Monday 30 December 2013

The world according to Elsevier

Elsevier is considered by some academics as the worst predatory publisher, and is a favourite target for boycotts. In particular, the negotiations for subscriptions to bundles of journals, which were the subject of my previous post, are particularly difficult in the case of Elsevier, leading to much frustration for academic institutions. But what sets Elsevier apart from other academic publishers? Let me give some tentative answers, based on observations on Elsevier's behaviour. I will first give the data, and then try to explain them in terms of a coherent strategy.
  1. Elsevier considers open access to scientific publications as a threat, and fights against it. This is explicitly said (in milder terms) in their 2011 financial review.

Friday 13 December 2013

Imminent capitulation of research institutes in "negotiations" with publishers

Recently, I have read pathetic emails from librarians who are involved in "negotiations" with publishers for the renewal of subscriptions to academic journals -- subscriptions which, if not renewed, will lapse at the end of this year. Subscriptions are "negotiated" at a high level: nationwide consortiums of research institutes on one side, large publishers selling bundles of hundreds of journals on the other side. Here is how such "negotiations" go: the publisher demands an outrageous price, and the consortium agrees to that price, minus a symbolic discount if the publisher wants the consortium to save face.

This outcome is the inevitable result of the basic economics of the game. A big publisher enjoys a de facto monopoly on his journals, and can therefore set prices based on what they think the consortium can pay. The only way out for the consortium would be to threaten not to subscribe. But the larger the consortium, the more researchers there are who will say they cannot live without the subscription, and the least credible the threat is. Anyway, consortiums are built with the specific aim of subscribing, and do not have the option to do otherwise.

This is why the "negotiations" with publishers are not really negotiations, and why the negotiators are so dispirited.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Bibcac: a Perl script for classifying references in a Bibtex bibliography

In my previous post I proposed a script for updating a Bibtex file with publication data. Here is now a completely independent script for organizing the references in a Bibtex file.

To do this, we will not modify the Bibtex file, but rather create an auxiliary file where we will associate categories and comments to a number of the references. For instance, if we want to associate the category "Topological Recursion" and the comment "This article..." to the article whose Bibtex key is "cer12", we will add the following text in the auxiliary file:
\ArticleCategory{Topological Recursion}

This article ...
Why would we want to have such categories and comments? Categories are particularly useful if they match some classification of the articles, whether as files in a computer, or as physical printouts. If you keep articles in a number of folders, the program will enable you to find in which folder a given article is, and to list the articles in a given folder. As for comments, keeping them in a centralized file is safer than having them as annotations (handwritten or electronic) on a copy of an article, which might well get lost.