For some time now, many of us having been deeply unimpressed with the fact that Elsevier, one of the chief opponents to the progress of Open Science, will be helping to monitor the future of Open Science in Europe. Metaphors about foxes and hen-houses have been flying everywhere.
We have launched several initiatives to try and combat this.
Approaching the European Commission and EU Ombudsman
One of these was a formal complaint to the EU Ombudsman and the European Commission. Herein, we outlined 2 major groups of issues. The first was more around the awarding process to Elsevier and their group itself, and some elements which we believed required more transparency. The second was around the role of Elsevier, issues with the proposed methods, and the enormous conflicts of interest apparent in having Elsevier monitoring services and processes that they and their competitors sold.
Following this, there were a flurry of exchanges, the most important one being that the EU Commission produced a detailed report to respond to our questions. While this clarified many of the issues, mostly regarding the award process itself, it did not adequately address a number of others; primarily regarding the bias and conflicts of interest around Elsevier and the proposed methodologies.
Our latest step here was to obtain a copy of the awarding contract, which we have now made public (with permission). The original tender is still online here. It seems that pretty much everything checks out here from the EC, as we should have expected. We really appreciate the efforts of the Commission here in providing detailed responses and more transparency to our queries; especially after the callous dismissals by Elsevier and the Lisbon Council that we received when we originally raised these issues. It seems that our concerns were extremely well founded, as justified by the fact that the EC had to perform a full investigation into the process. No apology from either Elsevier or the Lisbon Council for their ad hominem retorts has been given since.
Petitioning the European Parliament
More than 1100 people signed our original complaint to the EU Ombudsman. However, as this was just drafted as a Google Doc, they weren’t ‘formal’ signatories. As such, one additional step taken was to launch a petition through the EU to request that Elsevier be removed as the sole contractor for the Open Science Monitor. It took a while to get processed, but this finally went live here recently.
At the time of writing this, it has 178 signatories. Sadly, a number of people have informed me that the process for signing is clunky and very off-putting. For this, I apologise, and have notified the Secretariat, but there is little I can do besides that.
What is next then?
Well, this is where things get a little vague. The Commission don’t seem to care about Elsevier, and their continuous exploitation of the public purse and research enterprise. They seem to not be fully conscious of the conflicts of interest inherent in having Elsevier in a position in which they will so clearly benefit from. They also do not seem to appreciate the fairly offensive irony in having Elsevier monitoring a system that was essentially catalysed by their regressive business practices.
Regarding the Monitor itself, this still seems like it is going to be largely based on biased, proprietary data and systems. These limitations serve to make it virtually functionally useless, in my personal view. Indeed, I fail to see any real advantage in ‘monitoring’ open science in the first place; especially in favour of grassroots, community-led initiatives towards increasing openness. We don’t need more metrics and measurements, we need smarter thinking. The monitor largely fails to achieve this, in its present state. It also fails to uphold the basic spirit and principles of open science, another bitter irony here.
The updated methodology for the Monitor does not exactly inspire confidence either. Many of the concerns about Elsevier raised here and through the open consultation, such as the biased data sources and inherently ‘closed’ nature of the process, were simply dismissed out of hand. However, one bonus is that there seems to be an expert advisory group now in place, comprising a number of excellent and rational voices in this space. My hope is that the Monitor team listen carefully to what they have to say, especially regarding the limitations of the entire venture.
Besides that, the only thing we have left here is the petition. We can hope that, if a significant number of people sign it, those at the EC realise that the issues with Elsevier here deserve much more attention. So, I encourage you to sign if you have not already, and also to help share it as widely as possible.
If this is unsuccessful, then Elsevier will remain in a position where they are helping to monitor open science in Europe. For an organisation that has invested tens of billions of dollars in preventing public access to knowledge, lobbying against open access, designing proprietary systems, and continues to be one of the biggest threats to democratic access to knowledge, to now be engaged in monitoring open science, is an unthinkable irony.
We can do better. What do you think some best next steps might be?