Kumsal Bayazit, Elsevier CEO, shares her vision for building a better future in research

Charleston Conference speech discusses open access, trust, and a frictionless future

Kumsal Bayazit at the Charleston Conference
Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit gives the keynote at the Charleston Conference. (Photo by Alison Bert)

Watch a video of Kumsal's presentation


Good morning everyone and thank you for having me here today. I have really been looking forward to coming here to Charleston to meet with and listen to you. It was kind of the organizers to invite me as I know it was not a popular decision with everybody. I genuinely appreciate you including me.

I believe in making progress by building bridges, finding common ground, finding linkages. I grew up in Istanbul, a city that bridges the East and the West. As a child, I crossed the bridge that connects two continents every day as I lived on the Asian side but my school was on the European side.

Slide 2: Building stronger bridges

I am familiar with the complexity of building bridges and welcome the opportunity to do so at Elsevier. My hope and ambition for Elsevier is to work constructively with all the stakeholders in the ecosystem of Research — to tackle the Grand Challenges that our society faces, and to evolve our services for a better future. With that in mind, I would like to cover the following today.

  1. First, I want to share my observations about the dynamic world of Research after being in my role for almost nine months. Research across all disciplines has driven remarkable progress for society, and we all aspire for it to keep doing so.
  2. Second, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from listening to the diverse perspectives of many Research stakeholders that I’ve met while traveling around the world. At times I have been inspired, and at times I have been surprised: it’s clear that there are serious issues, and I see today as an opportunity to begin addressing them. To do that effectively, we need to be able to converse openly and to confront elephants that may be in the room. By doing so, I hope we can move beyond the past, build trust, and work for a better, frictionless future.
  3. Third, I’ll look forward to the future. I am full of optimism about the opportunities to support research communities. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to complex issues in the world of research, nor do I underestimate the size and scope of the challenges before us. However, I am optimistic because so many people that I met are smart, dedicated and strongly committed to the shared mission of advancing societal progress through quality research. That commitment includes publishers — and it certainly includes Elsevier.

1. Observing the dynamic world of research

To kick off, let me reflect on the tremendous progress that research and innovation have enabled across the world [examples from Factfulness by Hans Rosling]:

  • Slide 5: Since 1800, life expectancy at birth has increased from 31 to 72 years.
  • Slide 6: The proportion of the global population living in extreme poverty has decreased from 85% to 9%.
  • Slide 7: And literacy among adults has also increased from 10% to 86%.
  • Slide 8: Over the last two decades, the number of people infected with HIV every year has halved.
  • Slide 9: Access to electricity has increased from 72% to 85%.
  • Slide 10: And the rate of vaccination among children has increased fourfold, from 22% to 88%.
  • Slide 11: To add another example that is close to my heart: from 1970 to 2016 the percentage of women in the US workforce moved from 36% to 47%; and the percentage of women in STEM improved from 7% to 25%. Unfortunately, you can see the stagnation since the 1970s. While progress has been made, we are not where we need to be in terms of gender representation in research.

These massive societal advancements were made possible through the creation, sharing, and application of new knowledge by the global research community. I think we should all feel proud of the progress and our contributions.

Now there is a new set of Grand Challenges that the research community is addressing:

Slide 12: Grand Challenges in Research

  • The need to address global warming; to stop the pollution of our oceans
  • To ensure food and water security
  • To help people live longer healthier lives
  • And to reduce social inequalities while also driving economic growth.

What inspires me is the potential to collaborate on the next chapter of societal advancements that will come from the creation and application of new knowledge.

2. Learning from diverse perspectives

Turning now to my second section — what I’ve learned from listening to the diverse perspectives of many research stakeholders.

Since joining Elsevier, I’ve traveled around the world to hear from all stakeholders in this remarkable, interconnected and global research community. I’ve sought to understand their challenges and what we can do to help enable the next century of progress.

I would like to share with you my takeaways from these conversations with different stakeholder groups before spending most of my time reflecting on discussions with librarians –  who constitute the majority of today’s audience.

Governments and funders

Slide 14: Governments and funders want to protect the $500 billion or so that they spend on R&D annually, and to keep growing that spending in line with GDP at around 3%-4% per year. That’s because they have seen the return of this investment historically and see great potential to advance society and drive economic growth by addressing Grand Challenges.

Grand Challenges are interdisciplinary and global, so they are focused on finding new funding mechanisms that go beyond disciplinary and national borders.

