OSTP Remains APC-friendly

The just-released U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) report on OA financing is definitely interesting—it’s far more in-depth in its scope than the last year’s Nelson Memo. References to cOAlition S, diamond OA, subscribe-to-open, and other funding-landscape arcana, for example, litter the new report. And the report’s authors, among many other things, tried to estimate how much US taxpayers are forking over for APCs. Their guess is $375 million a year in 2021, a $100 million increase over five years.

Another fascinating (if unsurprising) detail on publisher concentration:

In the U.S., five publishers — Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, the American Chemical Society (ACS), and Oxford University Press (OUP) — account for 51.4 percent of the volume of federally funded publications from 2016 to 2021, according to data retrieved from Clarivate’s Web of Science. Similarly, five publishers — Elsevier, Spring [sic] Nature, Wiley, OUP, and MDPI — account for 51.4 percent of the volume of openly accessible federally funded articles from 2016 to 2021.

The report, for all its taxonomic detail, is a disappointment. That’s because the bottom-line conclusions haven’t changed: the report endorses the same non-committal APC-friendly stance as the Nelson Memo. This despite earnest paragraphs on “inequities in publishing” and due mention of the author-excluding implication of APCs.

‘LexisNexis Sold Face Recognition, Spy Tools to CBP’

A coda to Tuesday’s post on SPARC’s Elsevier report. Here’s Sam Biddle, writing for The Intercept on Elsevier corporate sibling LexisNexis Risk Solutions:

The popular data broker LexisNexis began selling face recognition services and personal location data to U.S. Customs and Border Protection late last year, according to contract documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the documents, obtained by the advocacy group Just Futures Law and shared with The Intercept, LexisNexis Risk Solutions began selling surveillance tools to the border enforcement agency in December 2022. The $15.9 million contract includes a broad menu of powerful tools for locating individuals throughout the United States using a vast array of personal data, much of it obtained and used without judicial oversight.

Are any of the LexisNexis tools on offer drawing on data gathered through Elsevier’s ScienceDirect? Who knows—there’s no real answer in the contract documents nor the ass-covering LexisNexis FAQ page.

The ScienceDirect Data Hoover

From SPARC North America’s overview of its important new report on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect data tracking:

By analyzing the privacy practices of the world’s largest publisher, the report describes how user tracking that would be unthinkable in a physical library setting now happens routinely through publisher platforms. The analysis underlines the concerns this tracking should raise, particularly when the same company is involved in surveillance and data brokering activities. Elsevier is a subsidiary of RELX, a leading data broker and provider of “risk” products that offer expansive databases of personal information to corporations, governments, and law enforcement agencies. 

The report—based on a review of legalistic disclosures, library agreements, and under-the-hood web tracking—is a sobering read. In particular, SPARC highlights the likely cross-product pollination from Elsevier to parent RELX Group’s LexisNexis “risk” businesses:

There is little to nothing to stop vendors who collect and track patron data from feeding that data—either in its raw form or in aggregate—into their data brokering business.

The report, in short, provides granular evidence about the scholarly world’s worst surveillance publisher.

Tables from 2023 SPARC report on ScienceDirect data tracking

The Redemption of Plan S

On Tuesday—Halloween here in the US—cOAlition S released a new open access blueprint, one that, in effect, proposes to dismantle the prevailing journal system. Under an anodyne title (“Toward Responsible Publishing”), the group of (mostly) European state funders and foundations endorsed a future for scholarly communication in which publishers are recast as competing service providers. It’s also in basic alignment with the movement to shift peer review to a post-publication phase—with curation and discoverability detached from the per-title, periodic-release journal system. The third major pillar of the plan is to de-throne the version-of-record article (and, implicitly, the monograph), by granting other outputs (like datasets and reviews) equal footing in the realm of recognition.

The plan, to borrow a phrase from Joe Biden, is a BFD.

In this post, I want to make three quick points, which I hope to expand on soon. The first is that the Plan S initiative represents an uneasy convergence between two strands of the nonprofit, mission-driven OA world: between (1) those who’ve championed scholar-submitted preprints to open repositories, coupled with an emergent post-release review ecosystem; and (2) advocates of nonprofit, fee-free OA publishing, who tend to employ the traditional version-of-record journal and book formats. The distinction, in the bizarre lingo we’ve inherited, is green versus diamond.

I don’t want to exaggerate the differences between these two approaches. There’s a shared belief, most crucially, that the academic community should restore custody over the scholarly publishing system—wrench it back, that is, from the oligopolists. A second shared tenet is that an OA system based on APCs (or their read-and-publish equivalent) is arguably worse than the tolled system it seeks to replace. APC-based OA trades barriers to readers for barriers to authors, with the right to publish meted out according to institutional wealth or national origin. So that’s a lot of agreement: a nonprofit, community-led system that doesn’t exclude authors.

