Elsevier get into fanzines

May 8th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in academic publishing, bad science, big pharma, ghostwriters | 36 Comments »

Ben Goldacre

The Guardian

Saturday 8 May 2009

In Australia a fascinating court case has been playing out around some people who had heart attacks after taking the Merck drug Vioxx. This medication turned out to increase the risk of heart attacks in people taking it, although that finding was arguably buried in their research, and Merck have paid out more than £2bn to 44,000 people in America, although they deny any fault. British users of the drug have had their application for legal aid rejected, incidentally: health minister Ivan Lewis promised to help them, but FOI documents obtained by The Guardian last week showed that within hours, Merck launched an expensive lobbying effort that convinced him to back off.

This is a shame, because court cases can be fun.

The first fun thing to come out in the Australian one is email documentation showing that staff at Merck made a “hit list” of doctors who were critical of the company, or of the drug. This list had words like “neutralise”, “neutralised” and “discredit” next to the names of various doctors. “We may need to seek them out and destroy them where they live,” said one email, from a Merck employee. Gosh okay, see you at mine later.

They’re also alleged to have used other tactics, like trying to interfere with academic appointments, and dropping hints about how funding to institutions might dry up. Institutions might think about whether they, in turn, wish to receive money from a company like that.

But bigger, and better, is the publication Merck paid academic journal publisher Elsevier to produce.

Now the relationship between big pharma and publishers is a perilous one. Any industry with global revenues of $600bn can afford to buy quite a lot of adverts, and pharmaceutical companies also buy glossy expensive “reprints” of the trials it feels flattered by. As we saw in this column two months ago, from the data on what gets published where, there is evidence that all this money distorts editorial decisions.

But this time Elsevier Australia went the whole hog: they gave Merck an entire publication to themselves, which looked like an academic journal, but in fact only contained reprinted articles, or summaries of other articles. In issue 2, for example, 9 of the 29 articles were about Vioxx, and 12 of the remaining were about another Merck drug, Fosamax. All of these articles presented positive conclusions, and some were bizarre: like a review article containing just 2 references.

In a statement to The Scientist magazine, Elsevier initially said that the company “does not today consider a compilation of reprinted articles a ‘Journal’”. I would like to expand on this statement. It was a collection of academic journal articles, published by the academic journal publisher Elsevier, in an academic journal shaped package. Perhaps if it wasn’t an academic journal they could have made this clearer in the title which, I should have mentioned, was: The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine.

Since then things have deteriorated. It turns out that Elsevier actually put out six such journals, sponsored by industry, and Elsevier Chief Executive Michael Hansen has now issued a statement admitting that they were made to look like journals, and lacked proper disclosure. “This was an unacceptable practice and we regret that it took place.”

The pharmaceutical industry, and publishers, as we have repeatedly seen, have serious difficulties in living up to the high standards needed in this field, and bad information in the medical literature leads doctors to make irrational prescribing decisions, which ultimately can cost lives, and cause unnecessary suffering, not to mention expense.

It’s been estimated that it would take 700 hours a month to read the thousands of academic articles relevant to being a GP alone: so doctors skim, they take shortcuts, they rely on precis, or worse. We could do better at giving them information, but for now, it will often be “actually, I think I’ve seen at least two studies on that, and in different journals”.

But the real tragedy is that the cost of distorted information, and irrational prescribing, is far greater than the cost of the research that could prevent it. In a sensible world, the health systems which pay for these drugs – state-funded in almost every single developed country – would band together and pay for comparative outcome research themselves, and the free, open distribution of the resulting information, to prevent all this nonsense. We do not live in a sensible world.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

36 Responses

  1. Andrej Bauer said,

    May 9, 2009 at 5:34 am

    It’s not just medical research that suffers from evil publishers.

