"Unleashing the Power of Academic Sharing"



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A month ago Elsevier, the publisher of many scientific journals and books, announced its new policy on sharing Elsevier journal articles. The policy was described in an article by Alicia Wise, PhD, who is Elsevier’s Director of Access and Policy. The article, Unleashing the power of academic sharing, begins thussly:

The deeply rooted culture of sharing in the research community is one of the driving forces behind scientific advancement. At Elsevier, we’re working with the research community to make sharing simple and seamless while being consistent with access and usage rights associated with journal articles.

Sounds wonderful! I have written before on several occasions about the “greedy for-profit scientific publishers,” here are the posts:

The Impending Demise of Greedy For-Profit Scientific Publishers (Part I)

The Impending Demise of Greedy For-Profit Scientific Publishers (Part II)

Greedy Publishers III: Oxford University Press

Have they decided to change?

Unfortunately, no. In the Elseverian version of Newspeak, “academic sharing” means precisely the opposite. When you delve into the description of the new policy, it turns out that it actually prohibits the authors from freely sharing their own articles, published in an Elsevier journal, during the period of embargo that lasts from 1 to 4 years, depending on the journal. You can find out more at the Confederation of Open Access Repositories site. It also states that the new policy will be applied to the articles already published, so something that was available may have to be taken down.

I checked the list of embargo periods, and all but a few of the articles with ‘history’ or ‘archaeology’ in their titles impose an embargo period of 36 months. As all working scientists know, getting a paper published often takes years; adding another three years before it becomes freely accessible can doom it to obscurity.


By Julia Forsythe

Of course, most European and North American universities (including mine) pay Elsevier, so it is easy for us to access the articles. But few institutions in the rest of the world can afford this luxury. And Elsevier journals are very costly. Libraries either pay exorbitant price for the journal you want, or they are forced to subscribe to a big bundle of them, including many that their users have no interest in.

I expect that, as library budgets continue shrinking, eventually even many North American universities will no longer be able to afford these subscriptions.

Now Elsevier is not breaking any laws. We live in a capitalist society, and everybody has the right to make money (and for-profit scientific publishers continue to be very profitable enterprises with profit margins of 30-40%). The best way to deal with Elsevier and their ilk is simply to not deal with them at all.

Over the past year and a half, I have turned down four offers from for-profit publishers to write articles for their publications or to serve on editorial boards. I have also advised a number of colleagues to do the same. Not all agree with me, but I think the tide is turning against the greedy publishers. The Cost of Knowledge site lists more than 15,000 researchers who have joined the boycott against Elsevier.


Image is © Michael Eisen,

The irony of the situation is that scientists do not need the for-profit publishers to disseminate their results. There are now plenty of open-access publishing alternatives, including PLOS ONE and, if I may add, the journal I edit, Cliodynamics: The Journal of Quantitative History and Cultural Evolution.


Notes on the margin: A new issue of Cliodynamics will be published by the end of the month. Great articles!

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Gordon Ingram

Just a quick note to say that I fully support your stand and admire you for being so public about it. If even 50% of academics at your level did the same, the system would change overnight. Best wishes, Gordon


Thank you, Peter, and best wishes.

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