Elsevier admits they’re a major obstacle for women scientists in the developing world

I just received the following announcement from Elsevier:

Nominations opened today for the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World, a high-profile honor for scientific and career achievements by women from developing countries in five regions: Latin America and theCaribbean; the Arab region; Sub-Saharan Africa; Central and South Asia; and East and South-East Asia and the Pacific. In 2016 the awards will be in the biological sciences, covering agriculture, biology, and medicine. Nominations will be accepted through September 1, 2015.

Sounds great. But listen to what they get.

The five winners will each receive a cash prize of US$5,000 and all-expenses paid attendance at the AAAS meeting. The winners will also receive one-year access to Elsevier’s ScienceDirect and Scopus.

Could there be a more obvious admission that Elsevier’s own policies – indeed their very existence – is a major obstacle to the progress of women scientists in the developing world? How can anyone write this and not have their head explode?

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  1. Comradde PhysioProfe
    Posted June 8, 2015 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    They’re a company offering to give away for free something that they normally charge for. There is nothing dissonant (“head-exploding”) about their offer, given the reasonable assumption that they consider themselves to be in a legitimate business selling something of value for a price. The fact that you happen to think they are not engaged in a legitimate business doesn’t have anything to do with whether their heads should explode. This post is just another way for you to say that you dislike Elsevier’s business model, and this whole “Elsevier admits how horrible they are” business is lame bullshit.

    • Posted June 8, 2015 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Are you out of your fukkinge mind???? Elsevier may ostensibly charge for accessing these services in the developing world, but essentially no one can afford it. So nobody has access to the literature – something that is one of the biggest problems for all scientists in the developing world. By giving away these subscriptions Elsevier is all but admitting to this problem, but instead of actually solving it by giving away their content to a large number of scientists – something that would cost them essentially nothing in either real costs or lost revenue – they put a microscopic bandaid on this gushing wound.

      And this isn’t just some other way of complaining about their business model, it is pointing out a particular evil of it and the cynical way they choose to try and get credit for not solving a problem that is of their making.

      But at least one good thing comes from your asinine comment – now we all know your real name.

      Ladies and Gentlemen – Comradde PhysioProffe is really Adam Smith.

      • Posted June 9, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Are Biorad and NEB horrible because they don’t send monthly pallet loads of molbio equipment and reagents to women scientists in the developing world? Should their heads explode if they do give some free stuff to some women scientists in the developing world, but not monthly pallet loads? Is it wrong that Biorad and NEB and other scientific supply companies make billions of dollars of profit “off the backs of academic scientists funded by NIH”?

        • Posted June 9, 2015 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          Of course it’s different. Those companies sell material goods where each instance costs money to make and distribute. It would cost Elsevier nothing – literally nothing – to open its paywalls.

          Now that’s not to say that big materials companies shouldn’t also feel a responsibility to help scientists in developing countries. But it’s not the same thing.

    • Posted June 9, 2015 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Thanks to DrugMonkey I think I have a better understanding of what you’re saying. You’re saying, in essence, “Elsevier are a company that makes money off of selling subscriptions. This business is based on the premise that what they are selling is a commodity, so of course giving it away seems like a valuable prize to them. Therefore, in criticizing this you are doing nothing more than criticizing the business model, which you’ve done ad nauseum so what’s new here” – right?

      My response to that is that you are right. I have long ago concluded that Elsevier’s business model is intrinsically evil, and since this action is a direct logical consequence of that larger fact, criticizing this rather obscure act on their part is equivalent to repeating something I’ve been complaining about for 20 years.

      However, my reasons for pointing this out are not to complain to Elsevier, nor do I maintain any hope that they will mend their ways. My audience for this complaint is the people who send papers to Elsevier whose actions in doing so suggest they either do not share my views of Elsevier, or that they have other priorities. I felt this was a particularly useful example because I hopes that, by showing that even Elsevier – who as you point out how no fundamental problem with their business model – are capable of recognizing one of its most pernicious consequences – the effective marginalization of people from poor countries from the scientific community by denying them access to the literature they need – that maybe people who actually matter here (i.e. authors) might no longer want to be complicit in that travesty.

      • Posted June 10, 2015 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Yes, now you are understanding my critique. And given your concerns with their business model, yes, it makes perfect sense that you would point out this particular situation for the rhetorical purpose you have now clarified. But the rhetoric of “Elsevier admits” and “heads exploding”, with the implication of hypocrisy and dissonance, makes no sense.

