Everyone hates Elsevier

Everyone. For years. As a grad student I knew what a parasite Elsevier was. Librarians hate Elsevier. You should hate Elsevier, if you don’t already. It’s a company with their boot on the neck of scientific information, and they’re one of the reasons you can’t easily get past the paywalls limiting access to information you already paid for.

Some editors are taking a stand and walking out on Elsevier.

More than 40 leading scientists have resigned en masse from the editorial board of a top science journal in protest at what they describe as the “greed” of publishing giant Elsevier.

The entire academic board of the journal Neuroimage, including professors from Oxford University, King’s College London and Cardiff University resigned after Elsevier refused to reduce publication charges.

In case you’re wondering why…

Elsevier, a Dutch company that claims to publish 18% of the world’s scientific papers, reported a 10% increase in its revenue to £2.9bn last year. But it’s the profit margins, nearing 40%, according to its 2019 accounts, which anger academics most. The big scientific publishers keep costs low because academics write up their research – typically funded by charities and the public purse – for free. They “peer review” each other’s work to verify it is worth publishing for free, and academic editors collate it for free or for a small stipend. Academics are then often charged thousands of pounds to have their work published in open-access journals, or universities will pay very high subscription charges.

That’s right. Somehow we all work for Elsevier. We reinforce that because we voluntarily make our volunteer work in reviewing papers for the publishing companies part of our praiseworthy work listed in our tenure and promotion reviews.

We have to laugh at our situation.


  1. invivoMark says

    Researchers should make a conscious effort to publish in academic society journals.

    Not because the publication fees are necessarily better – and in fact they’re about to get a lot worse, because we will no longer be able to rely on subscription fees after 2024. But at least the money is doing some good at a nonprofit, and not being gobbled up by shareholders at absurd profit rates.

  2. euclide says

    There is an “easy” fix : forbid copyright transfer and exclusive publishing contract for any tax funded science research and instead force every university to host a copy their research papers on their own internet website

    Pass such a law in the US and EU, and poof, no more private tax on scientific research for a limited contribution.
    The journals would survive, but would have to find another economic model

  3. stochastic says

    Am old enough to remember when Elsevier was not completely evil. They used to print inexpensive paperback versions of books that otherwise would have been unaffordable to students such as myself. Early 1970s, under their North Holland imprint. When I left my lab job to go to grad school in 1980, this was no longer true.

  4. says

    “Page fees” (whatever they’re called) are merely the window dressing put on a massive vanity press scheme.

    That’s right: Academic publishing is following the same model as the outright frauds involved in which grandma paid a few thousand bucks (back when that represented a year’s undergraduate tuition at a flagship university!) to have a few hundred copies of her “inspirational” autobiography printed up and shipped to her garage. (If she was lucky, she — or more likely her nephew — would end up actually selling 40-50 copies; median in 2003 was about 44 copies, and even that’s distorted upward.)

    Bluntly, Nature: Cell follows the same model of “publishing” as the Junior League Cookbook found in garage sales in the 60s. Ponder what that implies for the value of science.

  5. whywhywhy says

    My fear is that the non-profit society run journals are becoming more like the for profit journals. This has happened in US healthcare where non-profit hospital systems are run just like for profit entities.

  6. René says

    My first job was desk editor with North-Holland, later Elsevier Science Publishers. It paid well, and it were great times in the roring seventies. We were a bunch of drop-out students, so everybody was doing it with everybody. (I was working for the mathematics department, but I also, and proudly so, was editor for the journal Lingua. I remember the guy who was responsible for Elsevier’s predatory behaviour that started then. His name was Willem, but I cannot remember his surname.

  7. says

    I hope you don’t mind me restating what I put in PZ’s article on capitalism today
    As we say in our publications: ‘we live in a world controlled by “vulture crapitallists” where their only goal is to increase the wealth of the already obscenely wealthy at the expense of the populace.’ I can’t even begin to count/name all the businesses they have looted and destroyed. Welcome to the apocalypse.
    This system of academic publishing is immoral and fraudulent. They know academics are compelled to work their assets off to write and peer review the works for NOTHING and then these publishers make a ton of money off that work. Obscene!

  8. Cutty Snark says

    I do sometimes wonder how much of current predatory publishing behaviour could be reasonably blamed on Pergamon and Maxwell (who, for those fortunate enough not to know, was pretty much outflow from the same sewage pipe as Murdoch, so to speak).

    Perhaps decline was inevitable within a capitalist society (where everything must make a profit, and “public good” is considered an expletive), but I suspect Maxwell’s bullying litigiousness and naked greed probably didn’t help matters…

  9. asclepias says

    I read about that walkout in the Nature Briefing I get in my email. Yes, I’m consistently frustrated that I can’t access journal articles that would be helpful for whatever I’m researching at that moment, but I’m not about to pay $35 to get it. My workaround is a few PhDs of my acquaintance who have no qualms about accessing and sending me the articles through their institutions. And if all else fails, most authors will be happy to send a copy of the offprint. I’ve discovered that some authors will publish the articles online as they look before they are printed (all graphs and such at the bottom). Generally, I prefer to be able to cite the page number, but since I can link to my source, it isn’t too much of a problem. However, predatory journals can go straight to hell! If I’m looking at something published by MDPI under the journal title Forests, I won’t bother reading it. Besides, MDPI is listed online as an unreliable database.

  10. says

    Its not just Elsevier. Some of the books I need to use are out of reach of the library’s budget and mine. These days online access via my institution library comes in packaged form where the Uni pays for access to key journals by buying bundled access to multiple journals in pre-packaged deals. While they may get access to journals the major faculties want other journals are embargoed so you can’t access articles until 2 years after publication. The two journals I use most often are in that category. One of them is in the Nature stable of publications.

  11. jrkrideau says

    <ahref=”https://sci-hub.se/about”> Sci-Hub
    The creator clearly believes in Open Science.

    Back in the mists of time. scientific publishers provided real value. They took a typescript and one sh***y looking grahs and turned it into a respectable published paper. If noting else this required highly trained typesetters who could typeset mathematics including the Greek alphabet, handle chemistry notation and so on.

    Now, with a decent LaTeX editor and a LaTeX template for the journal I am aiming at, I can produce something that is pretty well indistinguishable from a published article.

    Publishers have lost much of their value.

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