They also have to make choices about where to put their limited funding in placing bets across high potential areas like artificial intelligence and sustainable power generation.

Finally, they would like to be able to demonstrate the impact of research on society more clearly so that citizens support R&D as an effective use of their tax dollars.

Research Leaders

Slide 15: Research leaders, primarily heads of universities and research institutes, need to make choices about where their institution is going to compete so they can attract top researchers, collaborators and funding — both to build facilities and to conduct high-impact research. They are also focused on using hard evidence to demonstrate their strength and impact.


Slide 16: I have also listened to many researchers. They are highly motivated to solve problems that will benefit society, so are working extremely hard to win funding, to attract talent, and to find international, interdisciplinary and commercial collaborators. They too would welcome new ways to demonstrate the societal impact of their work.

Regardless of discipline, researchers stressed the growing importance and intensity of data, which need to be accessible and re-usable. They are seeking help to document their methods, protocols and data management plans to ensure that their work is reproducible, a key issue that is close to the hearts of many.

As research becomes more interdisciplinary, researchers want help to understand adjacent fields and to stay on top of the latest developments in areas that they may be less familiar with. For example, I met a leading climate change researcher who developed the Planetary Boundaries framework, works with economists and legal scholars and social science policy related researchers who evaluate potential interventions such as carbon taxes, pollution controls and legislation.

And I heard many stories about the benefits of connecting the dots across disciplines. For example, I met a leading oncologist who was working on gene-sequencing to identify causes of cancer and trying to identify patterns in apparently random occurrences.  He was stuck. One evening, he went to a faculty cocktail party and ran into a colleague from the Astronomy department, they got to talking about his research. His colleague told him that what he did in his research in Astronomy was to find patterns in random occurrences. And it was the oncologist’s astronomy colleague who helped him make a breakthrough by helping to identify patterns in the apparently random gene-sequencing and medical imaging data.


Kumsal Bayazit talks about the perspective of librarians. (Photo by Alison Bert)

Slide 17: And turning to my focus for today — I have met with librarians.

While you continue your critical role as guardians of the quality of knowledge and knowledge dissemination, the way you do this is also evolving and very much focused on delivering the mission of your institutions.

  • You are enabling better data management and reproducibility. For example, you help researchers discover, manage, preserve, and disseminate data according to FAIR Data Principles.
  • You are helping researchers and institutional leaders preserve and showcase their intellectual outputs. For example, you are establishing and populating Institutional Repositories to capture data-sets, theses, dissertations, conference presentations. I learned that across more than 500 Digital Commons repositories, we estimate that 94% of the content and 91% of the downloads are for materials other than previously published, peer-reviewed journal articles that libraries have collected and shared openly to deliver on their institution’s mission.
  • You are helping to evolve ways to assess the impact of research.
  • You are advising on the use of metrics, data and analytical tools to inform evaluation and tenure decisions, and to help demonstrate societal impact, which can be controversial as there are many views on how to use metrics. And you are helping to set new standards of best practice like the DORA principles, which in turn help drive constructive behaviors in research.

In delivering on this important role, you are deeply concerned about costs.

Slide 18: R&D spend and library budgets

A fundamental issue is that library budgets have not kept pace with the 3-4% annual growth in R&D spending, which in turn drives 3%-4% annual growth in the volume of articles published. In fact in North America, while the rate of knowledge creation has accelerated with the invention of the internet and assessing quality has become more burdensome, the library budgets have decreased as a percentage of overall institutional budgets, such that absolute library spending has not kept pace with R&D spending.

As you seek to share and showcase your institution’s research, you are concerned about pricing transparency of journals and ways to optimize spending across publishers.

You are promoting and enabling open access in its many forms, including by funding repositories and Article Publication Charges; and by creating your own journals and university presses.

Before I look to the future based on our understanding of where we are, I would like to take some time to talk about two important topics. The first one is open access as it’s a very important topic for us all.

Open access

Slide 20: Elsevier fully supports open access.

First and foremost, I want to be very clear: Elsevier fully supports open access.

No one can dispute the beauty of the vision of freely-accessible, immediately-available research content, whether peer-reviewed published articles or other scholarly work. I am a UC Berkeley alumna, so these kinds of values were installed in me as a fresh new undergraduate. As Elsevier’s CEO, I am committed to working with you and the rest of the global research community towards a more fully open access future.