        On the substance, one thing I don’t quite understand is why you see this particular issue of author-pays versus reader-pays as a uniquely moral life-or-death issue, rather than one of competing business models, and not any of the other numerous contexts in which corporations make shitte tonnes of money leveraging off of the labor of scientists and the funding of governments.

        • Posted June 10, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Because unlike say Spotify vs. a record company, or the NY Times vs. Buzzfeed, or Whole Foods vs. Safeway, subscription vs. open access publishing has a hug effect outside on people outside the industry. If you subscribe to the notion that science contributes positively to humanity, in both tangible and intangible ways, then it follows that anything that impedes scientific progress – as subscription publishing does by denying scientists, and people who stand to benefit from scientific advances, access to a large part of the knowledge science generates – is a detriment to humanity.

          • Posted June 14, 2015 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            You disagree that art, music, journalism, and literature have “a huge effect on people outside” those industries? You disagree that art, music, journalism, and literature “contribute positively to humanity, in both tangible and intangible ways”? You disagree that in the exact same way, “anything that impedes [artistic, musical, journalistic, and literary] progress is a detriment to humanity”?

            Look, I get that as scientists, we naturally think that science is the super-duper most extra-special uniquely beneficial-to-humanity thing that anyone could ever possibly do. But this is a very narrow-minded view, and it is incoherent if you grant the general legitimacy of capitalism to argue that science is special and that anything that touches on it must be run on socialist principles.

            Now if you want to argue that capitalism is fundamentally and generally illegitimate, and that everything should be operated on socialist principles, then I’ve got no issue with that. But the idea that science should be uniquely insulated from capitalism is loonie.

  2. Posted June 9, 2015 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Dear Professor Eisen, I am the Elsevier Foundation’s Program Director and just wanted to share some insight into the awards. The awards have been developed in collaboration with TWAS, the World Academy of Sciences and OWSD, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World. Since 2010, we’ve been exploring the most effective formats together. The exact shape of the award shifts each year depending on the discipline and the additional partners, for instance the Abdus Salem International Center for Theoretical Physics gave an additional conference, while Dr. Gail Omenn, past president of the AAAS offered a $2500 research equipment grant per winner. What is a constant is the annual celebration at the AAAS conference. Courtesy individual access has always been a part of this. But it’s more of an added convenience than anything as the winners come from 81 of the least developed—or scientifically lagging countries as defined by TWAS. All of the countries eligible for the award program are also eligible for Research4Life which offers some 8,000 institutions across 100 developing countries access to nearly 50,000 peer reviewed resources from 200 publishers. More than anything, we see the winners’ access as an add-on to fill in any potential gaps, say for example if they leave their institution or country, and authentication is quicker directly to us. We’re glad to renew access if the awardees request it. We also have other individual access programs focused on supporting researchers in developing countries with the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. I think you certainly make a good point and the access shouldn’t be showcased as part of the award for these talented women—it’s just part of the overall framework for celebrating their work. I’m very sorry this has upset you so much, we’ll take your feedback into account for next year.

  3. Nick
    Posted June 9, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    How can anyone write this and not have their head explode?

    To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is very difficult to get someone’s head to explode when their salary depends on it not exploding.

  4. binay panda
    Posted June 10, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    michael, the question, as you point out in your later comment, is actually not for elsevier to answer. it is for our scientists and granting agencies to answer. why do we allow us to be bullied? the fault lies within us, us meaning as a community of scientists. there is no point blaming elsevier, who like many others, are here to make a quick buck. binay panda

    • Posted June 10, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      I agree. But the fact that Elsevier is pursuing a profitable business does not absolve them of the requirement that they behave morally.

      • binay panda
        Posted June 10, 2015 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        you are absolutely right michael. my battle is to convince my fellow scientists to do the right thing and i am afraid we, as a community, are not doing enough to do just that. about elsevier being morally wrong on many occasions, no question about that but you can argue the same about many organizations. i agree that two wrongs don’t make a right but we just simply have to pick our battles, i guess. if we put our own house in order, things will fall in place automatically. btw, i have an observation to make about publishers like elsevier and their activities in countries like india. as the number of scientific manuscripts, the economy and the science funding go up in india, as have been in the last decade, companies like elsevier are trying to get a pie of that action by being increasingly visible, courting a few scientists and trying to build a reputation of being the good guys. we need to be watchful and protect free flow of scientific information with an open mind. binay panda