A story about sex & academic publishing’s raptors


Regular readers know that esnl loves to publish reports on the findings of academic researchers, covering everything from the latest climate science to the adverse health effects of plastics, the latest research on mind-altering drugs, and more.

Readers will have also noticed that we’ve taken to including in those reports just how much it would cost a reader to look at the full report as published in those scientific journals, sums that we find simply staggering.

We’ll begin today’s report with new findings about sex [how better to get your attention?], then leap into a lacerating report on the evils of academic publishing, an issue that impacts us all, right in the wallet.

Sex: Younger Americans are doing it less

From San Diego State University:

Since time immemorial, older generations have fretted over the sexual habits of young people. In today’s world, however, elders might just be wondering why young people are having so little sex, according to a new study by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge.

A research team also including Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University and Brooke Wells from Widener University analyzed data from 26,707 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults that includes members of the current millennial generation and its predecessor, Generation X. The researchers found that today’s young people are less likely to have had sex since turning 18.

According to Twenge, author of the book “Generation Me,” 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds born in the 1990s reported having no sexual partners since age 18, compared to only 6 percent of Generation X’ers when they were young adults. This sexual inactivity stands in stark contrast to the so-called “hookup culture” reportedly pervasive among Millennials: More are not having sex at all, much less hooking up with multiple partners.

“Online dating apps should, in theory, help Millennials find sexual partners more easily,” she said. “However, technology may have the opposite effect if young people are spending so much time online that they interact less in person, and thus don’t have sex.”

Concerns over personal safety and a media landscape saturated with reports of collegiate sexual abuse might also contribute to millennials’ sexual inactivity compared to previous generations, Twenge continued.

“This generation is very interested in safety, which also appears in their reduced use of alcohol and their interest in ‘safe spaces’ on campus,” she said. “This is a very risk-averse generation, and that attitude may be influencing their sexual choices.”

Other factors contributing to fewer millennials having sex could include the widespread availability of pornography, the historically high number of young adults living with their parents, the later age at first marriage, and increased access to instant entertainment online. The researchers published their findings this week in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. . .

On the utterly evil, thoroughly despicable academic journal cartel

If you want to read or download the article, the extortionate folks from Springer [publishers of the Archives of Sexual Behavior] will charge you the gasp-inducing sum of $39.95. They do, however, allow you to read the abstract for free, from which this is excerpted:

Online and in-person sexual behaviors of cisgender lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, heterosexual, questioning, unsure, and youth of other sexual identities were examined using data from the Teen Health and Technology study. Data were collected online between August 2010 and January 2011 from 5,078 youth 13–18 years old. Results suggested that, depending on sexual identity, between 4–35 % of youth had sexual conversations and 2–24 % shared sexual photos with someone online in the past year. Among the 22 % of youth who had oral, vaginal, and/or anal sex, between 5–30 % met one of their two most recent sexual partners online. Inconsistent condom use was associated with increased odds of meeting one’s most recent partner online for heterosexual adolescent men. For gay and queer adolescent men, having an older partner, a partner with a lifetime history of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and concurrent sex partners were each significantly associated with increased odds of having met one’s most recent sex partner online. None of the examined characteristics significantly predicted meeting one’s most recent sexual partner online versus in-person for heterosexual; bisexual; or gay, lesbian, and queer women. The Internet is not replacing in-person exploration and expression of one’s sexuality and meeting sexual partners online appears to be uncommon in adolescence across sexual identities.

So just how evil is the academic publishing cartel?

Well, to begin with, their profit rations dwarf those of such lucrative corporate giants as Apple, Google, and any of the Big Pharma and Big Agra giants.

And like all true cartels Big Academia is swallowing up its smaller competitors to consolidate its grip ensure those extortionate profits just keep coming in, with students and their professors paying all the freight.

Consider the profits of just one publisher, Elsevier.

From “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era,” a review of the evils of the academic publishing cartel, by Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, published in the open access joural PLOS One in June, 2015:

Operating profits (million USD) and profit margin of Reed-Elsevier as a whole (A) and of its Scientific, Technical & Medical division (B), 1991–2013.

Operating profits (million USD) and profit margin of Reed-Elsevier as a whole (A) and of its Scientific, Technical & Medical division (B), 1991–2013.

A second chart from the same article show how the cartel is swallowing up smaller publishers, consolidating their grip on academic publishing:

Number of journals changing from small to big publishers, and big to small publishers per year of change in the Natural and Medical Sciences and Social Sciences & Humanities.

Number of journals changing from small to big publishers, and big to small publishers per year of change in the Natural and Medical Sciences and Social Sciences & Humanities.

An academic license to steal

In a 3 November 2015 report report, Bloomberg looked at the anomaly that is academic publishing and came up with a withering verdict:

Publishers of academic journals have a great thing going. They generally don’t pay for the articles they publish, or for the primary editing and peer reviewing essential to preparing them for publication (they do fork over some money for copy editing). Most of this gratis labor is performed by employees of academic institutions. Those institutions, along with government agencies and foundations, also fund all the research that these journal articles are based upon.

