Collaboration without Elsevier is the key to open access and open science

This morning, Times Higher Education published a strange and awkward piece from a representative of Elsevier. If you have a subscription you can view it online here. Unsurprisingly for Elsevier though, it contained a number of misleading statements. As such, I left a comment on the article challenging many elements of this, which you can also view here. Just as a note, it should not be left to individuals like me to combat this sort of behaviour. It is tiring and time consuming to constantly be a watchdog in this space, and I call upon others to speak up and use their expertise to challenge the spread of misinformation from Elsevier and others.

For those without access through the loginwall though, here is my comment re-posted in full:

There are a number of misleading and generally awkward statements in this piece.

If Elsevier ‘deeply regretted’ the situation with the University of California (UC), perhaps it would lower its negotiation stances instead of bullying UC and shutting off access to research for their researchers. UC has, in fact, had to fact check and give a rebuttal on many of Elsevier’s misleading claims about the negotiations: https://osc.universityofcalifornia.edu/2019/08/fact-check-uc-and-elsevier/

If Elsevier fully supported Open Access (OA), then why is it one of the smallest OA publishers by proportion. 7% gold by its own measure. Absolute numbers mean very little here compared to the relative proportions at other OA publishers like PLOS, BioMed Central, PeerJ, and the thousands of fully OA journals out there, which all have 100% OA. And let us not forget the heroic efforts that Elsevier have done in the past in stopping progressive OA policies, including running smear PR campaigns against it (e.g., https://www.nature.com/articles/445347a)

If Elsevier ‘serves’ the research community, then why is it so difficult for them to give researchers what they want? This contradicts the statement that Elsevier regrets the current state of affairs. If they did, then they would adjust their services accordingly; for example, by lowering prices, removing embargoes, stopping advertising impact factors, etc.

The comment about investing significant resources into each published article is preposterous. Elsevier embeds hyperlinks into PDFs. This was technologically feasible 20 years ago.

It is misleading to state that green OA is associated with an embargo period; it is about authors self-archiving a version of their work on a repository. It is further misleading to associate ‘gold’ OA with a fee; this is about free accessibility at the journal website. Elsevier knows this. But continues to perpetuate falsehoods and myths to mislead their customers. Evidence against many of the statements in this piece can be found here: https://www.mdpi.com/2304-6775/7/2/34/htm

If Elsevier supports OA so much, then why are only 7% of their articles gold OA? Is it not because authors are unwilling to pay the prices they charge? Elsevier puts the blame at the feet of the authors for not choosing their model, when the reality is that they have made it such a difficult and unsustainable level to reach.
The statement about being below the industry average needs a supporting citation. Especially as we know that there are around 3 times as many journals as Elsevier publish out there which charge zero APCs, according to the DOAJ: https://sustainingknowledgecommons.org/2018/02/06/doaj-apc-information-as-of-jan-31-2018/

The quality statement too needs a supporting reference. If Elsevier equates citations per article with quality, then they are are continuing to perpetuate misleading information.

When Elsevier uses words like ‘sustainable’, I do not think it means what it thinks they mean. The term ‘sustainable’ means maintaining Elsevier’s 37% profit margins and projected growth. Everyone else means not wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and more on a for-profit publisher that continues to aggressively mislead its customers, and lobby against progressive OA models, when a number of better, non-profit, community-led initiatives exist.

The fact is that it is this sort of propaganda piece that continues to make Elsevier one of the most despised companies in the world. Elsevier throws around misleading and unsupported statements that are so far from the truth, and expect to keep getting away with it.

I am surprised that a piece riddled with so many factual inaccuracies was able to make it past the editors of THE, and their typically high standards. For a more evidence-based account of Elsevier’s practices, I suggest this report via Education International that I helped to write. It gives a much more accurate account of Elsevier’s business practices: https://bit.ly/2PPjwRK