    My research is funded by public money (I work in mathematics and computer science). When I write a paper about the results of the research and submit it to a journal, the editor and the anonymous peer reviewers do their work for free. Actually, their salaries are paid by public funds, so tax payers are paying for peer reviews. When the paper is accepted by the journal, the publisher forces me to give away the copyright for free. Then the publisher charges outrageous subscription rates to libraries, which again are funded by public money. The publishers sell web access to their journals. But they do not allow the libraries to download everything they bought so that electronic access disappears if the library stops paying the on-line subscription. Libraries are good at keeping books and journals for a long time, but who can guarantee that the publisher will still offer on-line access in 50 years Oh, by the way, If I want access to my own paper on the web, I have to pay 30 euros.

    To make things worse, I cannot reasonably avoid evil publishers because they own all journals that the government considers as “high impact” ones. My academic standing depends on how many publications I have published in such journals. Governments are not show any signs of awareness about these issues.

  2. brainduck said,

    May 9, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Ah yes, Elsevier, whose parent company Reed Elsevier though that being *arms dealers* would bring them fun and profit.


  3. Rob K said,

    May 9, 2009 at 9:34 am

    No surprise that it’s Elsevier who have got their dirty fingers into this business.

  4. SmartBlonde said,

    May 9, 2009 at 10:04 am

    @Andrej Bauer Utterly in agreement with everything you say. Publishers have no interest in actually making research more accessible, or preserving it long term, they just want your money! Is there an oa repository you could submit your papers to? If your research institution doesn’t already have one, see if you can lobby them to set one up. Talk to the librarians, they can help you work out what you can and can’t do within your publishers’ copyright terms.

    Things will change – they have to, the current serials model is unsustainable. But it needs more people to take the initiative and stand up to the unfair terms that publishers offer.

  5. SteveGJ said,

    May 9, 2009 at 10:35 am

    I don’t know any large industries where individuals could possibly be expected to keep up with all the research papers produced. Medicine isn’t alone in that. However, it does occur to me that the NHS is a huge organisation with massive resources and that surely it is not beyond their organisational capability to fund properly qualified people to do precisely that and sort of the wheat from the chaff. It is surely possible to produce more digestible forms than original research papers.

    Yes, and I know the HNS is perpetually short of resources. But then it always will be as the potential demand is almost unlimited. However, in the big picture of things, a relatively small proportion of the funds spent on assessment of the efficacy of treatments would surely pay for itself, both in both financial terms and tangible results (or are the rumours that many GPs are resistant to such centralised advice in favour of their own independent assessment not without some foundation).

    I’m an outsider – maybe these things are already done. I know there is NICE for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of medical treatment, but I am one of those people paying for all this…

  6. Synchronium said,

    May 9, 2009 at 10:41 am

    So that’s it? Elsevier made a statement? Why has no one resigned? This is unacceptable.

    I might go on a crusade this afternoon and nick as many Elsevier articles as I can from PubMed and make them freely available.

  7. Dr Jim said,

    May 9, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Journal articles are currency.

    The number you have, and the number of times they’re ‘used’ directly reflects upon your standing as a researcher and your access to funds. Elsevier effectively gave Merck a license to print their own ‘currency’.

    If I’m going to abuse this analogy further, I would say that even though there were no ATMs to distribute this fake currency, i.e. no PubMed/Medline cataloguing, do we really like doing business with such publishers? Especially seeing as we, nor the publishers, can be sure to what end these fake journals have been used.

    I have been published by Elsevier, they support my industry journal, and it is a very disappointing turn of events.

  8. isitmedicine said,

    May 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Disgusting behaviour by Elsevier.
    If bibliometric data is given any great weight in forthcoming national Research Assessments, publishing behaviour will be affected and who knows the games journals will play to make theirs a financially better option for individuals/institutions to publish in.

  9. catmac said,

    May 9, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    @Andrej I’m also a mathematician: in my subfield (pure mathematics) the journals do not even typeset the papers to their specifications- we are expected to do that ourselves before submitting.