In fact, my professional background is in applying technology to content to help professionals make better decisions. For example, working in the part of RELX that serves legal professionals, I've seen the powerful benefits of analytical services that are built on top of freely available content, such as case law. This is why I'm excited by the potential to create value for researchers by applying text-mining and artificial intelligence technologies to the entire corpus of peer-reviewed content. I understand and appreciate the role that open access can play in delivering that vision.

The question is not whether open access is desirable or beneficial — the question is how we get there. My takeaway from my discussions on the topic is that there are many points of view. Publishers are often blamed for not making enough progress, which I think is fair. But it would also be unfair not to recognize the lack of alignment within our communities about the best way forward, which is understandable as this is a multi-dimensional issue that requires substantial problem-solving and action to make progress.

I am a pragmatist, and I commit to working pragmatically with libraries and other stakeholders to achieve shared open access goals. Part of this means acknowledging obstacles where they exist and discussing them openly and objectively so that we can find solutions to overcome them. If we don’t, progress will continue to be slow. I feel optimistic given the extent of commitment to make progress. In that spirit, please allow me to share t some of the obstacles that I have learned about in the last nine months.

Slide 21: The first obstacle is about differences in researchers’ views.

Some researchers are fully committed to open access and see it as a moral obligation. For other researchers, however, it is not their top priority.

Researchers value academic freedom, including the freedom to publish in the journal of their choice.  Elsevier has found that even where we experiment with workflows to opt authors into Gold Open Access and cover their publication costs, researchers sometimes opt out of that default setting.

This challenge should not be underestimated: we have all got work to do to get better adoption from researchers. Publishers and librarians can help find the right incentives and supporting frameworks to encourage adoption.

Slide 22: A second obstacle pertains to funding flows.

Again, I’m talking primarily about gold open access, which at scale would require research-intensive institutions to pay proportionally more than today, even if total system costs fall.

We’ve seen this in a recent statement by the U15 — Germany’s 15 most research-intensive universities. They are strongly committed to open access and strongly support the DEAL negotiating team. But they are also clear that funding redistribution challenges need to be addressed — which might include funders or governments playing a role.

Slide 23: Third, we must confront the obstacle of predatory publishing.

Research is widely trusted because articles have been through a rigorous independently-managed peer-review process. Many articles are rejected. For example, Elsevier journals receive about 1.8 million submissions, yet we publish only a quarter of them.

With gold open access, if a publisher accepts an article they get paid, and if they reject it they do not. An unintended consequence of gold open access has been the rise of Predatory Publishers who unscrupulously accept submissions to get paid. We must avert the serious risk of replicating the issues that fake news has wreaked on society, which could cause real harm, as well as undermine today’s high levels of trust in science.

Slide 24: As we talk to Research stakeholders around the world, we find that approaches vary widely to overcoming these obstacles and to achieve open access objectives. Some opt for gold open access whereas others for green open access – i.e., manuscript-posting in repositories. There are also countries and institutions that indicate that open access is not a priority for them, at this point in their evolution, even though they acknowledge the importance of its mission and benefits.

Elsevier’s approach is to work closely with those that we serve to help them achieve their goals as they define them wherever possible and sustainable.

Since I’ve joined Elsevier, we’ve announced many pilot deals, each with very different constructs, such as in Norway, Hungary, France and Poland.

Each one is different, because what each customer has asked for has been different, and their starting points and circumstances are also different. Our goal is to meet customers’ objectives, to understand what works, and to learn what is viable on a longer-term and larger-scale basis. And so long as we have permission from our customers, we will share the results of what we are learning to help inform ways forward. And we will continue to provide open access publishing through overwhelming majority of our journal portfolio and launch pure gold OA journals.

The instances where we have found a way forward far outweigh the instances where we haven’t yet, even though the latter get far more media attention. We should not underestimate the work (and time) required to build these paths. We at Elsevier are very committed to continue having open and constructive dialogues to find paths forward. And we should not underestimate the work (and time) required to build these paths.

To sum up on open access, we fully support it in multiple forms. To achieve it, we need to work together. That means acknowledging issues where they exist, being able to talk rationally about them, and finding ways collectively to overcome them. Above all, this requires trust. This brings me to what has surprised me. ...


Slide 25: Trust wordcloud

I knew coming into this role that Elsevier had a reputational challenge, but in the last nine months, the thing that has surprised me most pertains to trust. As the CEO of Elsevier, I have had strikingly different experiences with different customers.

