, diverse curriculum.

Cancel ResearchGate

DARIAH’s Erzsébet Tóth-Czifra, urging scholars to shun the VC-backed for-profit sites Academia.edu and ResearchGate:

What we need to realize is that ‘the “everybody” factor’ (as Kathleen Fitzpatrick calls it) that makes ResearchGate and Academia.edu success stories is in fact our own presence. Going against such community practices both one by one and collectively to give rise to and flourish other, more sustainable author-sharing mechanisms is extremely challenging and takes a great deal of courage. But only this will enable us to move away from platforms that do not do any good for fair sharing of our scholarship and replace them to publicly maintained environments/the population of the development of collectively maintained public services, where scholarly communities have a say in which roads should be paved.

There’s an excellent chart and list of alternatives.

‘How the Coronavirus Crisis Makes the Best Case Yet for Free College Tuition’

Claire Potter, in a Times op-ed on rethinking U.S. higher ed for the post-pandemic era:

So what must change? To start, public colleges and universities should be truly public and tuition-free; private ones, a crucial and longstanding resource, should be discounted by the cost of a public education. Federal loans should be generous, interest-free and forgivable, perhaps in exchange for national service. To paraphrase my late friend, the historian Jesse Lemisch, we need a federal New Deal for higher education, supported by tax dollars, that breaks the stranglehold tuition has on American families.

Potter, like Simon Torracinta and Corey Robin, has the crucial point that our current system is anything but natural—the result, instead, of a series of regressive choices over the last fifty years, reversible given the political will.