    However, we have the advantage that, being a non-lucrative field, a large percentage of our journals are academic-run not-for-profit journals and recently there have been some encouraging signs of an academic community backlash attempting to retake control of the publishing process. For example, the editorial board of the prestigious Elsevier journal “Topology” recently quit en masse as a protest over price gouging- and immediately founded a new journal entitled “The Journal of Topology” published by a not-for-profit academic association. Topology essentially no longer exists. (For those who are interested in the story, there are some references on the following page:

    Many prominent mathematicians are campaigning on this subject and some have amused themselves by ranking mathematics journals by price-per-page-
    see here for more details if you’re interested:


    The journal considered by many to be the pure mathematics equivalent of Nature- Annals of Mathematics- is also one of the cheapest. It is a not-for-profit concern.

  10. SteveGJ said,

    May 9, 2009 at 7:04 pm


    “Many prominent mathematicians are campaigning on this subject and some have amused themselves by ranking mathematics journals by price-per-page.”

    Got love those mathematicians – they sure know how to have a good time…

  11. Michael Barr said,

    May 9, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Also a mathematician. And one of the founders of an electronic journal that is distributed gratis, the only possible answer to the evil entities at Elsevier. Fortunately, the funding agencies here have not fallen for the “impact factor”. Incidentally, it has not been possible for my journal to get indexed by ISI, although they index (AFAIK) every Elsevier journal including one called Homeopathy. Some payola scheme, maybe? Incidentally, the last time I published in an Elsevier journal, in 1995, I reserved the right to post the paper on my ftp site and not only did they agree to it, they sent me a new copyright agreement that gave them only one-time publishing permission.

  12. robin said,

    May 9, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Is there any real reason organizations like this are still allowed to control research publication in this day and age?

    There are some really good systems out there (I’m thinking primarily of Scoop) that could be readily adapted for automating the peer review and publication processes and which are available in source form with completely open licensing.

    Is it a lack of interest or concern, a failure of will or something else?

    (I’m not an academic, I’m a computer system admin and programmer, so my perspective on this kind of thing is naturally going to be different and I’m genuinely curious why this situation is still tolerated.)


  13. henrywilton said,

    May 9, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Yet another mathematician.


    My experience in the “subfield” of pure mathematics doesn’t quite coincide with yours. Of course, mathematicians usually typeset their articles pretty well themselves, because LaTeX has become standard, but the “for-profit” journals published by the likes of Elsevier and Springer often seem to retypeset the papers when they’re accepted (introducing unnecessary errors in the process). It’s the academic-run not-for-profit journals that require you to do more of the work yourself (like Geometry and Topology, for instance).

    What with LaTeX and the arXiv, mathematics is in a better position than most fields to throw off the yoke of big publishing, who add basically zero value.

    I’ve wondered on this comment thread before whether fields like medicine would be better off if their academics used LaTeX to typeset their own papers. Any non-mathematicians out there care to comment?

  14. catmac said,

    May 10, 2009 at 6:55 am

    @henrywilton I’ve generally had to submit pre-typeset wherever, but I guess it varies…

    You’re right that various factors make this kind of community backlash much easier in pure mathematics than in other fields. (I’m talking only about pure mathematics because that’s all I know about). Besides LaTeX and arXiv, there’s also the fact that we’re not financially interesting so companies like Elsevier aren’t prepared to work hard to keep us. I suspect- though this is pure speculation- that in a more lucrative field Elsevier might have tried using legal action to stop Topology going down.

    I also suspect that the fact that it’s relatively small-knit community for whom library costs are a large percentage of our budget makes is easier to mobilise the community. Buying journals and books represents about 50% of the our non-salary research budget- if this goes up systematically by 10% a year we’re in trouble.

    @robin There are a lot of reasons why this situation persists and one of them this the way academics are evaluated. My adminstration tends to assess my work simply by looking at the number of papers I’ve published and the impact factors of the journals I’ve published in and applying a fancy formula to that information. If I choose not to send my paper to a registered journal but simply put it online and let the community judge it then the adminstration considers that that piece of work does not exist and I will be sanctionned for wasting taxpayer’s funds. Currently most pure mathematics written since about 1999 is online in a gigantic database (the arxiv- mostly theoretical physics and a few other fields) and journals don’t have much role in distributing mathematics: they mostly exist as a kind of proxy evaluation of mathematics.