Sometimes after entering a room, I almost get hugs from customers. I have met very senior research leaders who are very proud to work with our journals. I have met customers who compliment us as being synonymous with quality, who appreciate  high quality standards and building trust in research.

I also met early career researchers who are grateful for the way we rejected their articles and constructively helped them move forward. I have met institutional leaders who appreciate the insights from our analytics in their strategic decision making and librarians who have graciously worked in partnership with us through the years. I have been complimented on the dedication of our people to researchers and research.

On other occasions, however, the room is silent and sometimes I even get hostile stares. While lack of trust is not universal, it feels very important to me to address, so I would like to spend time on it here.

As I’ve tried to understand the reasons, I’ve heard a lot about pricing – for example that our journals had double-digit price increases in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and that we still account for the largest portion of most libraries’ content budgets. I’ve heard that our pricing is not regarded as transparent and that we’re perceived to oppose open access — or to be co-opting it. We are accused of double dipping. And we are criticized for being a for-profit company with high margins.

I  highlight these points because I work hard to put myself in the shoes of our customers who are frustrated and to see the world from their vantage point. Only if we do this can we support our customers effectively. At the same time, I would also like to give you the view from our vantage point. Of course, you can choose to disagree with my perspective, but my hope is that through better mutual understanding, we can rebuild trust and move constructively forward from the past.

I acknowledge that we have made missteps in the past. Elsevier did increase prices in double digits in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Many libraries had to cancel journals as a result, and there are still raw emotions about it. In 2002, we explicitly committed to contain price increases, and since then, for nearly two decades, our price increases have been the lowest in the industry.

Nevertheless, we do still account for the largest share of most libraries’ content budgets. From our perspective, that is because we publish the largest share of articles (18%) and account for the most citations (26%), a measure of quality. But I do acknowledge that it makes it more challenging to fund other things.

As for transparency, variation in spending is rooted in the transition to the Big Deal and reflects the differences in the make-up of “owned” versus “access-only” content across institutions. I do acknowledge, however, that two decades after the creation of the Big Deal, this seems anachronistic and that, in practice, it creates challenges.

As for open access, we fully support it in many forms — not because we are trying to co-opt it but because we are trying to meet the research community’s needs. But it’s true: we were slow to act on open access.

One thing I want to be clear about, however, is that we absolutely do not double dip! We have a strict no double-dipping policy. Either an article is paid for by the author and is freely available to read or published for free by the author and is paid to be read.

Commitment to social responsibility

Slide 26: Committed to social responsibility

Finally, we are a for-profit company, but we are a very responsible one. I am proud to work for Elsevier and have been with its parent company RELX for over 15 years. We are strongly committed to corporate social responsibility:

  • RELX [Elsevier's parent company] recently ranked second in the Standard & Poor ranking of 1200 companies for its environmental, social and governance performance.
  • RELX ranked second in the Harvard Business Review Environmental, Social and Governance rankings.
  • RELX ranked fourth in the Responsibility100 Index, a new SDG ranking of FTSE 100 companies.

This independent recognition reflects our genuine commitment to do the right thing for the communities that we serve and for the world at large that I don’t have time to cover today. Those include focused support for the advancement of all UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as our multiple efforts to achieve gender equality in research, climate research and supporting early career researchers in developing countries.

To close out on the topic of trust, all companies have supporters and critics — as do we — but I have been genuinely saddened by the deep frustration of our critics. I am sorry for causing this frustration. I am fully committed to earning the trust of the research community by working through and solving as many of these issues as possible. I appreciate that this will take time, and will happen through our actions, not our words.

In my short time leading the company what I have seen is that where we build bridges through mutual engagement, commitment, openness, flexibility and pragmatism, we also build trust. And from there we can build the future.

3. Looking forward to the future

(Photo by Alison Bert; Kumsal Bayazit on imagining the future of research. (Photo by Alison Bert; John Lennon image by Peter Virgancz)

Let me now look to the future and how we hope to serve research communities.

As I reflect on everything I’ve said, and what our shared contribution could be as we write the next chapter of research, I am excited by the prospect of partnering with the librarian community to support the next chapter of Research.

  • Imagine how better insights could be generated if researchers were easily connected to potential collaborators in their disciplines and outside of their disciplines; or if access to content and data was seamless for researchers and machines.
  • Imagine how much energy would be freed up if the frictions surrounding grant applications was eliminated: 80% grant applications fail today, which loses huge amounts of precious time for both researchers and funders.
  • And imagine if we can continue to support researchers so that reproducibility of research becomes a reality and not just an aspiration supported by a research information system of the future.

