We cannot rely on for-profit corporations to build open scholarly infrastructure

April 10, 2017

Back in 2012, in response to the Cost Of Knowledge declaration, Elsevier made all articles in “primary math journals” free to read, distribute and adapt after a four-year rolling window. Today, as David Roberts points out, it seems they have silently withdrawn some of those rights. In particular, the “free” articles can no longer be redistributed or adapted — which, for example, prevents their use in teaching or in Wikipedia articles.

We don’t know when this changed. It just did, quietly, at some point after the Cost of Knowledge anger had died down, when no-one was watching them carefully. So here, once more, Elsevier prove that they are bad actors who simply cannot be trusted.

There is a broader and more important point here: we simply can’t build a meaningfully open scholarly infrastructure that is dependent on the whims of corporations. It can’t be done.

Whatever corporations like Elsevier give us one day, they can and will take away another day. They can’t help themselves. It’s in their nature. And, really, it’s unreasonable of us to expect anything different from a corporation whose reason for existing is to enrich its shareholders.

So to have a genuinely open scholarly infrastructure, there is no real alternative to building it ourselves, within the scholarly community. It’s worse that useless to sit around waiting for likes of Elsevier to gift us the infrastructure we need. It’s not in their interests.

So once more, folks: there’s no need for us to be hostile to Elsevier et al. Just walk away. Do not deal with them. They are not on your side. They never have been, and they never will be. They will give just enough ground to defuse anger when it threatens their bottom line; that’s all. Then they will take the ground back when it suits them.


Note. This post is based on a series of tweets.

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5 Responses to “We cannot rely on for-profit corporations to build open scholarly infrastructure”

  1. Dale mcinnes Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Publishing
    corporations have little academic interests
    Except for their shareholders and enriching
    themselves. But you could also say the same
    for gov’t. So we know what doesn’t work. The
    only REAL solution is to create a corporation
    within palaeontology which would then set up
    Its own publishing house and use it for a tax
    write-off. That publishing house MUST be run
    by academia. Such a publishing house only requires “administration”. Many corporations do this but within their specific field of interest. The solution you’re talking about now is not worth talking about because you’re talking about the “CART” only. What is missing is any conversation about the “HORSE”.

  2. Bryan L Says:

    The open journal infrastructure already exists. Take the EGU journals for exampe.

    Yet every time Nature starts yet another sub-journal, scientists flock to it. As long as scientists believe in the cult of publishing house brand name, nothing will change.

    The “HORSE”, in other words.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    I think you nailed it, Bryan. That’s why everything comes down to how scholars evaluate each other.

  4. Nathan Myers Says:

    I only just found out a couple of months ago that speedgoats are really short giraffes. It makes me wonder whether giraffes will dive under fences in preference to stepping over them.

  5. Dale mcinnes Says:

    I think you made a very interesting point here. For a profit oriented Corp. it should not be entirely dependent upon publishing nor have shareholders. The kind of for-profit Corp. that you are actually looking for simply does not exist. The kind of corporation you are searching for would have to be devoted to the science of palaeontology. Furthermore, such a corporation would be better off gifting palaeontology with its own publication(s). These in turn would be under scholarly control. The gifting would have to be large enough to be completely self-sustaining for at least 50 years. That’s a big order and a very satisfying one but currently non-existent. I am trying to set this up. I actually know how BUT the seed money is the most difficult to raise. I am trying a very unorthodox way of doing this. I am not alone in this endeavour but it ties in neatly with what I am currently involved in. Admittedly, it is a long shot. We literally have to re-invent the wheel in this science. There are industries that do make this work …. just not ours.


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