Friday 20 March 2009

Bloody Elsevier

Some time ago, I had a paper on normal fault evolution in the Gulf of Suez accepted for publication in the Journal of Structural Geology. This is an Elsevier journal, and the paper duly went off to the Elsevier production people to be published. Now, one of the figures in the paper is a large and spectacularly detailed geological map of the study area, done in the late 1990s by my co-author and former University of Manchester post-doc Ian Sharp. This is an excellent piece of work in itself, and it had never been published; we decided that this paper would be a good place to finally publish it. The level of detail on this map is such that we wanted to reproduce it in colour, at A3 size. We knew that this would cost money, but the industrial sponsors of the work were happy to cover the costs.

After a long and generally fruitless attempt at corresponding with the Elsevier production department (which has been outsourced to India, incidentally), I finally received a PDF proof of the paper in which the geological map was reproduced at A3 size. All well and good. Until the final version of the paper was published [paywall: for God's sake, don't pay $31.50 for this...if you really want a copy, e-mail me and I'll send you a PDF], and the map was back to A4 size, with much of the fine detail lost as a result.


Now, surely it isn't on for Elsevier to unilaterally make changes to an article without consulting the authors about it. I know some people who have been involved in editing this journal, and it seems they are unhappy with how it is being run by Elsevier. As Dr Aust points out, companies like Elsevier charge large amounts of money for papers, in just about the only example of publishing in which the authors don't want to be paid for producing all the content. Elsevier makes massive profits out of journal publishing, gets to hide all of the content behind ridiculous paywalls, and doesn't even make a particularly good job of the journal production. There must be a better way.


Anonymous said...

I had a case where a 'final version' manuscript went off to printing in Singapore and someone somewhere decided I had put the leader lines on a Figure in the wrong places, and changed them about(wasn't Elsevier). It was very embarassing and could have threatened the credibility of the whole piece. Fortunately, I don't think anyone has ever read it....(sigh)

Zeno said...

"There must be a better way."

Self publish on!

Anonymous said...

Elsevier's other trick, apart from predatory pricing, is to force Univs to take "bundles" of their journals, i.e. the library has to take a whole bunch of crap journals it doesn't want in a "package" so as to get the ones it does want for a reasonable rate.

If you don't want to go the whole hog and publish in an open access journal, I would recommend the learned society owned/run ones, if there is one in your "patch". They still turn a profit, but maximizing the take is very definitely not the point of the journal. Obviously the learned society journals are still produced by publishers, but it is very different to the publisher owning the journal, especially if it is one of the large-profit outfits. I would be fairly surprised to find a learned society having Elsevier publish their journal, given Elsevier's reputation.

Paul Wilson said...

Dr Aust:

Yes, I was aware of the "bundling" issue. Scandalous, and surely the reason that the University of Manchester has a subscription to Homeopathy. I keep meaning to contact the library to find out if that is the case, but have never got around to it.

As for alternative journals, either open-access or learned society journals will definitely be something I would consider in the future. The problem with open access is that as yet there aren't that many journals in my field that anyone has heard of. Also, I'm a structural geologist, and the paper was very clearly a structural geology paper, addressing an important current issue in structural geology. So the Journal of Structural Geology is the obvious place to send it, even though it's an evil Elsevier journal.

Jolan S. said...

Happy birthday Geoboy!