Open Access discussion vs. scientific content

Chairman Koen Becking has personally been in touch with scientists from Tilburg about giving up editing positions at Elsevier journals. According to Tineke Bennema, spokeswoman for Tilburg University, a number of them have agreed on doing this. Universities are using this tool to put pressure on publisher Elsevier, in the negotiations about new contracts for journal subscriptions. The universities want a Gold Open Access model, but so far Elsevier does not give in.In other cities, executive boards have also been in contact with their scientists. In Nijmegen, where Gerard Meijer is chairman, people were ‘very willing’ to think about giving up their post, according to Vox. Meijer is negotiator with Elsevier and represents all Dutch universities. In an interview with the university magazine in Nijmegen, he says: “The current system is no good and now we have the chance to change it. We should seize that chance.” The publisher itself, Elsevier, has also sent an e-mail to Dutch scientists. It reads: “The challenge is that, apart from the Netherlands and the UK, no other country aims for Gold Open Access. […] Therefore, while a transition to Open Access is desirable, it needs to be managed carefully and funded properly as it is not cost-free for the Netherlands.” This is also the opinion of Theo Beckers, emeritus professor at Tilburg University and, until recently, editor in chief of the Elsevier journal Environmental Development. He recently resigned to make way for a younger perspective, he says. “The fact that I left my post at the journal has nothing to do with the negotiations, even though I do support a road to Open Access. However, someone has to pay for that transition, and right now it is not clear who takes responsibility for that.”

Last week, the universities, united in the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) started their Elsevier boycott plan. One of the people who received a request from Koen Becking, is professor Emiel Krahmer, from the Department of Communication and Information Sciences. Through chairman Becking, he received the request to end his activities as an editor for the journal Speech Communications: “I did not do this, because to me, this is a discussion that should be held at another level in science.” He says that during his work for the journal, he barely has anything to do with Elsevier as a business. “This is a magazine that I work on with colleagues. Though it is clear to me that we need to take the road to Open Access, the editing board is dedicated to the content of the magazine. That stands apart from the discussion on the table.”

The fact that the negotiations with Elsevier are hard, is due to the fact that young scientists need to publish in the most prestigious journal they can find, says Krahmer. “This changes when they become more experienced.” It is possible that the level of prestige that Elsevier holds, can shift in the future, he says. This could change the position the publisher holds in the negotiations. Apart from that, there are models that worked in contracts with other publishers, like making an article Open Access one year after publication. “There are several possible models like this,” Krahmer says. “So though I understand what the VSNU asks of scientists, this does not seem like something that should play a role in groups of scientists that mainly focus on scientific content.”

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