Convegno di studi: Ricerca scientifica, monopoli della conoscenza e Digital Humanities – Rome

As part of my Open Access Week 2018 activities, I will be doing an express trip to Rome on Wednesday 24th October 2018 to participate in the following event:

Convegno di studi  

Ricerca scientifica, monopoli della conoscenza e Digital Humanities. Prospettive critiche dall’Europa del Sud

La investigación científca, los monopolios del conocimiento y Humanidades Digitales. Perspectivas críticas desde el Sur de Europa

Università Roma Tre, 24-25 ottobre 2018

I also added the event to the Open Access Week 2018 events listing:

Twitter hashtag for the event: #DHPIIGS18

La investigación científca, los monopolios del conocimiento y Humanidades Digitales. Perspectivas críticas desde el Sur de Europa; poster en español
La investigación científca, los monopolios del conocimiento y Humanidades Digitales. Perspectivas críticas desde el Sur de Europa; poster en español


I am looking forward to being at Roma Tre again.

My abstract:

Oligopolios del conocimiento y acceso abierto: perspectivas desde el sur
Oligopolies of Knowledge and Open Access: Perspectives from the Global South

Dr Ernesto Priego
Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design
City, University of London, Reino Unido

En esta presentación discutiré las razones por las que hablamos de “oligopolios del conocimiento”, detallando la concentración de actividad de comunicaciones académicas (en este caso publicaciones) a través de compañías editoriales con fines de lucro con base en el norte global, por autores con afiliación a universidades del norte global y en la lengua inglesa. Me referiré al trabajo que he estado haciendo en los últimos cinco años documentando y mapeando dicha concentración localizada y en su mayoría monolingüe (con énfasis en las humanidades digitales; Priego et al 2014; Priego y Fiormonte, 2016 y 2018) mediante metodologías de bibliometría alternativa (Alperin et al 2014) para a su vez llamar la atención a la correlación de los imbalances de esta concentración geopolítica (Graham 2011; Fiormonte 2017) con modos de diseminación cerrados de alto costo para instituciones (Lawson 2016). A su vez, discutiré la correspondiente y apropiación de mecanismos de acceso abierto por parte de las mismas compañías editoriales con fines de lucro, mediante estrategias de negocio como los cargos de procesos de publicación (APCs, por sus siglas en inglés), y los retos que esto implica particularmente para los investigadores en las áreas de ciencias sociales, artes y humanidades, y en específico para aquellos con afiliación en el sur global (Priego et al 2017). Finalmente, habiendo detallado lo que es un panorama complejo para las comunicaciones académicas, presentaré ejemplos de alternativas existentes y discutiré los crecientes retos y dilemas específicos a los diversos contextos del sur global.


In this presentation I will discuss the reasons why we speak of “oligopolies of knowledge”, detailing the concentration of activity of academic communications (in this case, publications) via for profit publishing companies based in the global north, by authors with affiliation with universities in the global north and in the English language. I will refer to the work I have been doing in the last five years, documenting and mapping this localised and mostly monolingual concentration (with an emphasis on the digital humanities, Priego et al 2014, Priego and Fiormonte, 2016 and 2018) through alternative bibliometric methodologies (Alperin et al 2014), in order to draw attention to the correlation of the imbalances of this geopolitical concentration (Graham 2011, Fiormonte 2017) with closed modes of dissemination of high cost for institutions (Lawson 2016). In turn, I will discuss the corresponding and appropriation of open access mechanisms by the same for profit publishing companies, through business strategies such as Article Processing Charges (APCs) and the challenges that this implies particularly for researchers in the areas of social sciences, arts and humanities, and specifically for those with affiliations in the global south (Priego et al 2017; Eve and Priego 2018). Finally, having detailed what a complex picture for academic communications is, I will present examples of existing alternatives and discuss the growing challenges and dilemmas specific to the various contexts of the global South.



Alperin, JP., Babini, D., Fischman, G. (eds.) 2014. Open access indicators and scholarly communications in Latin America (Buenos Aires: CLACSO, First edtion). Available in full text on the Web Virtual Library of CLACSO:

Fiormonte, D. 2017. Digital Humanities and the Geopolitics of Knowledge. Digital Studies/Le champ num ́erique, 7(1). Available at:

Fiormonte, E. & Priego, E., 2016. Knowledge Monopolies and Global Academic Publishing. The Winnower. Available at:

Graham, et al, M., 2011. Visualizing the uneven geographies of knowledge production and circulation. Global Higher Education, 14.9. Available at:

Lawson, S., Gray, J., Mauri, M., (2016). Opening the Black Box of Scholarly Communication Funding: A Public Data Infrastructure for Financial Flows in Academic Publishing. Open Library of Humanities. 2(1), p.e10. DOI:

Priego, E. and Fiormonte, D. 2018. Empire and Scholarly Communications. Multinational Monopolies of Knowledge and the Global South. Available at:

Priego, E.; Havemann, L.; Atenas, J. 2014 Source Dataset for Online Attention to Digital Humanities Publications (#DH2014 poster). Available at:

Priego, E. et al. 2014. Online Attention to Digital Humanities Publications (#DH2014 poster). Available at:

Eve, M. and Priego, E. (2017). Who is Actually Harmed by Predatory Publishers?. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society, 15(2), pp. 755-770. Available at:

Priego, E. et al. 2017. Scholarly Publishing, Freedom of Information and Academic Self-Determination: The UNAM-Elsevier Case. Available at:



On the Journals UNAM Gave Away to Elsevier, @Red_HD


My post at the Red de Humanidades Digitales blog:

An update from 10 August 2017, including the resolution of UNAM’s Transparency Committee, further discussion and a list of references, here:

Version 2 of the source data:

Priego, Ernesto (2017): List of UNAM Journals Under Contract with Elsevier. figshare.


Scholarly Communications On Fire: What Can We Do?

This is a quick follow-up post to this post from yesterday. Please read it first if you haven’t already…


The mere fact that we exist, that we conceive and want something different from what exists, constitutes for us a reason for hoping.”

-Simone Weil, 25 August, 1933 [in Oppression and Liberty, 2001: 23]


So what can we do?

What we can do and what many have been doing is developing academic-led infrastructures. Simon Fraser University’s Public Knowledge Project, CrossRef,  ORCID DataCite, and the International DOI Foundation are nonprofits. Initiatives like the University of Southampton’s EPrints, Cornell University’s Arxiv and SocArxiv, the Modern Language Association’s Humanities Commons, or the Open Library of Humanities (to mention just a few of many others) are examples that academic-led projects can develop academic-centred, nonprofit technological infrastructure for scholarly communications.

In Latin America (but not limited to), SciELO and Redalyc are pioneering academic publishing networks with huge potential and that already embrace good practices the rest of the world could learn from.

It is clear that none of the services mentioned above is perfect (what system ever is?) nor do they fully replace by themselves or collectively forprofit infrastructures that many academics have learned to take and adopt for granted. I fear it might be years, maybe decades before academic-led nonprofits can compete at the same level of influence and pervasiveness within the reputational economy of international academia that Elsevier products enjoy more or less across the board. It is also true that due to the historical outsourcing of scholarly communications work to a few main for-profit corporations academia still has rare precious examples of appropriate conditions to actually develop and lead in infrastructure.

So far institutions have been happier buying off-the-shelf products than developing them themselves. The price we are paying is not only financial (the ‘Serials’ crisis goes beyond the subscription costs of the ‘serials’ themselves). We are paying a much higher price, and that is any type of autonomy over the sociotechnological paradigms that always-already define any workflow. We are increasingly losing the power to even discuss where and how to create, publish, distribute, assess, measure, discuss, attribute the work we do.

This thread from yesterday by Kathleen Fitzpatrick offers an insightful summary of what many of us agree should be the desired path of action.

The recommendations made in the report by Fyfe, A., et al. (2017), Untangling Academic Publishing, are on target and deserve wider dissemination internationally (download the report from

Other researchers like Cameron Neylon and Martin Eve have published extensively on academic infrastructure; Force11, as a community, continues being at the forefront of the promotion of researcher-led scholarly communications.

It is indeed essential there is international coordination by academics worldwide. This is, of course, easier said than done. Though academic systems of assessment, recognition, reward, promotion vary from country to country (and sometimes from institution to institution, field to field, department to department, centre to centre) it is essential there is an attempt from academics to understand how the monopolisation of knowledge affects us all.

Academic authors need to be in a position, however, to influence their institutions, via the relevant committees and organisational structures (including, but not limited to, Library services and ‘Research Quality’ managers), to start and continue conversations about the third-party services universities are willing to embrace and pay for.

It seems to me crucial that the ‘advocacy’ (for lack of better term) for researcher-led scholarly communications infrastructure needs to go beyond circles of ‘advocates’ and reach a wider academic community, particularly of higher officials (VPs, Deans, Heads of School), students and ECRs.

Staff in academic libraries are already motivated by the need to provide better, wider, fairer access to their users through more affordable, ethical means. It is colleagues directly involved in RQM committees, as well as Research officers/managers and other University administration officials that work assigning budgets and defining and implementing systems of assessment and reward that need to be willing to be part of the conversations about infrastructures and the transformations to scholarly communications. Academic authors are voicing their views. Who’s listening? That is an important question.

But academics can also do more and be willing to change if they agree things need to change. The ‘inertia’ mentioned in Fitzpatrick’s thread linked above and referred to other colleagues in relation to the docile adoption of Elsevier services is deeply embedded in academic structures of reputation and reward, and essentially a cornerstone of ‘publish or perish’ culture, accelerated and hyperdiversified workloads, furious professional competition in a landscape defined by reputational symbolic value and scarcity.