Please allow me to share some of the things that we are tackling in collaboration with the research community to evolve towards a future vision.

The first set of things are about how we will continue to evolve scholarly communications globally.

Slide 29: Imagine … no friction in peer review

We will leverage technology to reduce friction in peer-review processes while maintaining high standards of trust and integrity in all that we publish:

  • We will continue to work with the community to evolve traditions around anonymity and credit in the review process.
  • With our Data Science Institute partners in the US and Europe, we are deploying machine learning to tackle plagiarism, fraudulent submissions and manipulated citations and images.
  • We are also using artificial intelligence to improve authors’ journal submission experiences, including how we reject articles.

Slide 30: Imagine … no friction between disciplines

We will answer the call from researchers to eliminate friction between subject areas, supporting new areas of interdisciplinary research, such as One Earth, a brand-new journal from Cell Press about Environmental Grand Challenges.

As research becomes more interdisciplinary, we will develop advanced recommendation tools to seamlessly surface relevant content from adjacent fields that help researchers connect the dots across disciplines.

Slide 31: Imagine … no friction in resource allocation

  • We will collaborate with all relevant stakeholders to support their R&D investment decisions and help maximize the impact of their spending on society, thereby reducing frictions in funding allocation. For example, this week in Ireland, we are providing analytics at a National Research Summit of around 300 senior attendees to facilitate the nation’s research strategy discussions. The analyses draw from our Topics of Prominence tool to identify hot areas of research where Ireland has distinctive capabilities.
  • We will co-develop the next generation of tools for Researchers, leveraging our 70+ partnerships with academic institutions around the world as we do so.

Slide 32: Imagine … no friction in data management

  • As research becomes more data-intensive, we will provide tools that enable researchers automatically to document their methods, protocols and to implement data management plans according to FAIR data principles.

Slide 33: Imagine … easily demonstrating impact

  • As researchers increasingly need to demonstrate their impact on society, we will move beyond publication and citation metrics to develop new indicators, collaborating with the International Centre for the Study of Research that we launched this summer where experts from the community can set these standards. We will look to the community to set the standards.

Slide 34: Imagine … inclusive and diverse research and research communities

  • And we will systematically work on improving inclusion and diversity in research, with a focus on eliminating obstacles preventing gender equality. For example, we will deploy our analytics capabilities to measure progress and participation issues to drive balance in our editorial boards, conferences and peer reviewers and increasingly find ways to ensure gender is factored into the science. We are also launching an Advisory Board on Inclusion and Diversity – with leading researchers providing guidance for us.

In all the above, we see Librarians as key partners in moving to an ever-more frictionless research information system. We will co-invest and partner with you where — in your judgement — it will help us all go further faster.

Slide 35: Imagine … the possibilities of partnerships

An example of co-investment is the Research Data Management Librarian Academy (RDMLA), which we just launched. We co-developed it with expert faculty librarians from eight academic institutions in the Northeast. As a free, self-guided training program for librarians and researchers, it aligns with our mutual objective to support research as it becomes more data-intensive.

We will keep building out open access infrastructure like bepress’s Digital Commons to enable institutions to publish, manage and showcase the full spectrum of their research outputs, beyond journal articles.

As we look to the future and to the vision of frictionless research, my own personal commitments to you are that we will work with all stakeholders collaboratively, productively, and pragmatically with humility to:

  • Improve the value that we deliver to you
  • Sustain progress towards the vision of open science, which incorporates open access in its many forms as well as open data
  • Innovate in partnership with the communities we serve
  • Systematically work on inclusion and diversity, with a particular focus on achieving a gender balance in research and factoring gender into the science
  • Continue to contribute as a responsible citizen to the communities we serve to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals


In closing, I genuinely appreciate you including me in your conference.

Society faces tremendous challenges — the Grand Challenges that I have spoken about. It is the global research community who is going to solve these challenges, to deliver the next 100 years of societal benefits.

I hope we can move beyond the past, work together pragmatically in the present so that we can partner and work together on the future. By doing so, we can maximize our impact in helping the research community do the work on which the future of the world depends.

Thank you! And I will be happy to take questions now.



Written by

Elsevier Connect

Written by

Elsevier Connect

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