Still, the differences are important. The green route—sometimes termed Publish, Review, Curate (PRC), in that order—aims to replace the journal system altogether. The diamond route, by contrast, seeks to fix that system.1

The rethought Plan S leans green. From the plan’s first Principle:

Authors – and not third-party suppliers, such as publishers — should decide when and where to publish, including versions before and after peer review and the associated peer review reports. Service-related elements (copyediting, typesetting, submission systems, hosting, formal quality checks) can be outsourced.

It’s true that the “Responsible Publishing” vision can probably accommodate diamond journals and book publishers. Curation, after all, is a crucial component of any publish-then-review system. The concept of an overlay journal is one obvious zone of compatibility.

It is, nevertheless, striking that cOAlition S has gone all in on the green route. In the last couple of years, the group has made major investments in propping up the diamond OA ecosystem (up to and including its role in last week’s mega-summit). The new plan, if not exactly a departure, is a significant shift in emphasis.

That’s the first point. My second observation has to do with the plan’s aim to recast publishers as “third-party suppliers.” This vision—of a marketplace of service providers, competing to offer copy-editing, typesetting, and other contract work—is in near-perfect alignment with the approach championed by Björn Brembs, the tenacious German neuroscientist. In a series of posts and articles—most recently in July—Brembs and his allies have pushed for a system in this service-provider mold. When he first floated the scheme, I thought the idea was dead-on-arrival—a noble but quixotic campaign. I was wrong. The first big sign of the approach’s viability came last May, when the Council of Europe embraced what I call Plan Brembs. Tuesday’s Plan S endorsement is more significant still—a system-rattling grant of momentum and legitimacy.

My third and final claim is about the evolution of cOAlition/Plan S. The group’s public embrace of a post-publisher future is a major departure in strategy and mission. Tuesday’s announcement included doth-protest-too-much quotations from Plan S’s original 2018 roll-out, to signal continuity over the plan’s five-year history. In its first few years, however, Plan S was a very different beast. The group treaded cautiously, abandoning a planned APC cap and providing generous exemptions and leeway to the big commercial publishers. Though the first-phase Plan S was undoubtedly well-intentioned, its on-the-ground effect was to pave the road for Springer Nature and co. to charge usurious APCs. An argument can be made, indeed, that Plan S midwifed the so-called “transformative” read-and-publish deal, whose effect has been to bake in an author-excluding OA system. Provisions to permit the oligopolists to run with a double-dipping “hybrid” OA approach—with APC-funded OA articles published in subscription journals—had the (unintended) effect of tightening the corporate bear-hug.

Those concessions to the likes of Elsevier were always meant to be temporary. To its credit, cOAlition has announced sunsetting deadlines, fast-approaching indeed. But the group’s real break with its original strategy came—we can now say, in retrospect—with the 2020 hiring of Johan Rooryck as executive director. A Dutch linguist, Rooryck had a major hand in an early Elsevier journal-flipping. He has worked tirelessly, by all evidence, to shift cOAlition S away from its initial (and disastrous) APC embrace. Prominent among his initiatives have been recent efforts, alluded to above, in support of a nonprofit, diamond OA ecosystem.

The tension between Plan S old and new surfaced in a September opinion piece from Robert-Jan Smits, who had helped establish the group. In many respects the article is a multi-paragraph sub-Tweet aimed at Rooryck. Smits doubles-down on APCs, and lashes out at the May Council of Europe statement—the very vision that Rooryck’s cOAlition S just (in effect) countersigned. The “last thing to do,” Smits wrote, is to “change course,” adding that this is “exactly what I am afraid is happening.” Decrying a “left turn,” Smits made his first-phase Plan S loyalties clear:

It was also surprising that the [Council of Europe] gave the impression with their conclusions to wish to exclude the large commercial publishers, which provide a quality service to the science community. These key players in the world of scientific publishing just need to be forced to change their business model and embrace open access at a fair price.

The just-released Rooryck blueprint is a (long-gestating) riposte. Among other things, the plan makes a decisive break with the APC:

The overwhelming majority of academic journals cover their costs through subscriptions, article processing charges (APCs), or both. As a result, researchers can find themselves unable to access relevant research findings (because of subscription paywalls) or unable to publish (because of APC barriers). We fully recognise that publishing incurs costs, but we believe that all researchers should be able to publish their work as Open Access, without author-facing charges.

