Associate editor of Elsevier's Genomics resigns, vows to devote energies to open access

Winston Hide, is an associate professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at the Harvard School of Public Health. He was also -- until recently -- the associate editor of the prestigious (and expensive!) Elsevier journal Genomics. In a column in The Guardian, he explains why he resigned from Genomics: people are dying because scientists in poor companies can't afford proprietary journals. He will devote his efforts to open access alternatives to Genomics from now on.

My work on biomedical research in developing countries has shown me that lack of access to current publications has a severe impact.

The vast majority of biomedical scientists in Africa attempt to perform globally competitive research without up-to-date access to the wealth of biomedical literature taken for granted at western institutions. In Africa, your university may have subscriptions to only a handful of scientific journals.

In reality, the modus operandi is "please can you send me a pdf". Alternatively some researchers spend part of their research grant to buy a subscription to the journal they need.

The majority of the science in Elsevier's journals is conducted at public expense, or with a large public subsidy. The peer reviewing process is also undertaken by publicly subsidized scientists whom Elsevier does not pay. The institutions that these scientists work for have to pay very large amounts of money in order to receive the journals their work contributes to.

I can no longer work for a system that puts profit over access to research (via Copyfight)


  1. Genomics is prestigious? Usually when I think of top-tier journals, I think of Cell, Nature, Science, Molecular Cell, PLoS, and Nature Genetics. It’s always nice to get published but I’m not sure I would call Genomics prestigious.

    1.  What would you call it?  It’s certainly prestigious in my department.

      …and one department over [gestures vaguely eastward] Immunology is among the prestigious mags.

      By the bye, good luck godspeed, etc to Prof Hide, but i fear he’s a voice crying in the wilderness.  here’s hoping more (inside) voices will join him.

      1. Guess it all depends on the field. Maybe I should do more Genetics!

        I’m not sure I see a problem with the current system, assuming the articles become freely available after the publication embargo. Research institutes pay for cutting edge access while those not participating in research either get access later, or instead get the gist of “popular” articles from the press (as terrible as that usually is).

        Access to journals pales in cost compared to what we researchers spend on basic consumables (pipette tips, centrifuge tubes, gloves, powdered chemicals, enzymes, etc.) let alone the instruments themselves. I know that a very frugal lab can get away with autoclaving everything themselves and reuse their tips, but there’s still a high entry cost, no matter where in the world you do research. 

        I’m just glad that I have a choice on where I publish my work, assuming I get past review, of course!

    2. I realize that impact factors are not the be all and end all of everything, but yes, the impact factor of the journal is only 3.2 — meaning that it is not the first place one would send a paper in the field. There are plenty of better journals which are open access. Not only would moving to one of them be a moral improvement on Hide’s part, it would also be a sound career move.

      1. not everyone wants to be published in the most important journals. some of us want to be published in journals we have relationships with or journals we like for different reasons. or even to be published in a lesser-known journal so that we can be unheralded. why did warren buffett drive a lincoln town car? there are other things besides prestige that are important to some people.

  2. I’m a child of the 60’s. It was drilled into my head to “Own property (land)”. I was told of all the freedoms and stature that would bring. 

    Today parents may tell their children  to invest in life-saving information, telling them of all the freedoms and stature it will bring. 

  3. “people are dying because scientists in poor companies can’t afford proprietary journals”

    Any chance you meant countries here instead of companies?

    1. Any chance you meant countries here instead of companies?

      There hasn’t really been a difference for quite some time now.

  4. All of us at Elsevier are grateful for the contributions that Dr Hide has made to the journal Genomics. 

    We certainly respect his opinion on Open Access publishing, but we should make clear that Genomics and all of Elsevier’s other health and life science journals are available through the Research4Life program which offers free or low cost access in over 100 developing countries. Genomics itself is extensively available to Chinese and South African Universities, including the University of Western Cape. 

    For interested readers, further information about Research4Life is available online at 

    With best wishes,

    Dr Alicia Wise
    Director of Universal Access

  5. Well there are some poor companies…but I wouldn’t worry about them. :)  

    I do think Winston Hide has it right:  these “academic” and research publishers gouge everyone – libraries, researchers, and students. Even contributing writers are extorted to pay insanely ludicrous money  just to get access to their work.

    It’s not a good thing for anyone, but the model is actually becoming even more draconian.  We need an alternative to the copyright mafia in fields that are critical to human well-being.

    1. How about promoting open publishing in *all* fields of scientific research? I realize that there is a big attraction to making money wherever possible, but come on. Next thing you know, they’ll be monetizing prisons!

  6. I’m a little confused. Genomics’ author guidelines indicate that it is an Open Access journal. 

  7. Hi there,

    This is correct.  Genomics is a hybrid Open Access journal, so every author has the option to make there article Open Access through payment of an article processing charge.

    With kind wishes,


    Dr Alicia Wise
    Director of Universal Access

    1. If they do, do they get editors who can tell the difference between “there” and “their”?

      1. @boingboing-d6f39b2bb3e7f357b1e33a2debc60525:disqus – That seems unnecessarily snippy.  And… you said “doo doo” nyuk nyuk nyuk!  
        @boingboing-d56fbbf0b083bc64dcc9d8fa3cb148a4:disqus  – I found the Genomics Journal here but I’m not  finding it very easy to actually read any of the open-access articles.  The list of sponsored articles here doesn’t contain links or even titles of specific articles, so I can’t look them up.  There’s probably something obvious I’m not seeing…

  8. I really like Cory’s idea that the universities might be able to sue Reed Elsevier and the others for copyright infringement, and use the $150K per-instance fines to put them out of business.

    They could then be re-established as nonprofit entities similar to PLOS or Frontiers, and all back catalog made open access.

    So assuming the copyright infringement thing is true, then what are the universities’ general counsels waiting for?  Is the copyright infringement true?  Are they holding back due to potential countersuits against their faculty?  Or potential suits against their own presses?

    I suppose a class action of this magnitude would require massive coordination, but then if even Harvard’s library is going broke, maybe the time is coming soon.

  9. Elsevier’s commentator states:

    “Research4Life program which offers free or low cost access in over 100 developing countries. Genomics itself is extensively available to Chinese and South African Universities, including the University of Western Cape”Read that one carefully = Genomics = is not free to University of Western Cape, or other SA universities – far from it. It is *purchased*, each institute paying a different price for this and other bundled or chosen journals. Widely available, sure. But not free by any means.  South Africa and other countries that do not qualify for the rock bottom GDP required to be “Research4Life”accessible have to pay, and pay plenty (read a hefty portion of the limited research budget) , for access to Elsevier. Would be a smart move to make journals freely available in countries that need them the most – HIV incidence in South Africa would be a great start as a measure for access to free journals.

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