Yet the journal publishers are able to get authors to sign over copyright to this content, and sell it in the form of subscriptions to university libraries. Most journals are now delivered in electronic form, which you think would cut the cost, but no, the price has been going up and up:

This isn’t just inflation at work: in 1994, journal subscriptions accounted for 51 percent of all library spending on information resources. In 2012 it was 69 percent.

Who exactly is getting that money? The largest academic publisher is Elsevier, which is also the biggest, most profitable division of RELX, the Anglo-Dutch company that was known until February as Reed Elsevier. Here are its results for the past decade:

BLOG Academic publishing profits

A classical case of outsourcing to workers on the public payroll

Really.

How else do you expect them to make those 40 percent profit margins?

George Monbiot added his voice to the growing chorus of dissent in a critical essay in the 20 August 2011 edition of the Guardian:

In the past financial year, for example, Elsevier’s operating profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn). They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles.

More importantly, universities are locked into buying their products. Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. In many cases the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all. Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.

The publishers claim that they have to charge these fees as a result of the costs of production and distribution, and that they add value (in Springer’s words) because they “develop journal brands and maintain and improve the digital infrastructure which has revolutionised scientific communication in the past 15 years”. But an analysis by Deutsche Bank reaches different conclusions. “We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.” Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more.

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

University libraries gutted for cash

This March 12 the New York Times noted the phenomenon in as report noting that Harvard University can’t even afford the cost of subscribing to the journals its students need:

Journal publishers collectively earned $10 billion last year, much of it from research libraries, which pay annual subscription fees ranging from $2,000 to $35,000 per title if they don’t buy subscriptions of bundled titles, which cost millions. The largest companies, like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Springer and Wiley, typically have profit margins of over 30 percent.

>snip<

Legally downloading a single journal article when you don’t have a subscription costs around $30, which adds up quickly considering a search on even narrow topics can return hundreds if not thousands of articles. And the skyrocketing cost of journal subscriptions, which have unlimited downloads, is straining library budgets.

“The prices have been rising twice as fast as the price of health care over the past 20 years, so there’s a real scandal there to be exposed,” said Peter Suber, Harvard’s director of the office of scholarly communication. “It’s important that Harvard is suffering when it has the largest budget of any academic library in the world.”

So can online publication help cut the costs?

Well, consider this from an abstract of an article entitled “On toxic effects of scientific journals” by French academicians Antoinette Molinié and Geoffrey Bodenhausen, published in the June 2013 edition of the Journal of Biosciences:

The advent of online publishing greatly facilitates the dissemination of scientific results. This revolution might have led to the untimely death of many traditional publishing companies, since today’s scientists are perfectly capable of writing, formatting and uploading files to appropriate websites that can be consulted by colleagues and the general public alike. They also have the intellectual resources to criticize each other and organize an anonymous peer review system. The Open Access approach appears promising in this respect, but we cannot ignore that it is fraught with editorial and economic problems. A few powerful publishing companies not only managed to survive, but also rake up considerable profits. Moreover, they succeeded in becoming influential ‘trendsetters’ since they decide which papers deserve to be published. To make money, one must set novel trends, like Christian Dior or Levi’s in fashion, and open new markets, for example in Asia. In doing so, the publishers tend to supplant both national and transnational funding agencies in defining science policy. In many cases, these agencies tend simply to adopt the commercial criteria defined by the journals, forever eager to improve their impact factors. It is not obvious that the publishers of scientific journals, the editorial boards that they appoint, or the people who sift through the vast numbers of papers submitted to a handful of ‘top’ journals are endowed with sufficient insight to set the trends of future science. It seems even less obvious that funding agencies should blindly follow the fashion trends set by the publishers. The perverse relationships between private publishers and public funding agencies may have a toxic effect on science policy.

Want to read the full essay?

Well, it’s in a journal published by Springer, one of the Big Five in the cartel, so it’ll cost you $39.95.

So what, exactly, is Springer?

From a 22 December 2015 report by communications scholar Jason Schmitt in Medium:

Heather Morrison, a professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa, unpacks the business model behind academic publisher Springer and says, “If you look at who owns Springer, these are private equity firms, and they have changed owners about five times in the last decade. Springer was owned by the investment group Candover and Cinven who describe themselves as ‘Europe’s largest buy-out firm.’ These are companies who buy companies to decrease the cost and increase the profits and sell them again in two years. This is to whom we scholars are voluntarily handing our work. Are you going to trust them? This is not the public library of science. This is not your average author voluntarily contributing to the commons. These are people who are in business to make the most profit.”

So it’s not only Republican-spawned tax cuts that are raising students tuition rates at America’s universities and forcing generations of young people to take on onerous debt burdens.

It’s also the rapacity of a newly empowered cartel.

It’s time for us all to cry out Aux Barricades!

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