In what can’t be a coincidence, Rooryck and Smits are set to meet today, in a “5 Years of Plan S” webinar. In my view, Rooryck, with key allies no doubt, has redeemed Plan S. As with Brembs, I was initially a skeptic, sometimes blaming the group for what I’ve called “friendly fire.” That’s still a good description of Plan S phase-one, now dead. Tuesday’s bold announcement was its obituary.


At today’s webinar, Robert-Jan Smits seemed to endorse the “Responsible Publishing” plan, calling it “Plan S 2.0”. It was a somewhat pained endorsement, qualified by skepticism about the viability of a diamond route. In effect, he blamed the commercial publishers for digging their own graves.

  1. I have a foot in both camps, as a director of a diamond OA press and co-lead of the MediArXiv server. 

‘An Initial Scholarly AI Taxonomy’

Adam Hyde, John Chodacki, and Paul Shanon, writing on FORCE11’s Upstream on seven key roles that “AI” could play in a scholarly publishing workflow:

  1. Extract: Identify and isolate specific entities or data points within the content.
  2. Validate: Verify the accuracy and reliability of the information.
  3. Generate: Produce new content or ideas, such as text or images.
  4. Analyse: Examine patterns, relationships, or trends within the information.
  5. Reformat: Modify and adjust information to fit specific formats or presentation styles.
  6. Discover: Search for and locate relevant information or connections.
  7. Translate: Convert information from one language or form to another.

It’s a useful breakdown, but I’m stunned—given the authors and outlet—that there’s no mention of commercial exploitation. Scholarly publishing is dominated, of course, by a for-profit oligopoly, one that mines scholars’ behavior to bundle into proprietary prediction products. As a flurry of recent announcements makes clear, Elsevier and co. are charging into the post-ChatGPT future—with the aim to expand their surveillance-publishing footprint at the expense of scholars and universities. In the real world, the seven Upstream verbs—to extract, to discover, to generate, and so on—will be turned on us.

‘Article defending private-equity involvement in autism services retracted’

From Retraction Watch:

An article that proposed potential benefits of private equity firms investing in autism service providers has been removed from the journal in which it was published.

The author

is founder and CEO of the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE), a company that offers accreditation for organizations that provide ABA services, and she co-founded the Autism Investor Summit, an annual meeting focused on the business side of autism services. She is also an advisory board member for Calex Partners, a firm that provides advice on mergers and acquisitions for autism-related businesses.

Blatant self-interest, but that wasn’t the issue. She seems to have had, um, a ChatGPT problem:

The article titles provided in 22 of the references do not appear in the cited journals’ table of contents or in Google search results.

‘The Tiny, Grammar-Bound Island’

The Hedgehog Review hero image with books by Susanne Langer

My colleague Sue Curry Jansen and I, writing for The Hedgehog Review draft the neglected philosopher Susanne Langer as AI critic:

Our modest objective here is to add a historical dimension to the critical toolkit by highlighting the work of a profoundly underappreciated thinker, whose work advances and thickens the limits-of-language case. Although she was a prolific scholar, Susanne K. Langer’s best-known work was Philosophy in a New Key (1942), published fifteen years before the term “artificial intelligence” was coined. Yet her indictment of the linguistic completists of her day holds up remarkably well; indeed, we can read a prescience, sometimes uncanny, into her paragraphs about the world beyond paragraphs. 

protocols.io has been bepressed

Announced in July, Springer Nature’s acquisition of protocols.io didn’t attract much attention:

protocols.io will form part of Springer Nature’s expanding Solutions business which is committed to providing researchers, and their institutions, with a comprehensive suite of tools and services designed to bolster their success, enhance their impact, and boost productivity. 

It should have: protocols.io is the latest-rule-proving example of the well-intentioned for-profit schol-comm startup: at some point or another, you will be acquired, even if—maybe especially when—you repeatedly declare your mission-driven independence. The verb is to bepress:

to acquire a small, values-driven for-profit by an oligopolist publisher. Coined by Elsevier in 2017. See also: Ubiquity Press.

Diamond Open Access Fund

Per Pippin, writing in LSE Impact on a Diamond Open Access Fund:

Read-and-Publish deals are likely to be short lived; they were, after all, supposed to be ‘transitional deals’. The public money that has so far been spent on these deals could be better invested in this kind of fund when these deals come to an end. This would be truly transformative.

One can quibble with the funding figures that Pippin floats—and with his breakdown of costs. But his core point, that collective funding is the only road to OA that doesn’t exclude authors, is unassailable. The toughest nut to crack is funders’ habitual (and, in some cases, legal) commitment to single-unit, per-work support.

The Scholarly Fingeprinting industry

Note: This essay was recently published in Amerikastudien/American Studies, as part of a Forum on Digitization, Digital Humanities, and American Studies. The essay carries a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.

Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Springer Nature, Wiley, and SAGE: Many researchers know that the five giant firms publish most of the world’s scholarship. Fifty years of acquisitions and journal launches have yielded a stunningly profitable oligopoly, built up from academics’ unpaid writing-and-editing labor. Their business is a form of IP rentiership—collections of title-by-title prestige monopolies that, in the case of Nature or The Lancet, underwrite a stable of spinoff journals on the logic of the Hollywood franchise.

Less well-known is that Elsevier and its peers are layering a second business on top of their legacy publishing operations, fueled by data extraction. They are packaging researcher behavior, gleaned from their digital platforms, into prediction products, which they sell back to universities and other clients. Their raw material is scholars’ citations, abstracts, downloads, and reading habits, repurposed into dashboard services that, for example, track researcher productivity. Elsevier and the other oligopolist firms are fast becoming, in other words, surveillance publishers (Pooley). And they are using the windfall profits from their existing APC-and-subscription business to finance their moves into predictive analytics.

Elsevier is the farthest along. In 2015, its parent company RELX Group announced its “transformation” from publisher to a “technology, content and analytics-driven business,” adding that the firm is “systematically migrating all of our businesses towards electronic decision tools” (RELX Group, Annual Report 2014 5, 4). By then, Elsevier’s decade-long acquisition binge, up and down the research lifecycle, was already underway. In the past decade, it acquired Pure (2012), Mendeley (2013), Newsflo (2015), SSRN (2016), bepress (2017), Parity Computing (2019), and, in spring 2022, Interfolio, the “Faculty Information System” provider. Together with ScienceDirect, the firm’s web-based journal delivery platform, and Scopus, its citation index, Elsevier has assembled a portfolio of knowledge products that spans lab software to research assessment. These are, in a sense, services with benefits: reference management from Mendeley and journal access from ScienceDirect both furnish scholars’ behavioral data back to Elsevier. The company then sells the processed data back to universities and other clients in the form of “research intelligence,” i. e., prediction products like SciVal and Pure that score researcher impact and productivity.

Elsevier, to borrow a computing phrase, has become a full-stack publisher. Its thousands of journals might be seen as data-delivery vehicles—in themselves and by way of trackable engagement. Though some of these researcher-facing services are costly indeed, the core dynamic is not unlike the surveillance businesses built by Google and Facebook (Zuboff). The key difference is that Elsevier gets to charge its customers twice, first through sky-high subscription-and-APC rates and, secondly, for the “decision tools” generated by the legacy business’s behavioral surplus (RELX Group, Annual Report 2021 5). As CUNY law professor Sarah Lamdan put it in a 2021 talk, “[y]our journals are spying on you” (Your Journals). Earlier this year, internet sleuths discovered that Elsevier had embedded a per-download tracker in its PDF metadata (Hansen). Psychologist Eiko Fried followed up with a GDPR data request, which yielded a spreadsheet haul of torrential size. The company, Fried revealed, is tracking article engagement at the granularity of specific image views. The precise ways that these and other data are mined, sorted, and processed into prediction products like SciVal is, of course, shrouded in proprietary secrecy. Elsevier touts what it calls its Fingerprint® Engine, which applies machine learning to its vast trove of researcher data (“signals”) to assign, for example, a list of weighted concepts to a particular researcher (Picadio). As the RELX Group boasts in its latest annual report, the company’s “research intelligence portfolio”—sold to university management, corporate R&D executives, funders, and policy-makers—now generates over a third of Elsevier’s revenue (Annual Report 2021 21, 23). The company states that it expects to improve on its 2021 profit margin which, at 38 percent, places Elsevier among the world’s most lucrative businesses.

The other publishing colossi are playing catch up. Taylor & Francis, a unit of the UK-based intelligence conglomerate Informa Group, has been expanding its “knowledge services” through acquisitions like the Faculty of 1000 platform last year (Annual Report 2021 51–55). The division’s profit margin, at 37 percent, was just hairs off the Elsevier pace (51). Wiley, meanwhile, recently rolled out its journal platform Literatum, built by the software firm it acquired in 2016, Atypon. “Know thy reader,” reads the firm’s pitch. “Literatum’s analytics module tracks and combines publishing-specific content usage data with readers’ site behavior” (Atypon). Wiley’s margin last year was 35 percent (John Wiley & Sons 32). Springer Nature’s parent company, Holtzbrinck, for its part, owns its own full-stack research lifecycle offerings, including the Scopus competitor Dimensions, Pure competitor Symplectic, impact tracker Altmetric, and data repository figshare (Holtzbrinck).

