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Editorial board of Elsevier neuroscience publication resigns in protest

A new artificial intelligence-driven model can analyse magnetic resonance imaging of brain scans to accurately capture cognitive decline linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

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May 8, 2023: The entire 40-member board of the scientific journal Neuroimage resigned in protest against its publisher, Elsevier, for charging researchers exorbitant fees to publish their research. The members plan to float a non-profit, open-access journal to combat the “greed” of this Dutch publishing giant.

The board members, comprised of professors from Oxford University, King’s College London and Cardiff University, wanted Elsevier to reduce publication charges and resigned after the company refused.

Scientific publishers charge huge fees due to the huge profit margins that they make over each research paper accepted and far outstrip those made by Apple, Google, and Amazon.

NeuroImage is an open-access publication for brain-imaging research, but it passes on the burden of making money onto the researchers, who are charged over £2,700 for a research paper to be published. The former editors say this is “unethical” and bears no relation to the costs involved.

NeuroImage editors said they asked Elsevier last June to drop the charge below $2,000 and warned that they would resign otherwise.

“We believe that the current slow decrease in submissions/publications is primarily due to the APC [article publishing charge]—we hear a lot on this from researchers in our field, no longer willing to submit papers or review,” they wrote. “We appreciate that you do not accept that, but it’s not helpful to argue further in the absence of definitive proof. Nevertheless, NeuroImage remains the largest and ‘top’ journal in our field, and we would like to keep it this way.”

The editors plan to start a new journal hosted by the non-profit publisher MIT Press.

Profit margins

Elsevier claims to publish 25% of the world’s scientific papers. It reported a revenue of £2.9bn last year. The profit margin in scientific publishing is very high as the research papers are written by scientists, which are funded by charities or some public or private organization. They “peer review” each other’s work to verify it is worth publishing for free, and academic editors also charge a very nominal fee. Academics are often charged thousands of pounds to have their work published in open-access journals, or universities will pay very high subscription charges.

The resigned team shared their announcement on Twitter.

“Scientists and funders increasingly feel that it is wrong for publishers to make such high profits, particularly given that the publishers do not fund the original science, or the writing of articles or payments to reviewers and pay minimal editorial stipends,” the announcement said. “As a result, authors and reviewers are increasingly refuse to work with high-profit journals.”

Stephen Smith, professor of biomedical engineering and former editor-in-chief at Neuroimage, said: “Academics really don’t like the way things are, but individuals feel powerless to get the huge publishers to start behaving more ethically.

Researchers put up with it because they want to publish in prestigious journals that will help their careers and ensure their work is widely read and cited.”

A spokesperson for Elsevier said: “We value our editors very highly and are disappointed [with the resignations], especially as we have been engaging constructively with them over the last couple of years.”

He said the company was “committed to advancing open-access research,” and its article publishing charges were “below the market average relative to quality. The fee for NeuroImage is below that of the nearest comparable journal in its field.”

The company spokesperson explained in an email, “NeuroImage has appointed an interim internal editorial team while we transition to a permanent team that will follow the highly successful hybrid model of in-house/external editors already adopted by many journals from Cell Press and The Lancet.”

Exploitative pricing model

Another money drainer is online textbooks that are strangely priced much higher than the print version. Libraries are forced to fork out money as students prefer to study online. Publishers have built an exploitative price model for both research and published papers and books

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