If you haven't done yet: sign up on The Cost of Knowledge

I got an invitation to review a paper for Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Naturally, I declined to review. And you should, too. Always. Because it's published by Elsevier.

Admittedly, I rarely get invitations to review. Especially from Mol. Phyl. Evol. (MPE) where I ended up on the blacklist very early in my career. Why? Well, I submitted my first first-author paper, the second phylogenetic paper I (co-)wrote, to them (2004); we waited three or more months to be informed by two peers that we (including I) lack any competence to perform a molecular phylogenetic study (using some 200 ITS sequences of maples) and should seek out help from a professional (a quite similar paper, but then with 606 sequences and using a rather unknown phylogeny software, RAxML, was finally published in 2006). Shortly after the "reject", however, I got two invitations to review molecular phylogenetic papers for MPE (within the same week, one eastern European, one Chinese; pretty much all papers, I got to review in my career, came from underdeveloped science nations). Including one from the very editor that handled my submission and rejected our research! I didn't decline but pointed out that I'm surprised having been upgraded from an idiot to an expert in such short time (and without having published a second paper). I never got any reply, or any further invitation. And when I accidentally did (about a decade later), I had to decline because I knew about Elsevier by then.

Elsevier is not only the oldest but probably the worst of all pro-profit science publishers. Let me bullet-point a few things, I experienced:
  • The production staff is usually incompetent and unresponsive (unless it's one of their best-market journals). Don't blame them, they are the cheapest you can get on the globe for doing the job, and being able to converse in English, the international science language, is obviously not a requirement.
  • To force scientists stopping ordering paper handouts (which are not very profitable) to PDFs (which are highly profitable), already a decade ago, when you ordered (old-fashioned) handouts, you paid good money for your poorly printed, on crappy paper, and stuffed into to tiny boxes, handouts.
  • The editors seem often to be hand-cuffed by journal regulations.
  • Elsevier may now encourage open data (like Mol. Phylogenet. Evol.) but doesn't oblige. So, you more often than not, see this snippet: "Data available on request/not available".
  • It fucked up with many state library systems worldwide being the master of ripping off the public hand. A particular deal of Elsevier is (was, they budged a bit) that you can't subscribe to one journal or those you want but need to subscribe packages, including the journal(s) you wanted and a lot of journal otherwise dusting on the shelves.
  • It's the main force behind the "Coalition of Responsible Sharing", which should ensures, only Elsevier can share publicly financed research when getting paid for it.
In short, Elsevier may not be an (openly) predatory publisher but it is definitely an evil one. Hence, when you get an invitation to review for an Elsevier journal, there is only one answer (I don't blame you for publishing in them, because as authors we usually have very little choice where to go with our fruits so they may become fruitful for our careers). Here's my response to the recent invitation (feel free to copy).

Dear Xxx,

thanks for considering me as a reviewer, the paper sounds interesting and I probably could help the authors to straighten it up.

But I have to decline because I don't work for Elsevier, the founder of the "Coalition of Responsible Sharing" owned by a highly profitable company (RELX), who many years forced the public hand into subscription packets (why e.g. Sweden and Germany cancelled all Elsevier subscriptions, and more recently Norway) and never bothered to provide any proper services to its authors and reviewers and, last but not least, still gives a shit (sorry for the language but there's no nice way to put it) about data accessibility (the example deals with a paper published in MPE).

You shouldn't either. One can still join the boycott here:

Cheers, Guido

PS Any journal like MPE that doesn't enforce open data lacks, to my personal opinion, scientific credibility.

In case you need more reasons to sign up and join the boycott, just check out these posts on Res.I.P.
  • Elsevier needs my help ...Elsevier enquires about open science (while practising the opposite, see Elsevier's research data ...).
  • I found mail ...Elsevier's courtesy mail to me for having found copyright protected content on ResearchGate and correcting this error (but only for a paper that received much attention)
  • The Kraken awakes ...Elsevier launches the "Coalition of Responsible Sharing" to go after ResearchGate (however, don't do anything about, one wonders why?) with links to Elsevier's and alike unique business model: you (the scientist) buy the lot, you pay for all the material, you build the house, your colleagues check it and beauty it up (ideally), you do the finish, and in the end you pay an agent/realtor (the publisher) a fee for each friend you invite into your house, and a monthly rent to look at it, just because they added a doorbell and name sign. And have to ask them whether you can make pictures of the house you paid for and built.
  • Elsevier's research data ...Me finding out what applies when you ask for the data behind a poorly made phylogenetic study (published in Mol. Phylogenet. Evol.): made be available on request or not available at all.
In case you have no idea how the scientific publishing business rolls, here's an introductory video for the general public.

Postscriptum: Sweden signed now a deal with Elsevier granting free access to research by Swedish researchers, from Sweden (for Swedish citicens). Bright new world, innit? Nationalism is truly on the rise, by accident or out of necessity. Sweden still refused to pay the usual bill, but all public-paid research needs to be open access, and Elsevier owns some journals that are instrumental to scientific careers: branding is important in science.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Enter your comment ...