Changes to the Elsevier manuscript sharing policy: how they affect Mendeley & you

On April 30th, Elsevier updated its policies regarding how Elsevier papers may be used to more closely align with the STM Association principles and to address usage on social networks, which have become popular since the last time the policy was updated (yeah, it was that old!) For Mendeley and other sites on which research is shared, the main thing is that there are fewer restrictions on what sorts of use are permitted, but we also get some technical help with a new article tagging proposal.

What it means for a Mendeley user

The day-to-day experience of a researcher using Mendeley won’t change. We plan to use the new machine-readable information in the PDFs to improve our catalog search, recommendation features, and article-level information available via the Mendeley API. We would also like to encourage researchers to add the new author manuscripts to their researcher profiles.

While we continue to dream of and work towards a world where all research is available to anyone without restriction, this is a welcome step forward. At Mendeley, we worked closely with Elsevier to ensure these changes help the whole scholarly communications ecosystem – researchers, publishers, librarians, and developers of new technology – and found Elsevier a willing and forthcoming partner in our work to meet the changing needs of of researchers. For any new startups that have bold new ideas about how to make research better, get in touch with Alicia or Alexandra – they don’t bite!

What we like about the policy

  • We like that the policy is much simpler to understand. The old policy was complicated and had all sorts of exceptions. Simpler policies allow us to provide a better user experience.
  • We like that the policy is not too prescriptive re: sharing platforms. The online world changes rapidly and it’s good that Elsevier is signaling willingness to work with existing sites and whatever YikYak-for-research might be yet to come.
  • We like that author manuscripts have a CC license applied. This helps remove the uncertainty about reuse permissions.
  • We like that the policy isn’t just words – a proposed new standard for article tagging, to be developed in collaboration with sharing platforms and other publishers, will make it easier for us to build advanced search and discovery features, as well as to provide better article usage stats to Scopus, Altmetric.com, Plum Analytics, etc. Importantly for stats, the machine-readable tags will now include information such as article license & document version.

The above changes aren’t just good for us, they’re good for everyone – Mendeley user or not. We understand that researchers need a range of tools and services to support their work, so we worked hard to ensure these changes help the whole scholarly communications ecosystem – researchers, publishers, librarians, and developers of new technology. Of course, we’re on the progressive end of things at Mendeley, so there are some parts of the policy we don’t feel goes far enough.

What we don’t like about the policy

  • The author manuscript embargo. We believe that libraries and researchers will still value the permanently archived, DOI-linked, more readable and fully-citable version of record, regardless of the prevalence of author manuscripts. We’re not alone in our dislike of this, either. Harnad and Kevin Smith single this out as the main issue. Here’s the thing – it’s entirely reasonable for Elsevier to worry that IR copies might end up substituting for publisher copies. If librarians and researchers do actually value the permanently archived, DOI-linked, and variously enhanced version of record, you need to make your voices heard on this so that we can get policies based on evidence and demand, not worry and risk projections.
  • The NC-ND bit of the Creative Commons license on author manuscripts. The NC license will create confusion about use of the work in academic settings and the ND license will cause uncertainty in applications such as text-mining. For what it’s worth, we have been told the license isn’t intended to restrict use in classrooms or text mining.
  • The distinction between commercial and non-commercial sites. We don’t like that for-profit enterprise is singled out as if we’re somehow more risky to partner with. Mendeley reached out to Academia, ScienceScape, MyScienceWork, Pubchase, Sparrho and others for guidance as we worked with Elsevier, and their feedback has helped shape the policy. We would therefore like to suggest that the disdain we sometimes encounter within academia for for-profit enterprise is misplaced.
  • Overall, we think the positives outweigh the negatives. Though there’s bound to be some cases where one particular part of the policy has an outsized and unforeseen effect – this is inevitable when trying to restrict use of digital content – they are not presenting this policy as cast-iron and immutable for the next decade, so please let them know if some part of the policy is really ill-suited to your particular application.