    Of course, for really important work, the actual scientists mostly trust the community-based online review process where everybody chips in, rather than the individual peer review of journals. (A paper like Perelman’s solution of the Poincaré hypothesis, published only on the web, has been checked much more carefully by far more mathematicians, than anything the standard refereeing process can produce.)

  15. tomrees said,

    May 10, 2009 at 7:01 am

    OK so the lack of disclosure was disastrous and reprehensible. New industry guidelines that have come out over the past few years forbid that kind of practice now.

    But there’s a deeper issue here.

    Doctors are like everyone else. They want this information (which takes paid professionals to put together), but they don’t want to pay for it at point of sale.

    So who is going to pay for it? People could do it for free, in their own time. But I don’t think we can rely on that.

    (Full disclosure: I work in industry-funded medical communications. I’m happy to take money from anyone to summarize medical research for medical professionals. I think its a good and worthwhile job.)

  16. NuclearChicken said,

    May 10, 2009 at 8:30 am

    It’s completely out of order that Elsevier was involved in this sort of pharma sponsored distortion; however, this is not new or unusual. The pharma industry have been setting up their own “journals” for years, usually published by med comms. Real journals have also been putting out industry sponsored supplements for years, filled with ghost-written thinly veiled advertising.

    It goes further than journals though, in the past there have been campaigns to get pharma spin into textbooks years before a particular drug is marketed. This way, when a secondary endpoint is highlighted as the main outcome years later it’s less likely to be questioned because the “academic landscape” has been reshaped.

    With all this said, I don’t think what has happened with Elsevier is a strong argument for nonprofit journals. The huge amount of work that goes into making sure that pharma spin stays out of reputable journals (many published by Elsevier), is unlikely to be able to continue under a nonprofit or “author pays” models. If you add in the amount of work that goes into making most research even close to publishable then I just can’t see how it’s possible to make this work.

  17. catmac said,

    May 10, 2009 at 9:14 am

    @NuclearChicken In my field- which of course is very different from yours- not-for-profit works very well. I’d be interested to your opinions as to why it couldn’t work in medecine.

    In particular, is it only in certain fields that the editors of journals and the reviewers are in any case academics, paid by the taxpayer not by the publishing company, and who do the job “for free” because they consider that that’s part of their job description? Also, in my field, the published version tends to be very close to the last version that emerged from the referee-author ping-pong game, in which no-one employed by the publishing company intervenes. Is this different in other fields?

    @tomrees. The not-for-profit sector in my field tends to be published either by university departments or by societies such as the London Mathematical Society/ Société Mathématique de France, etc etc. Is there no similar body in medecine that would finance resumes for doctors-
    possibly online or via a mailshot rather than in paper form?

  18. NuclearChicken said,

    May 10, 2009 at 9:41 am

    @catmac in the bigger medical journals you need professional editors because of the volume of work needed, but it is true that reviewers are unpaid.

    In my experience, published medical papers still go through a vast amount of editing after the review stage.

  19. robin said,

    May 10, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    @catmac: I’ve heard about the “impact factor” calculation, but forgot about it; that would certainly act to freeze any new publications out, especially ones without significant financial backing who couldn’t afford to raise their impact factor artificially.

    Even with that, though, if a professional society were to endorse an online peer-reviewed publication system wouldn’t that raise its starting impact factor sufficiently? Or is part of the calculation dependent on a publication’s exclusiveness, which would decrease the factor for an open-access system with no artificial limit on how much it was able to publish?


  20. henrywilton said,

    May 10, 2009 at 7:55 pm


    With enough prestige and goodwill, a decent journal can be started from scratch. It’s too early to say for certain, but the Journal of Topology that catmac mentioned above, founded by the board of editors of Elsevier’s defunct Topology, looks set to be of a comparably high standard. I suppose it’s an unusual situation, though – most people will think of the standard of Journal of Topology as being exactly that of Topology.

  21. quiact said,

    May 10, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    The Atrophy Of Objectivity

    If I were to rate the corruptive tactics performed by big pharmaceutical companies during my intimate experience with them , the frequent and intentional strategy of implementing fabricated and unreliable results of clinical trials performed by others possibly tops the list.

