Elsevier Is Becoming a Data Company. Should Universities Be Wary?

Paul Basken at The Chronicle of Higher Education: “As universities have slowly pushed their scientists to embrace open-access journals, publishers will need new profit centers. Elsevier appears well ahead of the pack in creating a network of products that scientists can use to record, share, store, and measure the value to others of the surging amounts of data they produce.

“Maybe all publishers are going, or wish they were” going, in the direction of becoming data companies, said Vincent Larivière, an associate professor of information science at the University of Montreal. “But Elsevier is the only one that is there.”

A Suite of Services

Universities also recognize the future of data. Their scientists are already seeing that widely and efficiently sharing data in fields such as cancer research has enabled accomplishments that have demonstrably saved lives.

In their eagerness to embrace that future, however, universities may not be paying enough attention to what their choices of systems may eventually cost them, warned Roger C. Schonfeld, a program director at Ithaka S+R. With its comprehensive data-services network, Mr. Schonfeld wrote earlier this year, Elsevier appears ready “to lock in scientists to a research workflow no less powerful than the strength of the lock-in libraries have felt to ‘big deal’ bundles.”….

Some open-access advocates say the situation points to an urgent need to create more robust nonprofit alternatives to Elsevier’s product line of data-compiling and sharing tools. But so far financial backing for the developmental work is thin. One of the best known attempts is the Open Science Framework, a web-based data interface built by the Center for Open Science, which has an annual budget of about $6 million, provided largely by foundations and other private donors.

In general, U.S. research universities — a $70 billion scientific enterprise — have not made major contributions to such projects. The Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities have, however, formed a team that’s begun studying the future of data sharing. So far, that effort has been focused on more basic steps such as establishing data-storage facilities, linking them together, and simply persuading scientists to take seriously the need to share data.…(More)”