In the past, Binghamton University has been recognized for its achievements in research, but faculty and students could soon lose an important research tool — ScienceDirect.
ScienceDirect is a subscription-based, online database for scholarly articles. It is sold by Elsevier, a Dutch publishing and analytics company which also offers print journals and books. SUNY and BU have been in negotiations with Elsevier to renew their subscription, which ends in December 2019, but it is unclear whether they will come to an agreement on a price the University is willing to pay.
Jake Schweitzer, a junior majoring in biochemistry, expressed a need to keep resources like ScienceDirect at the disposal of students.
“Resources like ScienceDirect are important for BU students because they provide a means of discovering and organizing scientific data that can be useful in a future research experiment,” Schweitzer said.
In February 2019, BU received an Research I rank for “very high research” from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. This is the highest Carnegie Classification and denotes universities which have a large amount of resources available to researchers and have many students involved in research.
According to Schweitzer, who has experience with biofilms research for the First-Year Research Immersion (FRI) program, not having access to ScienceDirect would limit options in scientific research and make more students and faculty depend on alternative resources such as Mendeley, an academic social network used to manage and share research papers.
Christine Hurley, a junior majoring in psychology, researches the genetics of infectious diseases with a focus on Lyme disease. Although Hurley does not use ScienceDirect for her research, she said she still considers it a valuable resource for BU to have.
“I don’t use ScienceDirect for my research, but I’ve used it in my other projects,” Hurley said. “I think ScienceDirect is a good resource so not having it would be a loss.”
In a letter to the SUNY Library directors and deans, Curtis Kendrick, one of the negotiators and dean of University Libraries at BU, wrote that from the start of their negotiations, SUNY made it clear that Elsevier would need to decrease the cost of the ScienceDirect subscription in order to renew. However, based on a proposal sent by Elsevier before a July meeting in Albany, Kendrick and other negotiators felt the company did not acknowledge this need.
“Based on the pricing put forward in their proposal we concluded that Elsevier had not fully understood our financial requirements for this round of negotiations,” Kendrick wrote in the letter. “Elsevier’s point was that they needed to have something more focused to bring to their senior management.”
Lua Lopez Perez, a research assistant professor in the ecological genetics stream of the FRI program, does research investigating how populations and species change over time and space in response to environmental changes. Lopez considers ScienceDirect an important resource because most of the journals that she uses are offered through the service.
“Not having access to ScienceDirect means a lack of access to pivotal sources of information,” Lopez said. “For many professors they will probably end up paying subscriptions to this journal with their research funds which is not what they ideally are for.”
The pricing of Elsevier’s subscriptions has led other universities to not renew after failed negotiations. The University of California (UC) system announced they would not renew with Elsevier in February 2019 for failing to meet their goal of “securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals,” according to a press release from the UC Office of the President.
While there are varying ways to implement open access publishing policies, the main goal of open access is to allow the free use of scholarly articles. The BU Libraries’ website has links to open access websites for students. There is also the Open Repository @Binghamton where faculty can share their works, making them openly accessible to the public.
Nevertheless, Thomas Powell, an assistant professor of biology at BU, said he feels ScienceDirect is vital to his department.
“Most of the faculty, [postdoctoral researchers] and graduate students in my department access articles via ScienceDirect on at least a weekly, if not daily, basis,” Powell said. “I routinely need to read research articles from journals that would be affected by this, like current biology, molecular phylogenetics and evolution and Oecologia as well as venues for influential perspective papers like trends in genetics and trends in ecology and evolution.”
Powell said he does not see an obvious fix to the ScienceDirect issue, but noted the subscription is vital if BU intends to maintain high research rankings.
“The overall economic model for scientific publishing is problematic in a number of ways, but there are no clear solutions at the moment,” Powell said. “Open-access publishing removes barriers to readers, but imposes barriers to authors. If [BU] hopes to maintain its newly minted status as an R1 university, we are going to have to prioritize expenditures like ScienceDirect.”
On Dec. 6, there will be a SUNY Town Hall hearing about the negotiations with ScienceDirect. Updates about the process will be given and a discussion period will follow. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m in the Zurack Family High-Technology Collaboration Center, according to a Dateline announcement.