Supports Open Access

by Paul Maharg on 10/11/2015

All three of my regular readers will know this blog’s commitment Open Access, not just in education (OER), not just in collaboration between institutions, but in Open Access to research as well.  Lingua is one of the foremost journals in the Linguistics community, and published by Elsevier.  Laughably, the website sports the label Supports Open Access.  The editors protested Elsevier’s policies on pricing and requested that it convert the journal to an open-access publication that would be free online under a collective of editors.  Elsevier refused.  Lingua’s entire Board and editors have now resigned in protest at Elsevier’s policies.  They plan to start a new open-access journal.  Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities put the issues well from a US perspective:

As publishers have merged and become more powerful, universities are often paying more for publishers’ markups. The federal government makes massive investments in researchers, staff and facilities to advance knowledge; publishers do not. Universities similarly make big investments in research. University faculty generally are the authors, editors and reviewers of the articles coming out of that research. To get their articles published, faculty usually must transfer significant copyrights to the publishers. Then the publishers sell back to the universities the very content they as a group produced, and at steadily higher subscription prices. The system is fundamentally broken.

Elsevier responded, and you might have thought that they’d get a very public statement of their position correct at first go, but no, it seems misrepresentation just goes with the corporate territory.  For a scathing analysis of Elsevier’s response see Martin Paul Eve’s blog posting. Discussing what’s sustainable (one of Elsevier’s key points), he writes:
They did, of course, make $1.1 billion profit in 2012 on a 36% profit rate. They have just established (correction: leased) new offices in the UK that include basketball courts for their staff, even as our university budgets here face a forecasted cut of 40%. So they may have a different idea, in the mind of shareholders, as to what “sustainable” actually means. I define it as: covering labour, technological and business costs necessary to publishing on a not-for-profit/charitable basis. Not paying for Elsevier to play basketball on our time.
Elsevier’s concept of sustainable is uniquely corporate.  As Martin stated in the last line of his post, ”what is “sustainable” for Elsevier is unsustainable for universities’.   The Open Access and Digital Scholarship blog at Imperial pointed out the parasitical nature of their business model:
John Ulmschneider, Librarian at the Virginia Commonwealth University, estimates that with current price increases the cost for subscription payments would “eat up the entire budget for this entire university in 20 years”. Partly in response to that, VCU has launched its own open access publishing platform.
Of course Elsevier is only the worst case.  As I point out in the six points at the foot of this post, all the major journal publishers are at it.  At a time when an entire nation’s universities have announced a boycott of Elsevier (even though as Stevan Harnad points out the Dutch government’s position is basically a Gold Access one and doesn’t go far enough), and where there is action from a journal’s entire academic staff (Lingua’s six editors, 31 editorial board members), where do you stand, if you’re an academic, on the issue of OA in research?  I’m with Brian Leiter: this needs to happen more.  It’s an example of neoliberalist, corporatist behaviour in the very midst of the university, and we allow it to flourish.  Coincidentally, the second issue of the European Journal of Law and Technology, edited by Abhilash Nair and me, is just out.  Our journal doesn’t have a label that says Supports Open Access.  Instead, we have a paywall of £0.00 to individuals, which for institutions rises to an eye-watering £0.00, while separate articles are downloadable at a prohibitive cost of £0.00, and your library can only purchase rights to it in a bundle of other OA journals such as our sister European Journal of Current Legal Issues at the rip-off sum of £0.00.  Scandalous.

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