    A list of corruptive tactics by the pharmaceutical industry that sponsors such trials. By this atrophy of the scientific method absent of authenticity that has been known to occur, harm and damage is possibly done to the health of the public.

    Most would agree that the science of research should be sound and as aseptic as possible- completely free of deliberate and reckless interference.

    However, it appears, money and increased profits can be a catalyst for disregard for human health with the clinical trial process that is largely unregulated.

    This is particularly a factor on post-marketing studies of various pharmaceutical companies, as some pharmaceutical corporations seem to be deliberately conducting nothing less than seeding trials- with about a 50 percent tax credit for these trial sponsors.

    Trials that are in fact pointless and void of scientific benefit.

    Decades ago, clinical trials were conducted at academic settings that focused on the acquisition of knowledge and the completely objective discoveries of drugs and devices to benefit mankind.

    Then, in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act, Public Law 96-517,was created, which allowed for such places with their researchers to profit off of their discoveries that were performed for pharmaceutical companies and others in the past.

    Furthermore, such academic institutions were coerced to license patented inventions to those pharmaceutical companies that will then commercialize these discoveries paid for in large part by the taxpayers who funded this research to a degree.

    This resulted in the creation of for-profit research trial sites without any academic affiliation that are called Contract Research Organizations.

    CROS utilize primarily community patient care clinics whose staff are absent of any research training compared with the former researchers that existed decades ago. They are regulated, so they say, by institutional review boards, or IRBs. Both are for profit and essentially cater to the sponsor of the clinical trial in which all are involved with manipulating.

    Because of this structure, the clinical trial investigators of these pharmaceutical sponsored trials are likely novice compared with academic researchers.

    This, of course, happens with intent by the sponsor who can and does control all aspects of the clinical trial protocol at the site locations of a clinical trial that the pharmaceutical company structures and even gives the trial the title they want for their marketing purposes.

    These quite numerous CROS are in fact for- profit, with some CROs making billions of dollars a year, and this market continues to grow.

    The trials conducted at such places again are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that control and manipulate all aspects of the trial being conducted involving their particular drug chosen to be studied.

    Etiology for their deception regarding this manipulation is because the pharmaceutical company that sponsors such a trial is basically creating a marketing tool for this drug of theirs to be studied in this manner.

    This coercion is done by various methods of deception in subtle and tacit methods.

    As a result, research in this protocol of the sponsor ensures favorable results of the sponsor’s medication that is involved in the clinical trial they clearly own.

    These activities are again believed to be absent of true or applied regulation to any degree, and therefore have the autonomy to create whatever they want to benefit the pharmaceutical sponsor.

    There likely is a collusive relationship between the sites, the CRO, and the sponsor, as this whole system is planned beforehand by the pharmaceutical sponsor of their clinical trial to again be utilized to increase the market share of the drug studied that they promote.

    Guest authorship has been known to be aggressively recruited by sponsors by paying a known opinion leader to sign off on the completed clinical trial.

    Furthermore, the pharmaceutical sponsor recruits investigators to be used for this function of what ultimately is a fabricated clinical trial protocol.

    The trial manuscript and protocol design is prepared by those employed by the drug company sponsor upon specific direction of this sponsor on how this should be prepared.

    The medical program coordinator of a particular sponsored trial is an actual employee of the sponsoring drug company.

    This person also may act as the publisher, manuscript version reviewer, and the clinical trial director who works with the drug company’s hired CRO editors whose objectives are to benefit the sponsor.

    Typical and ultimate cost of the final manuscript of the trial to the sponsor created by the hired CRO and the recruited ghostwriters exceeds 1000 dollars per page, some have said.

    Merck engages in this behavior, which shocked many, as they were always viewed as an ethical pharmaceutical company that always placed patients over profits.

    Apparently, this is no longer the case. There are other well known and large pharmaceutical corporations that consider this plan of action standard operating procedures to ensure growth of their drugs.

