The new (interim) editorial board of Lingua

Lingua has a new editorial board. The journal is run by Prof. Harry Whitaker from Psychology, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, Michigan, USA. I wrote an email to him on January 9th, but he did not change his mind. To the other current members I will send the following text today:

Dear XY,

Since I used to work for Elsevier’s Lingua, Elsevier sent me an email informing me that there is a new editor running the journal now. Looking at the journal’s webpage I found your name in the editorial board. I wonder whether you know the recent history of the journal. Last year the complete editorial board contacted Elsevier and asked them to transfer the journal into Fair Open Access. One part of the definition of Fair OA is that the prices for OA publications are related to actual costs. These are estimated with 400€. Elsevier’s prices for an OA paper in Lingua are much higher (1800$ = 1600€). Since Elsevier did not agree the complete editorial board resigned and founded their own journal (Glossa).

Now, Elsevier is looking for new editorial board members and found you. By giving your name to them you support something that is harmful to science and to society. According to Wikipedia and the business report cited there, Elsevier has a revenue of £2.48 billion in 2014 and a net income of € 1,090 million. That is the profit rate is 37 %. This money is payed by research institutions or individuals who are buying subscriptions, papers or pay author processing charges. Most research institutions world wide are payed by the tax payers. So by supporting this company and this publication system in general, we give a Billion Euro to the share holders of Elsevier rather than doing science and education with it. I am not arguing that nobody should make any profits with selling goods or services, but the profits shouldn’t be 37%. The problem with Elsevier is that they own brands and misuse their power to get the most out of our budgets. Please ask your local librarian about Elsevier. The solution for the crisis in the publishing sector lies in scholar-owned brands. We as scientists are building the reputation of journals. If the brand belongs to a profit-oriented publisher, we work with the result that the fees and prices get higher. Therefore the brands should belong to societies or to groups of researchers and not to the publishers. This is one of the points of Fair OA.

I ask you to rethink your decision to work for Lingua. There is no reason left for doing so. I reviewed for Lingua two times last year, but I will not review for Lingua in the future. The prestige that was associated with Lingua was transferred to the new journal Glossa. The same applies to services on the editorial board. If you work there you are not helping the scientific community, on the contrary: you are doing harm to us. So being on the board of Lingua now actually looks bad on your CV, quite contrary to what it was a year before.

Again: Please reconsider your decision.

Friendly greetings from Berlin

Stefan Müller



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Is our scholarship based on illegal foundations?

Publishing used to be largely about dissemination – printing books and journals and shipping the copies to readers. This changed radically in the 21st century, where dissemination is virtually cost-free: Publishing is now primarily selection of content, plus the erecting of barriers to public access – at least if you are a commercial publisher. And this means that ways around these barriers will be sought by people who would like access to the content.

The fate of the music industry since the 1990s is well-known, and this may have affected not only the bosses, but sadly also the artists. Nobody would argue that professional artists and writers should give their content away for free, but in this post I only talk about scientific content. My question is: To what extent are the current scholarly dissemination practices legal?

In the official picture, libraries acquire access rights from commercial publishers, or individual scholars deposit their green open access papers in their institutional repositories. Both of these happen a lot of the time – especially the libraries of rich institutions pay huge sums to the commercial publishers. But at least in my field, institutional repositories are still fairly marginal, and what people do instead is put their papers on their personal websites, or use as a repository for their papers. And since is not vetted systematically, I suspect that it contains a large number of papers that the publishers do not officially allow to be uploaded. Some publishers have asked to take down papers whose rights they own, but this results in negative publicity, so it is my strong impression that most publishers just say nothing and hope that their revenues will not be affected too much too soon by the practices of the scholars. I know of no research about the extent to which contains content that infringes the copyright owners’ rights, and maybe I am exaggerating. But the prevalent attitude among scholars seems to be: Let’s make use of whatever ways of disseminating our results we have, and let others worry about the rights management and the costs. Critical voices about are rare (an example is a recent post by historian G. Geltner, which focuses on future plans for monetizing

In my experience, while scholars have little qualms about uploading their papers, they rarely upload PDFs of books. But for books, there are a number of “text-sharing platforms” which seem to be widely used, especially by younger scholars (see, e.g., this recent paper). I have no idea where these platforms get their content from. I do not have any legal expertise, but to all appearances these websites share books in a way that infringes the rights of the commercial publishers, because usually the publishers insist on copyright transfer from the authors.

