Academic publishers - the biggest evil you didn't know existed
March 2, 2016
Did you know that the main academic publishers have higher profit margins than Apple? Lucrative, no? Also, evil. The Guardian compares academic publishers to Rupert Murdoch and a quick search will show you that they aren't the only ones complaining. Possibly because academic publishers also sometimes like to do arms trading.
This is a credendum.
This article has been updated, but first appeared on our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology.
Did you know that the main academic publishers have higher profit margins than Apple? In 2011, Elsevier made $1.1bn in profit. Lucrative, no? Also, evil. The Guardian compares academic publishers to Rupert Murdoch and a quick search will show you that they aren't the only ones complaining.
Academic publishers are evil
In that same Guardian article, they point out that just three academic publishing companies; Springer, Elsevier and Wiley-Blackwell, account for almost half of all academic journals out there. In fact, a study about the publishers of studies (academics can't help it, those scamps), revealed that those three conglomerates publish exactly 42% of all academic work.
Why is it so profitable? Well, firstly they don't need to pay for the articles. Academics submit them for free because it's the predominant way one progresses in one's career. Not only that but more often than not journals charge a fee to the authors to publish an article. Then they charge potential readers to read it!
## They are literally causing people's deaths
You remember that whole Ebola thing not long ago? A freakish disease was suddenly lapping at our doorsteps and we had no advance warning that it was spreading, right? Obviously wrong, hypothetical reader, or I wouldn't be asking.
Ebola is a terrifying disease. And yet, the model of these publishers meant the spread went unnoticed. The prohibitive cost of engaging with their articles meant this almost entirely ignored paper remained invisible. It warned that Ebola was spreading as early as 1982, six years after we discovered it. Unfortunately, the cost of accessing it was half a West African doctor's weekly salary. That's why, to date, the paper has only eight citations (edit: as of 2020, the paper has 37 citations, so it's nice that a NYT article over 30 years later finally brought it some attention).
Also, more mainstream unscrupulous behaviour (like arms trading)
Consider the Research Works Act, a piece of legislation academic publishers intermittently try to bankroll through the U.S. legal system. This act is designed to force publicly funded academic work to be published only by them, thus significantly reducing the amount of free-access legitimate research.
They've also been known to publish research 'sponsored' by unnamed pharmaceuticals groups without letting us know that the research was probably absolutely biased.
Or the more classic 'sue customers when they use our stuff in a way we don't like'.
Or how about those times Elsevier just straight up organised some arms trading fairs? Seems like a pretty standard core business activity of any publishing company.
Too much Eminem for you, Elsevier:
I say the world's already f***ed, I'm just addin' to it
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