Corvallis Science & Nature: OSU Cuts Top Scientific Publisher, Plus the Week’s Conservation Events

Oregon’s top universities, including Oregon State University, University of Oregon and Portland State University, have all decided to pause their subscriptions to Elsevier, one of the leading scientific publishing services. Elsevier publishes over 2,700 scientific journals, most of which are behind a paywall that charges universities and other institutions for subscriptions and a charge per paper for everyone else. 

The subscription cutoff means that students and staff at all three universities, as well as the University of Washington, will run into that paywall much more often when researching current or historical scientific studies. Over 600 of Elsevier’s journals are open and free to read, but that still leaves over 2,000 behind the paywall, meaning that tens of thousands of studies will be more difficult to access this year than last.  

It might surprise readers who aren’t active in research, but scientific publishing and its profitability are one of the worst kept secrets in academia. In 2017, The Guardian reported that the industry was bringing in revenues of over $20 billion, and that Elsevier in particular, a $2.4 billion company, had reported a 36% profit margin. That’s a higher margin than Google. 

Traditionally, scientific publishers make this money by charging nearly everyone in the publishing process, and paying almost no one. The authors of papers, or much more often their institutions, pay thousands of dollars to be published, while the reviewers who maintain quality control through peer review are unpaid. Then, the same academic institutions that produce the research that is the lifeblood of the process pay again to subscribe to journals in bulk through services like Elsevier. Because of this wildly profitable, top-down system, huge archives of research, past and present, have been unavailable to institutions unable to pay the bill.  

According to The Daily Emerald, who first reported this story, the universities had been trying to negotiate with Elsevier.  

Now that the universities are drawing a line and pushing back, there may be some chance to reform or replace these services and their fees, for the good of universities, researchers, and science as a whole. 

This Week’s Events 

This week, there’s plenty to keep science- and nature-minded Corvallis residents busy, whether it’s inside or out in the fresh air. Willamette Riverkeeper and Greenbelt Land Trust are both running volunteer cleanups. Benton County Soil and Water Commission has their annual meeting at the Corvallis Museum on Monday. The highlight may be Saturday, when the 9th annual Willamette Valley Bird Symposium kicks off at OSU’s CH2M HILL Alumni Center on 26th street. This year’s symposium features two plenary speakers: OSU Assistant Professor Dr. Katie Duggar talking about Adélie penguins and climate change in Antarctica, and OSU Professor Dr. Susan Haig on the survival of the Pacific Flyway and wetlands in the Great Basin. After 2 years of Zoom-only sessions, the organizers are excited to welcome Oregon bird researchers and enthusiasts back to the symposium in person. 

Thursday Jan 19th: Willamette River Cleanup: 

Saturday Jan 21st: Willamette Valley Bird Symposium: 

Monday Jan 23rd: Soil and Water Meeting: 

Tuesday Jan 24th: Bald Hill Farm cleanup: 

By Ian Rose 

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