The critical qualitative analysis of the state of scholarly communications today is often disqualified as ‘ranty’ and ‘angry’, and seen as not pragmatic. Meanwhile, library and educational technology conferences are up to a great extent defined by presentations by representatives of forprofits which are de facto sales pitches or commercial, proprietary software demos. They sell, we buy. We buy, they define.

Meanwhile, a considerable academic author demographic is still motivated to publish, in spite of agreements such as DORA, in ”high impact” journals, and, even worse, research quality assessment/RQM/ARQM committees within universities still actively discourage academics from publishing in ‘non-traditional’ journals or platforms.

The disqualification of qualitative assessments of scholarly culture is in itself the result of the same culture that has allowed international academic work to increasingly outsource its most essential infrastructure to monopolistic third parties.

“Scholarly communications” is the whole cycle of scholarship itself.  The separation between the understanding of what kind of infrastructures make academia fuction as such from the work of ‘research’ has only benefited those who provide the ‘solutions’ at high cost to institutions, and who profit excessively from cultural production that is given to them practically for free.

This will sound dramatic and outmoded but it is the ‘blood’ of academics (what they do; their very labour) what oils and fuels a highly profitable market dominated by a few corporations.  These companies’ practices are increasingly alienating more academics, institutions and citizens from the work they fund, produce, and discuss.



Scholarly Communications On Fire

Roger C. Schonfeld writes for the Scholarly Kitchen today:


Today, Elsevier announces its acquisition of bepress. In a move entirely consistent with its strategy to pivot beyond content licensing to preprints, analytics, workflow, and decision-support, Elsevier is now a major if not the foremost single player in the institutional repository landscape. If successful, and there are some risks, this acquisition will position Elsevier as an increasingly dominant player in preprints, continuing its march to adopt and coopt open access.”

This development is just another clear indication that the company I often refer to as ‘The Dutch Giant’ is determined to control as much of the scholarly communications infrastructure worldwide as possible.

Academics (I include here not only ‘researchers’ but also students, editors, librarians, research officers, administrators, repository managers, the whole diversity of roles of everyone involved in the higher education enterprise) should be by now aware that soon it will be very hard to avoid altogether their monopolisation of academic work, even when research outputs have not been published in an Elsevier journal.

This is not, of course, new. Elsevier has for many years not been a mere ‘publisher’ in any traditional sense. They encompass the whole range of activity/behaviour/production in contemporary academia (teaching and institutional marketing/reputation management included). To give the most obvious example, Scopus, indeed “the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature: scientific journals, books and conference proceedings”  is an Elsevier ‘solution’ whose influence already is virtually unavoidable in contemporary academia, regardless of where academic work has been published. The acquisition of Mendeley, the reference management/academic social networking software, also signalled the company’s goal is to profit from academics’ data, all data, in all forms and at all times, in all stages of the research and professional workflow/cycle.

Consider the main list of Elsevier ‘solutions’, as advertised on their main web site:

That’s quite the package, isn’t it? The acquisition of bepress publicised today is indeed a predictable yet particularly alarming development as it clearly demonstrates that Elsevier, which relies heavily on subscriptions for revenue (68% of their total revenue in 2014), understands that the combination of institutional repositories and national open access mandates (that, as in the UK, require researchers selfarchive their publications in their institutions’ repositories) are a viable alternative to the centralisation of academic content, and therefore, as the alternative they can be to subscriptions and APCs, represent a threat. If something competes with their model, it gets acquired.

It has to be said that this is not good news. This is not “exciting”, nor “big” news in a positive sense. It is scary and worrying. A critique of the growing monopolisation of the scholarly communications landscape (the global research market was recently estimated to be worth around $1.7 trillion) is not about tampering innovation nor entrepreneurship. Raising an alarm regarding the increased monopolisation from a for-profit third-party entity of virtually all aspects of academic production is a call to recognising that there are ethical and legal threats to academic freedom  and its diversity when for-profit monopolies/oligopolies become the de-facto providers of infrastructure.

This increasingly pervasive control over academic workflows leaves academics and the public disempowered  and unable to regain control over the work they produce and fund, and from having a say about who owns the work and all related data, how it is accessed and who gets to profit directly and indirectly from it. That much of that content has been publicly-funded by taxpayers and/or either privately or publicly by universities or funders, makes this development even more alarming.

These are just some quick, rushed, alarmed lines. I am looking forward to continuing the reflections that my colleague Domenico Fiormonte and I have been developing for some time now more thoroughly, and to also collaborate on addressing these threats to academic infrastructural diversity with my colleague Penny Andrews at some point very soon. Watch this space…

[What can we do? A follow-up to this post, here].

© kc green
© kc green