    Further disturbing is that once the creation of the trials is completed, the research paper is often composed with specific directions by the sponsor to writers known again as ghostwriters.

    These people are usually not identified and acknowledged by the sponsor, and may not be trained in clinical research overall, as they are simply freelance writers.

    One does not need research training or certification in order to perform this function. Rarely do clinical trial ghostwriters question their instructions about their assignment, which is clearly deceptive and undocumented by the pharmaceutical sponsor.

    Also, these hired mystery writers are known to make about 100 grand a year performing this deception full time.

    This activity removes accountability and authenticity of the fabricated clinical trial even further.

    The corruptive act is finally completed by the sponsor hiring again a known thought leader as an author to have their name be placed on the trial, while this hired author likely had absolutely no involvement with the trial, or even reviewing the trial is not asked or required by the hired author, others have said.

    To have the trial published, the sponsor has been known to pay an obscure journal, and the sponsor bribes the journal in a few ways, such as the sponsor purchasing from a selected journal thousands of reprints of their study from the journal, for example.

    Again, how often this process is performed is unknown, yet frequent enough to create hundreds of such false writers mentioned earlier and progressively growing research sites to receive the support the pharmaceutical industry.

    So benefits of pharmaceuticals that are studied in such a malicious way potentially can harm patients and their treatment options along with clear safety risks as a result of this process.

    The purchased reprints of the fabricated clinical trial are then bought by the sponsor of the study from the medical journal they hired to publish this trial.

    The reprints are eventually distributed to the sponsor’s sales force to share the content with prescribers, with the sales force completely unaware about this manipulation that has happened with such a trial that benefits the drug they promote for their employer.

    As a bonus, the sponsor may agree to pay the chosen medical journal to advertise their products to be placed in this journal as well.

    Such misconduct discussed so far impedes research and the scientific method with frightening ethical and harmful concerns, as stated previously.

    If so, our health care treatment options with drugs that are claimed to have benefits that are absent have now become unreliable in large part due to such corruptive situations.

    Not to mention the absence of objectivity that has been intentionally eliminated with trials produced in this way.

    More now than ever, meds are removed from the market or are given black box warnings due to the damaging effects of drugs approved by the FDA. We as citizens need to dig deep and ask why this is happening.

    Transparency and disclosure needs to happen with the pharmaceutical industry for reasons such as this as well as many others, in order to correct what we have historically relied upon for conclusive proof, which is the scientific method.

    More importantly, research should be conducted in a way that the sponsor cannot in any way interfere in such ways described in this article, which would require independent clinical trial sites with no involvement from the maker of the drug studied in a clinical trial.

    And clearly, regulation has to be enforced not selectively, but in a complete fashion regarding such matters.
    Public awareness would be a catalyst for this to occur, after initially experiencing a state of total disbelief that such operations actually are conducted by such people, of course.

    We can no longer be dependent on others for our optimal health.

    Knowledge is power, and is also possibly a lifesaver.

    “Ethics and Science need to shake hands.” ……. Richard Cabot

    Dan Abshear

    Author’s note: What has been written was based upon information and belief.

    Published on: www.brainblogger.com

  22. Robert Carnegie said,

    May 10, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    You get your own blog. Oh you did.

    In fact, it would be useful if there was a system that allowed us to note relevant opinions given elsewhere on the World Wide Web, our own or other people’s, not by copying the whole text into a different forum but just by presenting an “anchor” or “locator” code that could be used to retrieve the new document. If there was a way to provide a “link” to another Web page. I have an idea for that in fact, use a particular unique phrase from the article “inside quote marks” and input it into Google, and there you have it. And you can copy the address bar from your Google visit into text:
    Then you can copy that into -your- Web browser’s address bar and see the same thing that I was looking at (usually).

  23. daikonsensei said,

    May 11, 2009 at 6:47 am

    @5 SteveGJ

    “surely it is not beyond their organisational capability to fund properly qualified people to do precisely that and sort of the wheat from the chaff. It is surely possible to produce more digestible forms than original research papers.”