    There’s one other thing we’d like to mention. It’ll do no good if this overture from Elsevier is ignored or repudiated, so we’d also like to suggest that criticism of the policy be done with a fresh set of eyes. We’re not suggesting that the past be forgotten and we’re certainly no stranger to grand-standing and revolutionary rhetoric, but we also think good behavior should be rewarded if there is to be more of it. Embargo aside, this does lift the burden somewhat on those trying to innovate in the scholarly communications space, so that’s why it is, on balance, a positive step forward in our eyes.

    Avoiding Research Pitfalls: Kristen Marhaver Talks@Mendeley


    Kristen 1

    Last week we welcomed Dr Kristen Marhaver to Talks@Mendeley. She travelled all the way from the Carmabi Research Institute in Curacao – one of the oldest research centres in the Caribbean where she studies coral reefs – to discuss how researchers can communicate their work more effectively, and what pitfalls they are likely to encounter along the way.

    She started off by explaining that her keen interest in Science Communication (and Digital Science in particular) came from a passion for the ocean, her concern over its collapse, and a wish to make a positive contribution towards conservation.

    She expanded on the theme of her recent Wired Article, talking about the problems that come from treating scientific research as a disposable commodity rather than a durable good, to be built incrementally over time.

    Science News

    “We have this situation where a paper that took 5 years to produce, which addresses 500 years of biology, gets 3 days of press attention. My question is, what happens in day 4? The media noise simply doesn’t match the severity of the problem.”

    The main problem, she believes, stems from the fact that science is not the news, but gets treated as such. And by approaching it as an ephemeral commodity, we’re doing a huge disservice to the research community and society in general.

    “Science News shouldn’t be something that ages. It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about science that was published last week, that is just absurd.”

    She also pointed out that Twitter is becoming a useful aggregator of science news:

    “We’ve reached a sort of speed limit on Twitter in we can’t produce enough news for a new tweet every five seconds, but that then creates a space for citizens to float things they believe are important back up to the surface, hence the #InCaseYouMissedIt phenomenon”

    Bad Translation

    Kristen also highlighted the problems around diluting or sensationalising scientific messages in order to make it more palatable or newsworthy. Since researchers don’t usually get to go on book tours or press tours to talk about their message, there is often a real danger of their work getting irrevocably misinterpreted along the way.

    “The main issue here is that scientific research is so specialized that there will be very few people in the world, apart from the original researcher, who are qualified to interpret and critically analyse that output, and to translate it to a broader audience.”

    There is, however, hope in the fact that we’re increasingly seeing the Internet acting as a platform for expert translators of this content.

    “You now have things like Altmetrics aggregating all the chatter around scientific research. When I first started talking about this a few years ago, there was really no way for the average citizen to look at a piece of research and figure out what gravitas it had, and what its real importance was.”

    However, she believes that altmetrics should not merely focus solely on counting mentions and other social interactions, but should prioritise aggregated content, curating expert opinions in such as way as to make research clearer and more accessible to the average person. At the moment, Altmetrics is something that is on the radar of the scientific community, but not exactly common knowledge to the general public. And that, says Marhaver, is something that really needs to change.

    “Every paper should come with a lay summary. This kind of tool is something that everybody should know about, and should be on every search search bar: Tell me more about this research in a language that makes sense to me

    That is actually something that chimes with some recent initiative by Mendeley and Elsevier, like the recently launched STM Digest , which aims to provide lay translations of scientific papers produced by experts with in-depth knowledge of the subject.

    OA Fundamentalism

    “It’s hard for conservationists to pick their battles wisely, but sometimes you have to let small things go to win the bigger fights.”

    Kristen draws parallels here with the Open Access debate, saying there are papers that people simply need to have access to, and that some content needs OA more urgently than others. This is something that scientists have actually started to address by self-sorting based on OA importance, publishing papers with broader societal impact into Open Access journals and more specialized content in others. She recognises that Elsevier initiatives such as Atlas are a good start, but wants them to go further

    “My dream is that all the big publishing houses took a small percentage of the most important papers in areas such as food security and conservation, things that they recognised that the public really needed to know about, and just opened those up?”

