Should universities accept Elsevier’s negotiation with Jisc? Who knows? It’s secret.

November 25, 2016

So I came across this tweet from Laurent Gatto, who’s head of the Computational Proteomics Unit at the University of Cambridge, UK:

My immediate reaction was not to retweet. Why? Because I am not comfortable recommending rejection (or acceptance!) of something I’ve not seen. I said so, and Laurent explained the real issue:

So I have two simple questions:

First, How can this massive spending on public money possibly be confidential? What justification can there possibly be for that? And second, how can there be meaningful discussion of the offer on the table if no-one knows what it is?

And then I remembered the classic explanation of confidentiality clauses from Elsevier’s David Tempest: “we have this level of confidentiality […] Otherwise everybody would drive down, drive down, drive drive drive”.

So my first reaction was to say that if anyone comes across a leaked copy of the draft agreement, let me know and I will link to it from this post. But I am also open to hear from anyone who thinks there is a legitimate reason, that I’ve not thought of, to enforce confidentiality. So if you have a reason, please mention it in the comments. If not, but you know where there is a leaked copy, email me privately on


13 Responses to “Should universities accept Elsevier’s negotiation with Jisc? Who knows? It’s secret.”

  1. Mike Taylor Says:

    What does that mean, David?

  2. So that I can click the ‘Notify me of new comments via email’ box :-).

  3. paulasimoes Says:

    IMHO, If it has been negotiated in secret, then that’s reason enough to reject it. Spending public money should be transparent. Even if the agreement is good (which I doubt), in the end it will be bad for researchers. Citizens start asking where their money is being spent, if we can’t tell them, they’re not going to like it…
    If publishers want approval of an agreement that involves public money they should be prepared to make it public. If they don’t, researchers should reject it until they do. Otherwise they’ll continue to do the same.
    Also, some countries have laws that allow any citizen to request access to documents from public institutions (not sure if it is the case of your country).

  4. kram1032 Says:

    It stands for “subscribe” – basically “I have nothing to say at this point but I want to be informed of future developments”.
    It’s honestly a bit of a downfall of wordpress that you can’t just directly ask to be informed of future posts without having to comment first. But oh well. I’m also interested in future developments, so:

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Paula, you make a compelling case.

    As you point out, we have freedom-of-information legislation in the UK, which means it’s almost certain that the terms of this agreement are going to be made public at some point. That being so, we have to ask, who benefits by their being private at this point? And the obvious answer is: people who want to avoid the deal being under scrutiny.

  6. Allen Hazen Says:

    Anyone with a LONG memory here? My sense is that the general legal (and sociocultural) norm has gotten a lot more indulgent toward private corporations since your compatriots elected Maggie T and mine elected Ronnie Raygun. Has the “confidentiality” of negotiations over things like this gotten worse in recent decades, or was this just what one expected in the bad old days?

  7. steelgraham Says:

    Blog post from Jisc due out later today.

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Graham. Followup post coming soonish.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yes! Quite astonishing! And very beautiful.

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