Posts Tagged ‘Policy’


A sleeping giant: Vision scientists wake up, drink some coffee and start boycotting Elsevier

February 6, 2012

The recent calls for a boycott of traditional, closed-access scientific publishers – especially the Fred Goodwin-esque pariah-of-the-moment, Elsevier – have caused much discussion over the last week in the vision science community. Elsevier publishes the long-running flagship journal Vision Research and many of my fellow researchers are expressing frustration at providing free content and peer-review services to a journal whose owner makes money by restricting access to research, rather than disseminating it. Suggestions made in the past few days have ranged from black-and-white suggestions that we simply boycott all non-open journals, to boycotts of specific publishers, to more subtle discussions of the role of copyright in this battle, a battle which is widely being perceived as a tipping point in the open access revolution.

Elsevier’s £724 million (36%) profit last year, combined with their support of the controversial Research Works Act and a series of campaign “donations”, widely perceived as bribery of elected representatives in a blatant attempt to grease the passage of said Act, piled on top of existing ethical qualms about the company (such as their support for the arms trade), appears to have woken a sleeping giant as hundreds of thousands of researchers worldwide ask themselves: “why the bloody hell are we doing free peer-review for these bastards?”

This came hard on the heels of a recent lively discussion on the Colour & Vision Network and Applied Vision Association mailing lists regarding the astounding cost of the journal Experimental Brain Research, published by Springer. The issue was raised by Simon Rushton, Tom Freeman and Petroc Sumner of Cardiff University, who pointed out that the cost to libraries of a yearly subscription to Experimental Brain Research was (at $11,751) roughly 6.2 standard deviations (SD = $1656) above the mean ($1360), which due to the positive skew of the data is actually an overestimate of the representative cost of a Springer journal!

The price of Experimental Brain Research compared to other journals from Springer (in USD). These stats came from the Nov 10th 2011 pricelist. Thanks to Simon Rushton for this graphic.

This issue crystallised in many people’s heads when Bristol academic Mike Taylor wrote a stark, polemical comment in the Guardian, and Fields-medal-winning Mathematician, Timothy Gower wrote a widely-read call for a boycott of peer-review against Elsevier, which in turn gave rise to an online petition.

An online pledge calling for researchers to only peer-review for open-access journals followed, and now, with most of the vision community thoroughly up in arms about the issue, University of Sydney academic Alex Holcombe plans to organize a satellite event at the Vision Sciences Society conference in May to discuss these issues.

In recent years, vision science has been invigorated by the introduction of the open-access, pay-to-publish (or get-your-funding-body-to-pay-to-publish) Journal of Vision, which already ranks alongside Vision Research and IOVS in terms of impact factor and has far outstripped several other vision journals. It has forced the other vision journals to raise their game, review their policies and improve their customer service, and for that, I tip my hat. Whether its success leads to any other journal’s downfall remains to be seen, but suffice to say, this is an exciting time. The question now is how traditional scientific publishers like Elsevier and Springer will respond to this challenge of their increasingly-unjustifiable hegemony. In the meantime, I intend to use what little power I have by politely declining to review papers for Elsevier journals and thinking long and hard about to which journals I submit in the future.


Euroscepticism is ballooning in the uncritical press

November 3, 2011

“Children to be banned from blowing up balloons!” screamed the Telegraph, and a hundred other mainly right-wing “journalists” parroted the story.  If the people working for these news sources were genuinely sceptical, rather than just being Eurosceptical they might have checked their facts. The new EU Toy Safety Directive says that, in line with already existing toy safety rules, balloons made of latex must carry a warning aiming to prevent children from choking or suffocating by inhaling or swallowing uninflated or broken balloons. Stronger balloons do not need to carry the warning. The label must recommend adult supervision, but it certainly does not forbid children under 8 from inflating balloons.

Put in words of one syllable that even the most ignorant, dribbling, Daily Mail-reading, knuckle-dragger can understand: This is not a ban.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but as a parent, I am acutely aware of the location of every balloon and bit of balloon in the vincinity of my children. They always have been a choking hazard, and Brussels various Toy Safety Directives are simply a move to label them as such.

Balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death, according to CPSC injury data. Since 1973, more than 110 children have died as a result of suffocation involving uninflated balloons or pieces of balloons.

It would appear that the British press has got it wrong again. One might almost be forgiven for thinking that they deliberately fail to read the content of the material they are criticising. Hell, its almost like they’re pushing an agenda!

Unsurprisingly, the liberal-leftie pinko rag the Guardian didn’t cover this story. Maybe because they realised that it was bullshit. If the good old Grauniad didn’t bother with this patently made-up story, where were the corrections to the story published? High-profile daily broadsheets like the Telegraph, who had got the story wrong in the first place? Advertising-dependent American media-conglomerates?

No. Of course not.

The Times of Malta reported the correction, as did the Courthouse News Service and IEWY News. Ever heard of those news sources? Ever read them? Didn’t think so.

Do I think such labelling is necessary? Not really. But then I am an intelligent (and slightly anxious) parent who has actually thought about this issue. Other parents have perhaps not considered the possibility that their child could die after inhaling a balloon that the Eurosceptic press consider “harmless”. This directive is for them. If they ignore it, that’s their (or rather, their kids’) problem. What outrages me about this story is the fact that perfectly sound policy is being unfairly rejected based on what agenda the Torygraph and the Daily Fail are pushing this week.

Perhaps more irritating is the criticism from the American press of an entirely European directive. Criticise your own bloody laws, you hypocrites, and let us sort out ours. Or did you not realise that you have exactly the same kind of regulation over there in the States? Strangely, several weeks after the correction was issued by Brussels, and the rest of the worlds’ news sources had forgotton about the whole thing, American alternative medicine promoting, anti-science website the Huffington Post was still whinging about Brussels being “spoilsports.” Perhaps they have a homeopathic attitude to journalism – the more dilute the facts, the stonger the story…

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