    Talking to Ourselves

    “We used to be in the proverbial scientific Ivory Tower talking to ourselves and it was considered shameful and even corrupting for scientists to mingle with the common folk”

    We like to think that things have moved on since then because these conversations now happens on the Internet, but the danger is they don’t actually manage to reach the general public.

    “You can’t simply rely on creating social networks around scientific content because content is too rare, if your content is PDFs, you don’t have new ones to add very often, unlike Twitter and Facebook. We also need to ask ourselves whether we’re creating great things with our knowledge, or are we just making more click bait?”

    Q&A

    Before going on to answer questions from the Mendeley team, Kristen finished on a positive note:

    “Science Communication is booming, and baby corals are growing.”

    And that just has to be a good thing.

    Mendeley's top time-saver tips for early career researchers.

    So you’ve slaved away all year long, passing up pool party and barbecue invitations to feed the needs of the research beast, and you’ve finally got something to show for it. The next question is how do you get it published, where, and what do you do after that so it doesn’t end up with two readers, one of which is your mom? We won’t presume to tell you where, but we do have a few tips for things to consider, which you may have missed because you were slaving away at the bench or in the library like a good student and not reading up on all the cool stuff that’s happened this summer in the exciting world of academic publishing. So here’s our summary of the new (and we presume you’ve already heard the old from your PI).Read More »

    Do you know an example of open access research helping the public good? Nominate the team for a $30k ASAP award!

    The Public Library of Science, the Wellcome Trust, and Google recently announced the Accelerating Science Award Program. If you know someone who has applied or reused scientific research in an innovative way to advance science, medicine, or technology, you can nominate them for an ASAP award. The goal of ASAP is to reward people for publishing and re-using open access research and also to gather compelling use cases for open access.

    This program has major support from publishers, funders, and the tech community and they have put up some serious prize money – $30,000 for each of three winners. The nomination period opened May 1 and runs through June 15. Potential nominees may include individuals or teams of scientists, researchers, educators, entrepreneurs, policy makers, patient advocates, public health workers, students, or anyone else, as long as they have reused open access research in a innovative way. The winners will be announced during Open Access Week in October 2013 in Washington, DC at an event hosted by SPARC and the World Bank. Mendeley is assisting by publicizing the event and gathering nominations, and Creative Commons, along with several other library organizations, publishers, and research organizations are also sponsoring the event.

    More information is available at http://asap.plos.org/

    Is the time right for a preprint server for life science?

    On the other hand, physicists like to say physics is to math as sex is to masturbation.Academics in physics, economics, or math often think that life scientists (like myself) are weird because life science doesn’t have a preprint server. Life science is a fast-paced discipline, but there’s no place where the latest research can be found, discussed, and where the primacy of results can be established. There’s a lot of value in life science research (the reproducible subset, that is) but instead of staking your claim to a finding shortly after you get the data, many researchers feel like they have to write a polished paper, submit it to a prestigious journal, and wait nerve-wracking months to years for the process of review, rejection, resubmission to finally make their results available to a subset of others in their field.As submission-to-publication times grow, fears of someone else getting there first grow and there are often accusations of “anonymous” reviewers asking for more experiments, just to delay the publication of a paper from a competing lab. What can be done about this? Read More »

    Interview with eLife, a new tech-forward #openaccess journal

    I recently caught up with the very busy eLife team to ask them a few questions, along the same lines as the PeerJ interview I did earlier this year. While there are many new open access journals launching every year, we think this one is special because they’re breaking the traditional mold in some significant ways: bringing transparency to reviews, implementing full open access as opposed to just free-to-read access, and redesigning the publication processes to implement modern technology. They’re also intending to be highly selective, somewhat breaking the newly popular megajournal mold from which PLOS ONE was cast and which most major traditional publishers have hastened to copy.Read More »

    Liveblogging Open Science Summit

    I’m here at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View for Open Science Summit. This is my third year at the conference and it’s so great to see so many familiar faces. I’ll be talking about the developments in open access over the past few years and updating this page as the day progresses.

    9:00 – The day starts off with Tyler Neylon recounting the story of the Cost of Knowledge petition. He’s drawing from a historical view to project into the future of open access.Read More »