peter.suber's bookmarks 2021-11-22
Abstract: This essay develops the idea of surveillance publishing, with special attention to the example of Elsevier. A scholarly publisher can be defined as a surveillance publisher if it derives a substantial proportion of its revenue from prediction products, fueled by data extracted from researcher behavior. The essay begins by tracing the Google search engine’s roots in bibliometrics, alongside a history of the citation analysis company that became, in 2016, Clarivate. The point is to show the co-evolution of scholarly communication and the surveillance advertising economy. The essay then refines the idea of surveillance publishing by engaging with the work of Shoshana Zuboff, Jathan Sadowski, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, and Aziz Huq. The recent history of Elsevier is traced to describe the company’s research-lifecycle data-harvesting strategy, with the aim to develop and sell prediction products to universities and other customers. The essay concludes by considering some of the potential costs of surveillance publishing, as other big commercial publishers increasingly enter the predictive-analytics mark. It is likely, I argue, that windfall subscription-and-APC profits in Elsevier’s “legacy” publishing business have financed its decade-long acquisition binge in analytics, with the implication that university customers are budgetary victims twice over. The products’ purpose, I stress, is to streamline the top-down assessment and evaluation practices that have taken hold in recent decades, in tandem with the view that the university’s main purpose is to grow regional and national economies. A final pair of concerns is that publishers’ prediction projects may camouflage and perpetuate existing biases in the system—and that scholars may internalize an analytics mindset, one already encouraged by citation counts and impact factors.