Elsevier’s main competitor, tellingly, is Clarivate, a firm that began as the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in the late 1950s (Wouters). ISI’s founder, Eugene Garfield, helped establish the field of bibliometrics through the company’s Science Citation Index. In 2016, ISI was spun off as Clarivate in a $3.5 billion private equity deal, with Garfield’s citation index—renamed Web of Science—the new company’s crown jewel (Clarivate 5, 12–13). Sold to over 9,000 universities and other customers, Web of Science builds on what was, in Garfield’s citation graph, the original academic prediction product. What Clarivate is selling, after all, is bets on future scholarly productivity and impact. A key growth strategy, the company states, is “moving up the value chain by providing our customers with predictive and prescriptive analytics” (Clarivate 10). Late last year Clarivate—which reported an astonishing 42 percent profit margin—acquired ProQuest, the sprawling library vendor, for over $5 billion (Clarivate 9, 13). The data generated from ProQuest’s library products will almost certainly feed Clarivate’s own “research intelligence” offerings, Converis and InCites. If anything, Elsevier’s leg up on Clarivate has been its access to the rich behavioral surplus produced by its publishing business.

More acquisitions and inter-firm jockeying will proceed at the pace of Wall Street. What is fast emerging is a small band of vertically integrated knowledge brokers, most of them, in Björn Brembs’s phrase, “corporations formerly known as publishers” (“Off to Paris”). Elsevier and its peers, indeed, have used their enormous publishing profits to finance their full-stack acquisitions. In that respect, surveillance publishing is an insult-to-injury story. Scholars justly complain about the insanely lucrative scholarly publishing industry, whose subscription and APC windfalls are made off their unpaid labor. Now Wiley and the others are extracting a second rent, without the consent or notice of scholars.

Most scholars, after all, have no idea that their behavioral cream is getting skimmed for profit. If widely exposed, these next-level predations could build momentum for a nonprofit, academy-led alternative to the oligopolists. As historian Aileen Fyfe has chronicled, the current joint-custody arrangement—nonprofit universities and for-profit publishers—is a recent and reversible development. A community-owned infrastructure is, with slow care, getting built out, with the aim to support new and established scholar-led publishing initiatives. Another scholarly communication world really is possible. We need, however, researcher buy-in in light of predictable—if short-run—prestige penalties; funders and librarians, too, must be shaken from their APC-and-subscription slumbers. The emerging surveillance publishing economy, in that respect, is an opportunity of sorts. A range of scholar-critics, including Renke Siems, George Chen, Leslie Chan, Björn Brembs (“Algorithmic Employment”), and Sarah Lamdan (Data Cartels), have begun to sound the alarm. Our task is to amplify their accounts—to spread the word about surveillance profits—in support of the campaign to restore custody over scholarly publishing.

Works Cited

Atypon. “Analytics.” Atypon, n. d. Web. 20 Aug. 2022. https://www.atypon.com/products/literatum/analytics/.

Brembs, Björn. “Algorithmic Employment Decisions in Academia?” björn.brembs.blog. Björn Brembs, 23 Sept. 2021. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. http://bjoern.brembs.net/2021/09/algorithmic-employment-decisions-in-academia/.

—. “Off to Paris for #FENS2022 with Two Posters.” björn.brembs.blog. Björn Brembs, 8 July 2022. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. http://bjoern.brembs.net/2022/07/off-to-paris-for-fens2022-with-two-posters/.

Chen, George, and Leslie Chan. “University Rankings and Governance by Metrics and Algorithms.” Research Handbook on University Rankings. Ed. Ellen Hazelkorn and Georgiana Mihut. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2021. 425-43. Print.

Clarivate. “Form 10-K.” 1-153. Web. 12 Sept. 2021. https://s25.q4cdn.com/843006813/files/doc_downloads/2022/05/2021_12-Clarivate-Plc-FSs-DOC-10K-(32).pdf

Elsevier. “Elsevier Fingerprint Engine.” Elsevier. Elsevier, n. d. Web. 12 Sept. 2021. https://www.elsevier.com/solutions/elsevier-fingerprint-engine.

Fried, Eiko. “Welcome to Hotel Elsevier: You Can Check-Out Any Time You Like … Not.” Eiko-fried.com. Eiko Fried, 9 May 2022. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://eiko-fried.com/welcome-to-hotel-elsevier-you-can-check-out-any-time-you-like-not/.

Fyfe, Aileen. “Self-Help for Learned Journals: Scientific Societies and the Commerce of Publishing in the 1950s.” _History of Science _60.2 (2022): 255-79. Web. 15 Dec. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1177/0073275321999901.

Hansen, Morten. “Building Education Assets, One Crumb at a Time.” _The Post-Pandemic University _20 Mar. 2022. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://postpandemicuniversity.net/2022/03/20/building-education-assets-one-crumb-at-a-time/.

Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. “About Us.” Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH & Co., n. d. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://www.holtzbrinck.com/.

Informa Group. Annual Report 2021: Digital & Data Acceleration. London: Informa Group, 2022. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. https://www.informa.com/globalassets/documents/investor-relations/2022/informa-annual-report-2021.pdf.

John Wiley & Sons. “Form 10-K.” 2022, 1-111. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://s27.q4cdn.com/812717746/files/doc_financials/2022/q4/Wiley-10K-Annual-Report.pdf.

Lamdan, Sarah. Data Cartels: The Companies That Control and Monopolize Our Information. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2022. Print.

—. “Your Journals Are Spying on You: Research Surveillance in Library Products.” Videotaped Presentation, Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, 22 Oct. 2021. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://media.dlib.indiana.edu/media_objects/76537m18z.

Picadio, Doug. “Fingerprinting: What Is It, and How Can I Use It.” Presentation. Pure International Conference, Barcelona, 10 Oct. 2017. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://www.elsevier.com/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/525613/Day1_Sala3_11_50_D_Picadio.pdf.

Pooley, Jefferson. “Surveillance Publishing.” The Journal of Electronic Publishing 25.1 (2022): 39-49. Web. 15 Dec. 2022. https://doi.org/10.3998/jep.1874.

RELX Group. “Annual Report and Financial Statements 2014.” London: RELX Group, 2015. Web. 3 Oct. 2022. https://www.relx.com/~/media/Files/R/RELX-Group/documents/reports/annual-reports/2014-annual-report.pdf.

—. “Annual Report and Financial Statements 2021.” London: RELX Group, 2022. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://www.relx.com/~/media/Files/R/RELX-Group/documents/reports/annual-reports/relx-2021-annual-report.pdf.

Siems, Renke. “When Your Journal Reads You: User Tracking on Science Publisher Platforms.” Elephant in the Lab. Zenodo, 14 Apr. 2021. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://zenodo.org/record/4683778#.Y1A0xi8RpQI.

Wouters, Paul. “Eugene Garfield (1925–2017).” _Nature _543 (2017): 492. Web. 12 Sept. 2022. https://www.nature.com/articles/543492a.

Zuboff, Shoshana. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. New York: Public Affairs, 2019. Print.

‘University of Texas System and Coursera Launch the Most Comprehensive Industry Micro-Credential Program Offered by a U.S. University System’

Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Silicon Valley for-profit Coursera, on the Coursera blog:

The job market is changing rapidly, and to meet new employer and student demands, universities must also evolve. Today, I’m excited to announce that Coursera and the University of Texas System (UT) have launched a new industry micro-credential program with a goal to prepare every UT campus student, faculty, staff, and alumni for the state’s workforce demands, at no cost to them.

Adds Maggioncalda:

This innovative new program shows where the future of higher education is headed. 

The post is full of innovate-or-die braggadocio. The rhetorical cocktail of hype and “must evolve” necessity is, here as elsewhere, in the service of corporate capture of the nonprofit university tradition. It’s depressing to read UT describe the deal—an embarrassing surrender-cum-outsourcing of its core educational mission—in the same breathless key.

‘American Sociological Association, in absentia but not silent on open science’

Philip Cohen, on his blog, addressing the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) shameful obstructionism on open access:

Alondra Nelson has had a storied career in American social science. After joining the Yale sociology faculty in 2009, she wrote, among many other works, two crucial books: Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (2013), and The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (2016). After moving to Columbia, she became Dean of Social Science in 2014, and then, in 2017, President of the Social Science Research Council.


Needless to say, ASA was delighted to report it when, in 2021, she was named by President Biden to be Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for Science and Society. … Then, in 2022, she was named acting head of OSTP, “the first African American and first woman of color to lead US science and technology policy.” At which point — ASA said nothing. … What happened? Long story short: ASA is fundamentally, strongly, consistently, organizationally, opposed to the crowning achievement of Nelson’s work at OSTP, known around the world as the “Nelson Memo.” It’s subject: “Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research.” Which is exactly what ASA does not want.

The ASA was a signatory to the notorious and jingoistic 2019 “Dear President Trump” letter, with silence since.

As Cohen concludes:

The organization is a perpetual stagnation machine addicted to a toxic diet of publishing rents…

The key issue, at the ASA and some (but certainly not all) learned societies, is dependence on tolled publishing revenue. It’s a hard nut to crack, without resorting to APCs, but there’s lots of interesting experimentation going on, including subscribe-to-open.

MIT’s New Full-Book PDF Download Button

Speaking of the MIT Press, sometime in mid-April the press’s OA books began including a full-book, single-button download.1 Finally!

