Summary of OA Discussion Event at the HU with Participants of DFG and Elsevier

Encouraging Results of the Mathematician’s Fights

The Humboldt University organized a panel discussion about OA yesterday. The mathematician Martin Grötschel gave an initial talk about his activities during the past decades. He described his dreams in 1995 (Everything! Everywhere! Immedeately! For free!) and concluded that these wishes did not come true. However, during the discussion of the participants of the panel some interesting facts were mentioned that show that mathematicians made huge progress in comparison to linguists (with the possible exception of Computational Linguistics).

Article Prices

First, they managed to reduce the prices for online copies of articles published by Elsevier to 11€ (0.50–0.60€ per page, see letter by Elsevier).


Access to Archives

In addition all older articles are now made publically availible by Elsevier. The following quote from the Elsevier Web Page is supposed to explain this:

We recognize the unique circumstances of the mathematics community. Mathematicians use and read relatively few articles, but do so very intensively. The community itself is relatively small and generally less well funded than those based around other disciplines. Therefore researchers at certain (especially smaller) institutes don’t always have access to key mathematics articles. The actions Elsevier is taking are aimed to support the advancement of the important work in this community.

In May 2012, we made the archives of the primary mathematics journals open and freely available, from four years after publication back to 1995, the year in which we started publishing digitally.

In September 2012, we have gone even further and opened access to all available archived articles, back to Volume 1, Issue 1 (or the first issue available) of each of the primary mathematics journals from 4 years after publication to the 1st issue, which means back to early 1960s for several titles.

This is of course true of other sciences as well but the archives of theses disciplines remain closed. I guess the difference is the pressure that the mathematicians managed to maintain in comparison to other researchers. The mathematicians have an international organization that can coordinate such efforts, nothing like this exists in linguistics …

And as Angelika Lex, the Elsevier representative in the panel, admitted Elsevier was impressed by the over 12,000 signatures to the Cost of Knowledge campain.

Author Pays Open Access

One topic that was actually brought up by Angelika Lex from Elsevier was Elsevier’s activities in Open Access publishing. The example she mentioned was Cell. I asked how the price of $5000 per article in Cell (price overview) was justified and Angelika Lex replied that the acceptance rate is 4 out of 100 and that Elsevier has to maintain the infrastructure for doing the editorial work and storing the papers. But this basically means that the biologists pay for the brand that they helped to create, since they do the reviewing, Elsevier doesn’t.

The DFG pays 1 Mio € per year for such Author Pays forms of Open Access (Anne Lipp, the DFG representative in the panel). I think that this is good for individual authors, since it increases their international visibility, but it does not solve our problem. Rather than paying the publishers, who have over 35%(!!) profit margins (Reed Elsevier Annual Reports and Financial Statements, p. 9), one should spend the money on infrastructure that enables researchers to do the work themselves. It could even be the same type of staff, but in non-profit organizations that are attached to universities, for instance.

Author pays models exclude whole continents from publishing and should neither be supported by scientists nor by research agencies.


Anne Lipp from the DFG (German Research Foundation) remarked that authors do not have to sign the contracts that transfer the copyrights to the publisher. If we just do not sign the paper work, the rights remain with us. Publishers accept this since otherwise they would not have anything to publish.


Linguists should organize better in order to force publishers to open their archives and to lower prices. We should stop signing contracts with publishers in which we transfer our rights to them.

Matthias From posted an extremely detailed summary of the discussion in German.


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6 Responses to Summary of OA Discussion Event at the HU with Participants of DFG and Elsevier

  1. Pingback: The Cost of Knowledge | Free Science Blog

  2. Regarding Anne Lipp’s remark about simply not signing the usual copyright transfer statement, is there a way of finding out which publishers accept it? It sounds like she is saying all publishers would would, which is somehow hard to imagine. Would it be necessary to state that the DFG asks German researchers not to sign it?

  3. I heard this just do not sign it from several people now. But they were established researchers. So maybe this is the difference. I am not sure whether the DFG can officially say such things. But if nobody transfers any rights it would work. The interesting thing is that we are the ones who have to enforce the demands of the publishers. So it is the book editor or the journal editor who has to take a stand.

  4. The audio recordings of this event are now available at:

    The explanation by Angelika Lex (Elsevier) why the OA option for publications in Cell costs $5000 starts at 1:55:51.

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