Gavia Libraria

Elsevier blinks, once

Elsevier just blinked on the Research Works Act. It’s an entirely welcome development… but it’s unlikely to help them very much.

As with the 2007 protest, throwing the least-essential part of their strategy to the wolves only made sense, no doubt. Moreover, the RWA didn’t look like passing anyway, so why dwell? Call DC, call off the paid legislators, done. The only obvious cost is a minuscule amount of face on the part of those legislators, and legislators are accustomed to that, so they’ll keep taking Elsevier’s phone calls.

Will this allow Elsevier to regain face with boycotters? The Loon rather doubts it. It might have done once, but because The Cost of Knowledge has three parts to its manifesto, boycotters have been introduced to more about Elsevier than just its shady dealings with legislators. Boycotters will see this move for what it is: a sop to the wolves.

Will it allow Elsevier to regain face with provosts? Yes… for now… but the next comically oversized bill presented to a library whose provost is on the signatory list will (if the librarians have the sense deity gave a loon) make its way upstairs and cause Elsevier more heartburn than it’s worth. It’s an uneven form of market discipline, and it won’t last long, but it might help poor Purdue.

PubMed Central is probably safe from open Elsevierian meddling of the RWA sort henceforth. It’s here to stay, then, and open-access advocates should count that a significant victory. The Loon wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see the PRISM Coalition make a reappearance, as Elsevier tries less open (so to speak) methods of throwing sand in the gears, but the PRISM Coalition never did accomplish anything and seems unlikely to now.

Given that, the question in the Loon’s mind is whether PubMed Central can serve as a legislative wedge for FRPAA: “if it works for medicine, why doesn’t it make sense for all of science?” It can, in the sense that the identical instant Elsevier gets caught in serious anti-FRPAA lobbying, the boycotters will bay at their heels again. It won’t, in the sense that legislators haven’t the least clue what PubMed Central is, even after RWA.

The Loon has improved her personal odds of FRPAA passage… but only to 60%, this time around. It’ll be back if it fails; it always has.

If it doesn’t serve as legislative wedge, however, there’s a slim chance it’ll serve as cover for one of the other big government science funders to go it alone. The NSF is the likeliest candidate, of course, but they’re also the fattest target for the ire of such as Elsevier, so who knows? Like as not they’ll be content to sit back and wait for FRPAA.

As for the Loon, she rather thinks she enjoys helping make Elsevier blink. Let’s try it again!

8 thoughts on “Elsevier blinks, once

  1. Jon Tennant

    The Cost of Knowledge did have three parts to it’s manifesto, but the reason why Elsevier was singled out amongst all publishers was for it’s open support of the RWA. The boycott has to shift gears now based on this: either remove this point from the manifesto and acknowledge all publishers on the same level, or find another reason why Elsevier should be the sole target.

    1. LibraryLoon Post author

      Most of the reasons the Loon suggested previously still obtain. Broadening the protest prematurely is risky and liable to backfire (as in 2001).

  2. Barbara Fister

    Given that Elsevier says “we’re withdrawing our support for THIS bill with THIS number, but we support everything it proposed (and will no doubt support it when it rolls around again under another name),” I think continuing to press on their opposition to federal mandates for open research results remains important and quite sensible.

    Thank you, Loon, for this analysis and all of your ruffled feathers.

    1. LibraryLoon Post author

      Agreed, and thank you. You have a far larger bully pulpit than the Loon, and you have employed yours far more effectively than the Loon would have.

  3. Nima

    Forget boycotting Elsevier. Kill Elsevier!

    The boycott by itself is not enough. If we stop here, Elsevier will simply try this kind of thing again, buy off more politicians, sponsor more bad bills. They can buy off anybody, not just Daryl Issuck and Carolyn Baloney. Scientists need to STOP SETTLING FOR EMPTY PROMISES AND MEANINGLESS TRUCES that only reinforce the pre-RWA status quo of monopolistic paywalls on publicly funded science – we must form an active movement to once and for all break science free from shackles of corporate publishing bureaucrats. The people getting most of Elsevier’s profits are NOT scientists, they are bureaucrats, lawyers, and investors. Elsevier wants war, then make it a bloody one. Switch everyone you know to open-access journals like PLoS, and expose the names of those who don’t make the switch, so we can finally KILL Elsevier. Any university that doesn’t have anti-Elsevier placards in some of its halls has a serious problem.

    The Mathematics backdown is not enough. Why just maths? What about other fields which are STILL imprisoned by ElSerpient’s evil coils? I am in paleontology, and there are literally hundreds of dinosaur anatomy and taxonomy papers that I have been unable to access (by any LEGAL means anyway) because they are all trapped behind Elsevier’s paywalls, even papers that are several decades old! Them offering a brownie for maths and then saying they will continue to oppose federally mandated open-access on all other areas of taxpayer-funded research means they have NO intention of furthering science, and any compromise with them is futile. The only way to liberate science from this prison is to KILL the beast, and expose the names of those scientists who have sold out to it. Anyone who does so, is the only kind of true proponent of open-access and equitable learning. Down with Elsevier, and Wiley, T&F, Springer, and all the rest!!! They are gobbling up the fruits of the American people’s money, and not giving back anything in return!

    We need to hit “Elserpiente” where it hurts, right in the pocketbook. Not only refuse to buy their journals and cancel our subscriptions, but push universities to do the same. Also, we need to identify and EXPOSE those scientists and researchers who are still collaborating with them, and make sure they value their reputation enough to go open-access. If that means writing up a blacklist of traitors to science, so be it. Post in every scientific blog, BAN ELSEVIER, and post the names of those fools in the universities who still support it. Expose the moral bankruptcy and tarnished name of anyone you know who is a lobbyist for them in academia or refuses to stop publishing in their journals. And go to my blog http://paleoking.blogspot.com/ for more info on how to break the grip of this menace for good.

      1. Nima

        That’s like asking Anonymous “who will bell Scientology”. Everyone has a part to play. What we need is quasi-decentralized internet mass-movement to scale up the boycott into a complete withdrawal of all scientists who value their reputation and ethics from Elsevier, thereby accelerating its collapse. What we do not need is a pile of apathetic cowards waiting for you or me to do something, only to stand back and do nothing. While the boycotters plan their way ahead with pushing for FRPAA, I have said that I am ready to take names. Now who is willing to provide them?

  4. The Digital Drake

    The Drake will believe FRPAA has a reasonable chance of passage once it picks up notably more co-sponsors than it currently has. Right now, it only has 6, which if the Drake is not mistaken is unchanged since the start of the Elsevier boycott. Moreover, only one co-sponsor (Clay) is on the committee where the bill has been referred in the House, and there are no co-sponsors in the Senate committee where the corresponding bill has been referred.

    Particularly in a major election year, bills tend to need to either be on urgent matters, or have numerous or particularly powerful co-sponsors, to avoid simply dying in committee. That’s the fate of the majority of bills introduced in Congress (not counting things like National Bird Feeding Month(*) and similar symbolic bills that tend to fly through in larger numbers.) Indeed, when RWA failed to pick up more sponsors than its original two after the first few weeks, it became fairly clear that it wasn’t going to go anywhere this year.

    So unless things change, I don’t think that Elsevier has to exert much of any open lobbying effort against FRPAA this year. This may change if advocates can find more co-sponsors this year, or if the open access movement can build momentum to give it a stronger push next year.

    (* Established in 1994 by an act of Congress, National Bird Feeding month is observed every February. As I write this, it’s not too late to find something fitting to feed your favorite fowl.)