A screenshot of an MIT Press online book, with a full-book pdf button

As I and others have complained, the chapter-by-chapter download mode used by JSTOR, Project MUSE, and a number of OA publishers (MIT too, until recently) is a download-and-concatenate nightmare. It’s also baffling: Beyond edited collections, who wants just a single chapter? I always wondered if the chapter approach was publisher-driven sand-in-the-download-gears, to make OA access inconvenient enough to drive sales. Who knows. Either way, a big win for the MIT Press.

  1. The last book I could find without the Book PDF button was published April 18, 2023. 

‘The Corporate Capture of Open-Access Publishing’

An excellent Chronicle piece [paywalled, alas] from Sarah Kember (Goldsmiths Press) and Amy Brand (the MIT Press), on the slate of well-intentioned OA policies from the U.S., Europe, and Britain:

As the heads of progressive university presses on two sides of the North Atlantic, we support open and equitable access to knowledge. If history is any guide, however, the new policies may unintentionally contribute to greater consolidation in academic publishing — and encourage commercial publishers to value quantity over quality and platforms over people. Unless the new open-access policies are accompanied by direct investment from funders, governments, and universities in nonprofit publishers and publishing infrastructure, they could pose a threat to smaller scholarly and scientific societies and university presses, and ultimately to trust in published knowledge.

The commentary includes sharp takedowns of read-and-publish deals, as well as commercial-publisher data hoovering.

If I have a critique, it’s that the authors are vague about whether “truly public knowledge” should or must be open. They imply as much, and suggest direct (or collective) funding along MIT’s Direct-to-Open, with a nod to “state-owned, noncommercial platforms” (Europe!). Still, it would be possible to read the piece’s incisive critique of corporate OA as a warning agains the “false promise of ‘openness’” tout court.

I suspect the ambiguity is a result, in part, of the very challenging OA economics of university presses—especially those, unlike Kember’s Goldsmiths, built on legacy, print-based models. Though a small number of legacy presses—MIT and Michigan, for example—are leverage direct funding (with back-catalogue access as a carrot) to open up new books, most other U.S. university presses can’t—not with their cost structure—easily publish OA monographs without a large, author-excluding book processing charge (BPC). It’s telling that BPCs aren’t mentioned in the piece, even as Kember and Brand (rightly) call out Springer Nature et al for their usurious APCs.

They’re right, to wrap the point, that the nonprofit university press sector is an indispensable part of any future community-led publishing infrastructure. Yes. Still, the UP world will need to drop the BPC route, and turn instead to direct funding from libraries, host universities, and other funders.

‘What’s the point of having open scholarly infrastructures and how do we test their resilience?’

Martin Eve:

For me, the fundamental meta-principle, or ideal, that underpins POSI (the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure) is forkability and persistence. Taken on aggregate and implemented, an organization that signs up for POSI should be duplicable. That is: I should be able, as a reasonably technically competent individual, to acquire all the components of a POSI-posse signatory, and rebuild/resurrect their technical architecture.

Adds Eve:

Certainly, this can be a scary proposition to those unschooled in thinking this way. Might not other organizations just usurp us if we do this? What’s to stop someone else just stepping in and re-selling all of our data?

Forkability and persistence, for sure. But why not foreclose some of the nightmare scenarios with non-commercial licensing? Eve lists NC licenses as among the ways that an organization might skirt POSI principles without fulfilling their spirit:

Likewise, you might comply with the spirit of POSI by licensing your data openly, but under conditions that limit who could ever resurrect the project (e.g. CC-BY-ND, CC-BY-NC, or, even, CC-BY-SA – even though I am usually a fan of ShareAlike licenses).

I respectfully disagree. Indeed, a major flaw in the POSI principles is that they don’t make an explicit call-out to nonprofit status. Scholarly infrastructure shouldn’t just be open, but nonprofit too. The alternative is capture-by-acquisition.1

  1. Eve had his own, OA monograph experience with CC BY profiteering. 

‘Royal Society of Chemistry transformative agreements gather pace in North America’

The Royal Society of Chemistry, announcing still-more transformative [sic] agreements:

The growth of transformative agreements within the North America region includes multiple read and publish deals in the USA and new country deals in Mexico and Canada. This builds on a trend of year-on-year growth within the region, since our first deal with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, signed in 2018. […]The number of deals has grown rapidly within the region every year, with 2023 seeing 28 new deals in the region, including our first agreements with partners in Canada and Mexico.

I wonder if MIT would sign such a deal today, given MIT Libraries’ public distancing from such deals:

At MIT, we have innovated and experimented in open access models for many years. Our experience has led us to become increasingly concerned about the implications of per-article payment models that serve as the basis for the UC–Elsevier and other [read and publish] agreements. Locking in a norm where an author, funder, and/or institution must pay an opaque and often costly fee for the right to publish an article risks locking out scholars from less privileged institutions and less well funded disciplines. Equitable opportunity to contribute to scholarly literature is as important for the integrity and usefulness of scholarship as is the open accessibility to read.

