Elsevier acquires SSRN; How to share

Elsevier acquires SSRN, announced May 17:
Social Science Research Network SSRN is hugely popular in some law, economics, and other communities for sharing working papers, preprints and citations, so this news is getting a lot of discussion. I think Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, states my concerns very well: “scholarly networks that are not scholar-governed cannot be assumed to share scholars’ interests and values.” I think she first said this in December 2015 when there were critiques of academia.edu (which is a commercial enterprise, not really an .edu), but said it again in response to the “Elsevier buys SSRN” story. It should be noted that SSRN was a for-profit before its purchase by Elsevier. Most of the scholarly tools listed in 101 innovations in scholarly communications or the examples of scholarly collaboration networks (SCNs) listed under “where can I share it?” on How Can I Share It (see story below) are also commercial as are important resources like Scopus, Web of Science, Proquest and Ebsco databases, etc. The question to me is not for-profit vs not-for-profit but rather goals and trust. I’m sure there will be much more on this topic; search SSRN Elsevier in your favorite search engine for more. Here is a sampling; most include comments:

  • Elsevier Acquires SSRN, by Roger C. Schonfeld on The Scholarly Kitchen
  • SSRN—the leading social science and humanities repository and online community—joins Elsevier, By Gregg Gordon on elsevier.com. Includes this: “In time, SSRN will migrate onto the Mendeley technology platform, which will improve our ability to manage academic and research profiles, allow users to follow collaborators and other authors, and develop new journals and curation services.” AND “The majority of SSRN’s content consists of working papers, the versions of which Elsevier has always been open to sharing, and they’ve done a lot of work to clarify which versions of content can be shared. Both existing and future SSRN content will be largely unaffected and, like Mendeley, we’ll help researchers share post-submission versions of their work responsibly.” [italics mine]
  • Social-sciences preprint server snapped up by publishing giant Elsevier, by Richard Van Noorden in Nature
  • Elsevier purchase SSRN: Social scientists face questions over whether centralised repository is in their interests by Thomas Leeper on the Impact of Social Sciences blog. Discusses SSRN’s previous status as a for-profit company which gave “an impression of being a purely academic entity. Yet since its founding in 1994 SSRN has been run by a privately held corporation with claims of an after-dividends annual budget in excess of $1 million.” AND “…advocates of open science practices need to wrestle with whether the end goal of making science widely and freely available for the world can be achieved with the support of for-profit entities that have a substantial stake in the preservation of traditional closed access publishing.”
  • It’s the Data, Stupid: What Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN also means, by Christoper M. Kelty on Savage Minds. “So what is the real value in SSRN? Data. The data produced by SSRN is not terribly sophisticated stuff: number of papers and authors, number of downloads, number of citations, per paper and per author. Lots of other companies and services attempt to collect the same kind of data. But what makes SSRN specific is that it is a well known node in the network—we might say, in the discourse or mind-space—of social science.” Certainly, I have heard about WU scholars who refuse to consider other repositories because they value this data from SSRN so much.
  • Elsevier buying SSRN and the future of open scholarship in the social sciences, post on Authors Alliance site suggests that authors “take affirmative steps now to ensure that their work is made available on their terms regardless of what happens to SSRN—or any other individual platform—in the future.”
  • Platforms and Profits, by Barbara Fister on Library Babel Fish. “…it’s researchers who should be worried. Handing over their finished articles to Elsevier hasn’t worked out all that well. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many visits to Sci-Hub. Letting Elsevier become a platform for the entire “research journey” seems unwise.”
  • SSRN has been captured by the enemy of open knowledge, by Paul Gowder on The Medium
  • Mega-Publisher Elsevier Is Buying an Open Research Site. That’s Bad for Science by Joshua Kopstein on Motherboard

Responsible sharing – as far as publishers are concerned:
This story, which I see as related, has been brewing for a while. The STM Consultation on Article Sharing occurred Feb-April 2015. Now several publishers have come out with a How Can I Share it site which links to the Voluntary principles for article sharing on scholarly collaboration networks (which came out of the STM Consultation) and also links to individual publisher policies. Content Sharing Made Simple: A Collaborative Approach is a post on The Scholarly Kitchen about the How Can I Share it site. The site is not very useful yet in my opinion. Publisher policies vary in odd ways and are no easier to read and act on than Publisher Copyright Policies & Self-Archiving found in SHERPA-ROMEO. One issue I don’t understand is why policies on sharing on “scholarly collaboration networks” is different than self-archiving or sharing via institutional or subject repositories. Publishers’ goals for controlling sharing and scholars goals for sharing don’t seem to be compatible?

Addendum May 21
I was interested to see that Kevin Smith, Dean of KU Libraries, puts above two stories together also in Tightening their grip post in IO: In the Open.

About the author

Ruth is a librarian at Washington University for biology, math, history of science; she is also scholarly communications coordinator. Email: rlewis@wustl.edu Phone: 314-935-4819