Elsevier the Unpublisher

The battle on the web over academic publishing is heating up, and Elsevier is apparently sending take-down notices to competitor Academia.edu. If there is a publisher loathed by researchers, it is probably Elsevier. (Not so much by me, as I never published with them, but by many others whose papers they keep hostage.) I have said it before, and I am happy to repeat it here:

Papers not openly accessible on the web might as well not have been published at all.

If I cannot get to a paper through Google Scholar or other simple means, I prefer not to cite it. This includes all papers hidden behind a paywall. I consider it a moral imperative to not cite these papers for multiple reasons. For one, research funded by the public should be accessible by the public, including non-researchers. Similarly, many developing nations cannot afford the prices charged by the publishers and supporting those publishers is a way of keeping those nations in check. Thirdly, these prices are predatory, to the extent that my own university’s library asks its professors to do whatever we can to reign in the unbridled greed, specifically at Elsevier.

I have always expected that this attitude will get me into trouble with other researchers who would expect me to consider hidden-behind-a-paywall papers as published papers and to cite them. So far, this has not happened, maybe because I always found adequate alternatives. Or I just got lucky with ignoring the research that I couldn’t access.

All my papers can be downloaded through the publications page, even those where I was asked to sign over the copyright (which I never did). Surprisingly, publishers don’t really care about receiving the copyright. I’m guessing this is because every individual paper is irrelevant, because they mostly sell large bundles of subscriptions to libraries.

As to open access publishing with the author paying: I think we should only publish through non-profit publishers and drive down the publishing fee to actual costs. For a computer scientist, the ACM is a good option.

I guess there is more to say about publishing economics, publicly funded research, and (access to) research publications as a public innovation utility, but I’ll leave this to some other blog posts.

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