I learned about these text-sharing platforms only in the spring of 2015 (though I had heard rumours about them earlier) – as a member of a rich science institution, my colleagues and I have no particular need for them, and there is almost no public discourse about them. Scholarly associations do not discuss them, and the social media are silent about them. So does this mean that they are marginal and few people use them? This seems very unlikely, given that they contain a large number of recent scientific books (and articles) which are otherwise difficult to get, especially if you don’t have the fortune to work at a rich institution.

Do the publishers mind? As in the case of, it seems that they just hope that libraries will continue to buy their content, even if it is freely available elsewhere. I had a conversation with a representative of a major international publisher a few months ago, who asked whether I would publish with them. When I said that I had a problem with paywall publication, because it makes my work inaccessible to many potential readers, he replied: “If you really want to get access to our books, you can.” Apparently he was hinting that everyone knows that one doesn’t have to buy their books if one wants to read them, and he didn’t seem to mind. (After all, fewer readers means less impact, and less impact may mean fewer sales, because sales are very indirectly related to readers.)

Thus, it is my impression that to a growing extent, our scholarship may be based on illegal downloads of copyrighted material.

Is this a big problem? Since scientists are not being prosecuted in large numbers (and the case of Aaron Swartz is fortunately an isolated case), one might answer that it isn’t a big problem, and that we as scholars should just go on doing what we are supposed to do, letting others take care of the legal and financial framework of publication.

Personally, I find it difficult to go along with this. I think that the well-being of a society to a large extent depends on the trust that is established by widely respected legal frameworks. If scientists disregard the law in ever larger numbers, this cannot be good for science or for the society.

So what can be done? In my view, the answer is simple:
Get rid of paywalls, but not by continuing to pay (via author-side fees) for privately-owned brand names; thus:
– Recognize that scientific publication is part of scientific research and needs to be funded in the same way.
– Create incentives to abandon privately-owned brand names, e.g. by proper funding of scholar-owned brand names.

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Typesetting by “Premium Publishers”

You would think that Elsevier makes so much money from selling reference works like the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2006, print: 3949€, 9000 pages) that they could pay a typesetter. No! What they did is obvious when you look at the formatting of the figures and formulae. They just did a screenshot (of a manuscript perfectly typeset in LaTeX).

Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-13 um 10.45.57

As you can see the derivation in (13) has a little vertical line at the right edge. An artefact due to inserting screenshots. So the claim that publishers like Elsevier do high quality typesetting for us is a myth going back to the good old times. It is not reality.

And the fact that the little line is still there somehow is evidence that the inhouse proofreading did not work either.

This is the paper, just in case you want to check. It is $30 for 12 pages = $2,50 per page.


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SPAM journals

After getting more and more SPAM from journals, I decided to put together a list of journals that send me unsolicited mail and usually demonstrating a real lack of understanding of the field they claim to publish in. The first member of the list will be Journal of  Modern Education Review (ISSN 2155-7993).

They asked me whether I want to submit my paper about CoreGram in their journal on Education and if I wanted to publish books with them.

  1. The paper is about theoretical and computational linguistics, not about eduction
  2. The paper is already published.
  3. I am one of the press directors of Language Science Press and I am not looking for an outlet for my books.

So, this is a clear candidate for a SPAM journal.

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Canceling the Lingua subscription

I emailed our librarian and asked them whether it would be possible to cancel the Lingua description. She informed me that they canceled the print subscription long time ago and that the online version cannot be canceled since the FU has a contract until 2017 that was set up for all Berlin universities. These bundles make individual cancellations impossible.

One option that was considered by the FU was to not enter new contracts with Elsevier at all, but the sciences rejected this option.

Conclusion: We keep Zombie Lingua in our library and have to talk to the sciences and convince them that it is worthwhile to transform their journals into fair OA.

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