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Jon Tennant’s June 29 Guardian article raises fundamental questions about open science while conveying misinformation about Elsevier's role

Dr. Jon Tennant’s June 29 article in The Guardian Online, “Elsevier are corrupting open science in Europe,” raises fundamental questions about open science, and is coupled with misinformation about Elsevier’s role. Both deserve a response.

The article questions why the European Commission has awarded a tender to Elsevier to monitor the uptake of open science in the EU and beyond. It neglects that it was in fact awarded to a consortium consisting of The Lisbon Council, CWTS and ESADE, with Elsevier in a supporting role. The bid was, of course, part of an open procurement process as part of a competitive tender, a fact that Dr. Tennant fails to mention. More importantly, Dr. Tennant appears to be questioning the notion that a private sector company generally, and Elsevier specifically, can be a partner to science. He appears to doubt that Elsevier can usefully and impartially support the European Commission as it seeks to gather relevant and timely indicators on the development of open science inside and outside of Europe to understand trends in the field better.

Elsevier embraces the principles of open science. Advancing it is part of our purpose to serve science and health, and we have unequivocally committed to this publicly through actions such as signing on to the European Open Science Cloud. Research should be open, collaborative and transparent. In this respect, we are aligned with the broader research community, of which we are an integral part. That is why we receive 1.5 million new article submissions every year — a number that keeps growing: because researchers want their article to be one of the 400,000+ submissions we accept for publication each year.

More recently, we’ve taken big steps to support open science. We are one of the leading open access publishers, and we make more articles openly available than any other publisher. We make freely available open science products and services we have developed and acquired to enable scientists to collaborate, post their early findings, store their data and showcase their output. We make Mendeley — a reference manager and collaboration solution — freely available for the millions of researchers that use it while also adding free data search and storage services.

We also acquired and developed free-to-use Plum Analytics and NewsFlo to make research metrics more inclusive. We have co-developed CiteScore and Snowball Metrics with the research community – all of which are open, transparent, and free indicators  The largest pre-print server in Social Sciences — SSRN — is free for use, and we have extended it across many other subject areas to enable the free posting and circulation of preprints in those disciplines too. Elsevier’s bepress and Pure enable universities to automate the hosting of manuscripts and datasets in their institutional repositories for readers to access for free.

These actions speak louder than misinformed and misleading words and demonstrate that Elsevier is a major supporter of open science. We will continue to be. We have served society and science for almost 140 years because of our collaborative relationship with the research community. In that relationship, we stand for quality, integrity and objectivity. Like other commercial players, our own future depends on us being able to uphold these values while aligning and co-developing with the community we serve. For that reason, the consortium was careful to exclude a bias towards Elsevier products in the monitor’s methodology – another point ignored by Dr. Tennant. Where Elsevier tools can make a useful contribution, they are included. In most cases, other sources are being used, including plans to integrate unpaywall.org’s database into the analysis. The methodology is publicly posted, transparent and open for comments.

Why would anyone seek to exclude commercial players like Elsevier from their vision of open science? Given the $500 billion spent annually on academic and government research globally, is it feasible for the public sector alone to deliver the data, tools and services required for open science? How open can his vision be if it is closed to the possibilities offered by the private sector? Elsevier, as one private sector business, will continue to demonstrate through actions that we have a valuable role to play. As always, it will be for the research community globally to judge whether this is the case. In the instance of the European Commission’s open science monitor tender, the Commission answered “Yes.”

Update: Please see a  related statement by Lisbon Council President Paul Hofheinz: Open Science, the Open Science Monitor and the Open Science Monitoring Trends and Drivers Project.

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