Back in April, we wrote about a curious decision to give the widely-hated publisher Elsevier the job of monitoring open science in the EU. That would include open access too, an area where the company has major investments. The fact that the European Commission seemed untroubled by that clear conflict of interest stunned supporters of open access. Now one of them — the paleontologist Jon Tennant — is calling on the European Commission to remove Elsevier, and to find another company with no conflicts of interest. As Tennant writes in the Guardian:
How is it reasonable for a multi-billion dollar publishing corporation to not only produce metrics that evaluate publishing impact [of scientific articles], but also to use them to monitor Open Science and help to define its future direction? Elsevier will be providing data through the monitor that will be used to help facilitate future policy making in the EU that it inevitably will benefit from. That’s like having McDonald’s monitor the eating habits of a nation and then using that to guide policy decisions.
Elsevier responded with a blog post challenging what it calls “misinformation” in Tennant’s article:
We are one of the leading open access publishers, and we make more articles openly available than any other publisher. We make freely available open science products and services we have developed and acquired to enable scientists to collaborate, post their early findings, store their data and showcase their output.
We have co-developed CiteScore and Snowball Metrics with the research community — all of which are open, transparent, and free indicators.
CiteScore may be “open, transparent, and free”, but Tennant writes:
Consider Elsevier’s CiteScore metric, a measure of the apparent impact of journals that competes with the impact factor based on citation data from Scopus. An independent analysis showed that titles owned by Springer Nature, perhaps Elsevier’s biggest competitor, scored 40% lower and Elsevier titles 25% higher when using CiteScore rather than previous journal impact factors.
In other words, one of the core metrics that Elsevier will be applying as part of the Open Science Monitor appears to show bias in favor of Elsevier’s own titles. One result of that bias could be that when the Open Science Monitor publishes its results based on Elsevier’s metrics, the European Commission and other institutions will start using Elsevier’s academic journals in preference to its competitors. The use of CiteScore creates yet another conflict of interest for Elsevier.
As well as writing about his concerns, Tennant is also making a formal complaint to the European Commission Ombudsman regarding the relationship between Elsevier and the Open Science Monitor:
The reason we are pursuing this route is due to the fact that the opportunity to raise a formal appeal was denied to us. In the tender award statement, it states that “Within 2 months of the notification of the award decision you may lodge an appeal to the body referred to in VI.4.1.”, which is the General Court in Luxembourg. The notification of the award was on January 11, 2018, and it was exactly 2 months and 1 day later when the role of Elsevier as subcontracted was first publicly disclosed. Due to this timing, we were unable to lodge an appeal.
In other words, it was only revealed that Elsevier was the sub-contractor when it was too late to appeal against that choice. A cynic might almost think those behind the move knew people would object, and kept it quiet until it was impossible under the rules to appeal. Open science? Not so much…