    There is this:


    The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and is a department of the University of York. CRD, which was established in 1994, is one of the largest groups in the world engaged exclusively in evidence synthesis in the health field. The Centre comprises experienced health researchers, medical information specialists, health economists and a dissemination team.

    CRD undertakes systematic reviews evaluating the research evidence on health and public health questions of national and international importance. The findings of CRD reviews are widely disseminated and have impacted on health care policy and practice, both in the UK and internationally.

    We produce the DARE, NHS EED and HTA databases which are used extensively by health professionals, policy makers and researchers around the world.

  24. msjhaffey said,

    May 11, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I have no quarrel with the thrust of this blog entry. Just one matter of fact needs correction: according to Merck’s 2008 Annual Report, their revenues are $24bn, not $600bn.

  25. pseudomonas said,

    May 11, 2009 at 9:24 am

    I read it that the $600bn figure was for the entire industry, not for just Merck – still, it’s useful to have a figure for the company in question as well.

  26. mikewhit said,

    May 11, 2009 at 11:32 am

    @Andrej Bauer:
    Maybe the libraries could subscribe to the print (paper) edition of the papers – then scan them electronically for their own archive purposes …

  27. Teapot said,

    May 11, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Yet another mathematician of sorts (statistician to be precise).

    As many have pointed out the current system, where we do the work, edit the journals and referee the papers and then at the last minute the publishing companies come in and steal the copyright, is very strange indeed. In mathematical subjects the publishing companies add literally nothing, as we all typeset it ourselves in Latex anyway and the hard copies are increasingly redundant. The news about the topology journal is very encouraging, and is IMHO clearly the way to go.

    However, maths subjects are generally low-volume and we also seem to be atypically collaborative in the way we work (pure maths especially), so this sort of thing is probably better for us than most other subject areas.

    Not only that, but decline in publishing companies might even make things worse, as it might then be easier for Big Pharma etc to get away with such pseudo-journals as the ones recorded here.

    One of our librarians recently said that she’d been to a conference on this open-source publishing etc and reckoned that change was coming sooner rather than later. Any librarians who can comment on this?

  28. n00bd00d said,

    May 11, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    @mikewhit – I’m not a copyright expert, but as I understand it you need to retain the originals (the print journals), and not make them publicly available. So you need the space to store the complete run of journals, which not many libraries do, and you can’t put them on the web, which sort of defeats the point of the exercise.

    @Teapot and others – Journals only steal copyright if you let ’em. As Micheal Barr notes, chances are if you tell them you’re making it freely available, they’ll let you. The copyright of an article is yours to do with as you wish. And I think your librarian was probably talking about Open Access.

  29. NileH said,

    May 11, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    It’ll be interesting if the court forces disclosure of the actions – if any – that were taken against the individuals marked-up as ‘discredit’…

    But the next question is: how far does the rot go? Will these doctors’ professional association support them against a major sponsor? Would the researchers’ parent institutions dare take an action that might result in the fiscal catastrophe of a drop in publications by every single researcher, in every single faculty?

    Also: what will happen to the academics and the doctors who have lucrative positions in the fanzine industry? They are probably quite senior: what part will they have in the decisions that follow?

    Finally, the mathematicians who have started an independent journal of topology might be at risk if Elsevier closes down their suddenly-unprofitable journal: ‘closing down’ as in deleting all the files, ending the provision of reprints and – in a nightmare scenario – suing anyone who infringes their copyright.

    What will happen to these mathematicians when no-one’s citing their previously-published work?

    Yes, that kind of action would be unethical, irrational, self-defeating and self-destructive; but that’s no guarantee that it won’t happen!

    It would be entertaining (but on reflection, deeply unfunny) for readers of Bad Science to contribute their own speculations as to what actions a giant publishing company might pursue, from whispering campaigns all the way up to supervillains stroking a white cat and launching missiles from the secret island fortress while Ben Goldacre thrashes around in the pirahna pool.

    But here’s one cast-iron prediction: they will do something stupid.