MIT Libraries is a leader among the Ivy Plus institutions, who recently took a similar stand against APCs in general, and transformative/read-and-publish deals in particular.

As the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) put it in its own recent statement,

So-called “Big Deals” – “read and publish agreements” between (consortia of) research libraries, institutions, and universities on the one hand, and scientific publishers on the other – have further exacerbated these inequities and contributed to the consolidation of the already dominant market position of the major commercial publishers.

The Royal Society of Chemistry calls its transformative agreements “an essential stepping stone.” But they’re actually stepping backward.

‘And then our sound science, APC-funded journal became our achilles heel’

Gaynor Redvers-Mutton of the Biochemical Society, in an interview with Scholastica on the Society’s disastrous dalliance with APCs:

Commercially, the rationale inbuilt to the APC-funded model of OA publishing is to out publish everyone else to scale your operations to publish research faster and more furiously than others. Basically, to win market share — the more you publish, the more you earn. As a not-for-profit publisher, we don’t have that commercial imperative, but for other reasons, we have had a glimpse into what this type of publishing looks like and have been burnt by it.

The Society had flipped one of their journals to APC-based OA, back in 2012. By 2019, they were having doubts:

The wholesale move to an author-pays model didn’t stand up to the Society’s collective view that the ‘ability to publish should not be linked with an individual researcher’s ability to pay.’ Article publishing charge-based open access models that removed the barrier to reading replaced it with a new barrier to publishing and therefore ran contrary to prevailing views.

That year, and into 2020, the Society was targeted by bad actors:

And then our sound science, APC-funded journal became our achilles heel. We were an early target of papermill activity, and just as this blight hit us several years ago, it has now spread sector wide.

The whole interview is worth reading.

A Non-Update on the Organization Formerly Known as edX

Goldie Blumenstyk, writing for The Chronicle [paywalled] on her conversation with Cathie Smith, interim head of the nonprofit slated to inherit $800 million from the betrayal-cum-sale of edX to for-profit OPM provider 2U:

As [Smith] shared with me, the center has identified three broad areas of focus: digital technology, innovation and research, and expanding access to high-quality learning experiences. That doesn’t seem to narrow things down very much. […] She and the board are trying to get a handle on which organizations out there are already doing what, and, as she put it, “understanding where we add value.” That process involves talking with a range of organizations and individuals about “the challenges that perpetuate inequalities.”The center’s first online-learning projects could begin as soon as this winter. But I’m not expecting any proclamation of a grand, detailed 10-year strategy. Smith made clear that the center sees itself as “a learning organization” that could shift goals as new priorities surface.

That’s some impressive progress, two years since the sale. Meanwhile, Elsevier announced last week that its Osmosis health education platform is joining the “global edX partner network.” edX/2U will host Elsevier’s Professional Certificate program in Healthcare Foundations.

So the post-sale edX successor is talking to folks about “challenges that perpetuate inequalities.” Here’s something for that list: higher-ed privatization via Elsevier.

‘Choices of immediate open access and the relationship to journal ranking and publish-and-read deals’

Lars Wenaas, in a 2002 Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analysis study of Norwegian read-and-publish (i.e., “transformative”) deals, found that the deals drove scholars to publish in high-prestige hybrid journals over full-OA journals and green repositories. Hardly a surprise, but the perverse dynamic is another reason that Plan S’s announcement to end support for such deals after 2024 can’t come soon enough.

Table showing proportion of Norwegian articles published open access in various modes

‘Big Tech has a glaring double standard when it comes to web scraping’

A good story, from Fast Company, on social media sites’ discrimination against researchers:

Independent researchers have used web scraping to reveal large-scale disinformation operations, horrifying malfunctions in platform algorithms, and more. But scraped data isn’t only beneficial for public interest research—it also has enormous commercial value. Scraping is the bread and butter of the “social listening” industry, which collects and analyses social media data on behalf of companies who want to find out what people think of their brand and keep tabs on trends that might impact their business. Multimillion-dollar companies like Brandwatch and Meltwater use a variety of methods to collect this data, including web scraping, and sell access to their data tools though subscriptions that cost thousands of dollars per month. Yet while researchers are routinely served cease-and-desist letters for the same practices, social listening companies are considered trusted partners of social media companies.

As the author—researcher Brandi Geurnik—notes, firms like Facebook often weaponize privacy to shut down scholars’ access. Now the machine-learning boom is leading sites to aggressively monetize API access—pricing researchers out.