Update March 4: Researchers at University of California schools may soon lose access to research appearing in journals published by Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers in the world.
UC announced on Thursday that it was not renewing its subscriptions with the academic publishing giant. The two sides had been in drawn-out negotiations to forge a new deal after extensions were granted upon the expiration of the old contract at the end of last year.
Free access to UC research paid for by public funds was a major sticking point during the negotiations.
"Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals," UC said in its announcement.
Randy Schekman, a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, explained the university's position on "KQED Forum" last month.
"Very often ... physicians who are not connected to an institution that may have a license for scientific literature will not have the ability to read a paper on a subject of direct relevance to their clinical practice," Schekman said. "They'll find they have to pay a fee of $30 or more to a journal published by Elsevier or Springer Nature just for the privilege of reading a paper.
"This is largely work that has been funded, in the case of the U.S., by the National Institutes of Health. That is, by taxpayer funds."
An Elsevier spokesperson told The Chronicle of Higher Education that it was "disappointing" that UC "has broken off negotiations unilaterally, but we hope we can bridge this divide with them soon.”
Meanwhile, UC's Office of Scholarly Communications has posted a web page called "Alternative Access to Elsevier Communications."
"Elsevier is expected to begin limiting UC’s access to new articles through its online platform, ScienceDirect, possibly very soon," the post says. "If Elsevier were to reduce access to subscribed content, access to articles published from 2019 forward, as well as a limited amount of historical content, would no longer be available directly on Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform."
The page goes on to list four alternatives to accessing papers published by one of Elseiver's titles, including searching for open access copies, contacting authors, and securing them from libraries.
The UC Berkeley Library also has a page up delineating which Elsevier content will and won't be affected.
The University of California is trying to negotiate free public access to scientific research conducted by its publicly funded schools.
UC, which publishes about 10 percent of the country's science studies, paid more than $10 million in 2018 to access and publish its own research in journals owned by the academic publishing giant Elsevier.
"Open access" has been a major sticking point during UC's contract negotiations with Elsevier. The previous contract expired at the end of 2018, but access to the publisher's journals was extended to the end of January.
Representatives from both UC and from Elsevier's advisory board joined KQED Forum host Michael Krasny last week to discuss the debate over open access and who gets to set the terms for the scientific publishing industry.
Here are excepts from their conversation, edited for length and clarity.
What does the term "open access" mean?
Randy Schekman (professor of molecular and cell biology, UC Berkeley): Open access is the idea that scientific literature paid for largely by public taxpayer funds should be available for all. Not only to those at universities, but also to the public.
Very often, for instance, physicians who are not connected to an institution that may have a license for scientific literature will not have the ability to read a paper on a subject of direct relevance to their clinical practice. They'll find they have to pay a fee of $30 or more to a journal published by Elsevier or Springer Nature just for the privilege of reading a paper.
This is largely work that has been funded, in the case of the U.S., by the National Institutes of Health. That is, by taxpayer funds. So those of us who are associated with the open access movement feel very strongly that it's about time that people have access to the literature that they paid for.
Lower subscription prices were also an issue. Elseiver "has one of the highest profit margins of any company in the world -- the profit margin is higher than Apple's," said Jeff MacKie-Mason, co-chair, of UC's Publisher Negotiation Task Force, on the same program. "So Elsevier is getting an enormous amount of profit out of what they're charging us to read articles that, to a large extent, we wrote."