  30. henrywilton said,

    May 12, 2009 at 2:58 am


    Finally, the mathematicians who have started an independent journal of topology might be at risk if Elsevier closes down their suddenly-unprofitable journal: ‘closing down’ as in deleting all the files, ending the provision of reprints and – in a nightmare scenario – suing anyone who infringes their copyright.

    You seem to be confusing the editors of the journal with the authors who were published in it. The scenario you envisage seems unlikely, anyway. Elsevier charges for online access to old editions of Topology – so it’s still making them money, even though it’s defunct.

    That said, your prediction has already come true.

  31. ommthree said,

    May 12, 2009 at 8:20 am

    @ henrywilton, catmac

    I’m an astronomer. We also use LaTeX to typeset our own stuff (though admittedly the journals like to make a mess of it afterwards) and the most widely used method of distribution is arXiv. Nonetheless papers are only taken seriously once they have been accepted by one of the major journals. So that the organising of the peer review process is all that the journals really contribute.

    The main American journal (ApJ) has a page charge for authors while the main European (A&A) and the main British journal (MNRAS) just charge exorbitant prices for their paper and electronic journals. The latter approach is clearly unsustainable since every single paper from the last decade or so and all the important ones from earlier decades are available on arXiv for gratis.

  32. chocoholic said,

    May 12, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I work for a not-for-profit science (not maths) publisher and I’m beginning to feel a bit persecuted here. Please don’t tar all publishers with the same brush. Our authors mainly submit Word files which we process. After peer review, which has to be administered, the hard work of actually editing the articles is done in house, by full time degree or PhD level scientists. Making sure the author’s science is clearly understandable and error-free (or as near as we can make it) can require quite a lot of work, especially if the author doesn’t speak English as a first language and struggles a bit. The article needs to be made understandable by other non-native speakers without changing the science – sometimes no mean feat, hence the costs. Whether they are author-pays OA fees or reader-pays subscription fees is a separate question – the costs of actually doing it are still the same. Also, there are technological developments to be invested in, and any enhancement of the published article with links to other databases for example also requires time, effort and expertise.
    Oh, and I’d like to add that we don’t actually require authors to hand over the copyright to their articles. They keep the copyright themselves and grant us a licence to publish the article.

  33. catmac said,

    May 13, 2009 at 7:21 am

    @chocoholic Maybe I should have been clearer: I’m perfectly OK with publishing companies expecting academics to do a lot of the work themselves _or_ charging prices that correspond to that work being done by the publishing company. I’m not OK with both at the same time. I understand perfectly that there are costs to be borne in publishing and that publishing companies have to be paid a fair price. I don’t understand why certain journals are ten times more expensive than others which have exactly the same type of material and a very similar editorial quality. (And this kind of comparaison also makes it clear that there are “virtuous” publishers who are doing their best to keep costs down.)

    Also, I’m talking about my field- which evidently is rather different from yours. All the work you mention- apart from resetting Word documents which doesn’t exist for us- is done by the academic editor or the reviewer who isn’t paid by the publishing house.

    @robin There’s another point I just thought of:
    a journal gains its standing and importance more through the decisions of authors (to submit or not submit their best articles to that journal) than through the decisions of departments to buy or not buy the journal. To be clear- if enough very good articles are being sent to a given journal then it’s very difficult for any library to unsubscribe. This means that changes in journal rankings etc. have to organised by a community-wide coherent campaign and the people who have to take actions (authors) are not the same as the people most aware of the problems (librarians trying to balance budgets.)

  34. Karrasko said,

    May 13, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Elsevier publishes research articles. That’s it. They’re not to apply in mass production or in medic tests, but some of you are right.

  35. taglet said,

    May 15, 2009 at 9:04 am

    In the spirit of previous posts, here’s the link and only the link, to the Progressive Librarians Guild website…libr.org/plg/elsevier.php

  36. joey89924 said,

    November 22, 2012 at 1:20 am

    However, we have the advantage that, being a non-lucrative field, a large percentage of our journals are academic-run not-for-profit journals and recently there have been some encouraging signs of an academic community backlash attempting to retake control of the publishing process.