The Faculty Lounge: @SSRN and the (Arbitrary) Determination of “Scholarly” Merit

Yesterday Brian Frye (@brianlfrye) (Kentucky) tweeted:

I am sad. @SSRN has decided that my article about Gremlins (1984), “In re Patentability of the Peltzer Inventions,” does not qualify for “public” status because it is “opinion, advocacy, or satire.” Why judge? Oh well.  You can still download it here:

I followed Brian’s direct link to the piece. The abstract refers refers to the many inventions of the movie’s Randall Peltzer character, and explains, “This essay takes the form of an opinion letter valuating the patentability of Peltizer’s inventions.” I don’t teach IP, but I like Brian’s work and so I downloaded the essay. It struck me as funny and as an excellent teaching tool.  But if you go to Brian’s author page on SSRN, you wouldn’t be able to access the paper.  You wouldn’t even see it.

I myself have posted material that apparently doesn’t meet SSRN’s criteria for a “scholarly paper,” including this interview with the principal drafter of some important state trust legislation (and the interview itself has been cited in subsequent scholarship) and this short piece for Tax Notes reviewing estate and gift tax law review articles published in 2016 (even though SSRN published my similar pieces reviewing scholarship for the years 2015, 20142013201220112010)….

Does the classification of publicly-available “scholarly” papers and privately-available “non-scholarly” papers as applied serve SSRN’s mission?  To me, the answer is no. Brian Frye’s patentability piece, which strikes me as a great teaching and learning tool, has an easy home in the “Law Educator: Courses, Materials & Teaching eJournal,” if not the substantive IP eJournals (not my field).  Oh, but wait, are “Courses” scholarship?  They must be.  So must be “Materials,” because they are publicly available and only “scholarly” works are publicly available.  But Brian’s piece isn’t “teaching material” in SSRN’s universe? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

Like others, I have been (and remain) skeptical of Elsevier’s acquisition of SSRN. Since then, I’ve noticed that papers tend to take longer to get “approved” (the longest wait I’ve had is 6 weeks, and even then, I had to contact customer service to point out that it had been 6 weeks since submission, and could SSRN pretty please post the piece). I find useless the JEL Classificiation Codes (not an Elsevier invention), at least in the case of the “Law & Economics” (or “K”) codes applied to most law review scholarship. These sort codes are so blunt as to be useless for my research, at least. Maybe the codes work better in Economics (after all, the classification system was developed by the Journal of Economic Literature)….”

Elsevier’s Presence on Campuses Spans More Than Journals. That Has Some Scholars Worried. – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Lyon, a librarian of scholarly communications at the University of Texas at Austin, listed scholarly-publishing tools that had been acquired by the journal publishing giant Elsevier. In 2013, the company bought Mendeley, a free reference manager. It acquired the Social Science Research Network, an e-library with more than 850,000 papers, in 2016. And it acquired the online tools Pure and Bepress — which visualize research — in 2012 and 2017, respectively.

Lyon said she started considering institutions’ dependence on Elsevier when the company acquired Bepress two years ago. She was shocked, she recalled in a recent interview.

“It just got me thinking,” she said. Elsevier had it all: Institutional repositories, preprints of journal articles, and analytics. “Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier, Elsevier.”

Scholars are beginning to discuss the idea of Elsevier-as-monolith at conferences and in their research. Not only are librarians and researchers speaking openly about the hefty costs of bulk subscriptions to the company’s premier journals, but they’re also paying attention to the products that Elsevier has acquired, several of which allow its customers to store data and share their work….”

Isn’t Leakage Good for Libraries? – The Scholarly Kitchen

“In recent weeks, I have argued that content leakage is reducing the value of the subscription big deal. The syndication model might enable publishers to recapture much of this leakage, a model that Springer Nature has begun to pilot with ResearchGate, indicative of the strategic dilemmas that syndication poses. For libraries, syndication offers the opportunity to provide dramatically improved experiences for their users — with a number of risks as well, including the prospect of substantially reducing their leverage at the negotiating table….

What kinds of levels of usage increases can libraries anticipate? Elsevier has calculated [PDF; slide 10] that ScienceDirect usage stats would increase by 4-5% if Mendeley usage was counted and that adding versions of record to SSRN for entitled users would provide at least another 1%. But ResearchGate is by far the biggest prospect, and it would not surprise me to see at least some publisher usage numbers grow by 10%, 25%, or more for major library customers — once versions of record are distributed there to license-entitled users….

I’ve made the case that leakage has allowed groups of libraries to walk away from subscription big deal bundles in recent years. The platforms through which content is leaking most extensively — ResearchGate and Academia perhaps more than any others, but also pirate sites and institutional and disciplinary repositories — have afforded libraries the greatest leverage in their big deal negotiations. To the extent that leaks are plugged up, we must examine how this affects publishers’ and libraries’ negotiating positions….

I have already explained why Elsevier fears ResearchGate as a syndication hub and Springer Nature would like to embrace it….”


Fordham Law Faculty Ranks High on SSRN

“Fordham Law School’s faculty rank among the most prolific and most highly downloaded legal scholarship writers, according to SSRN, a widely used open-access online repository. Fordham Law professors rank 8th all-time among U.S. and international law schools in authors posting papers (245), 18th in papers posted (1,379), and 20th in total number of downloads (335,295), based on figures updated on Jan. 1 listing SSRN’s top 750 law schools. In the past 12 months, Fordham also ranked 22nd in the United States and 27th globally in total downloads (37,113), and 22nd and 36th respectively in number of new papers (85)….”

Is the Center for Open Science a Viable Alternative for Elsevier? – Enago Academy

“Data management has become an increasingly discussed topic among the academic community. Managing data is an element of open science, which has proven to increase dissemination of research and citations for journal articles. Open science increases public access to academic articles, mostly through preprint repositories. Indeed, according to this study, open access (OA) articles are associated with a 36-172% increase in citations compared to non-OA articles. Publishers such as Elsevier have acquired preprint repositories to increase the dissemination of academic research.”

SSRN Considered Harmful by James Grimmelmann :: SSRN

Abstract:  The Social Science Research Network (SSRN) has adopted several unfortunate policies that impair open access to scholarship. It should enable one-click download, stop requiring papers to bear SSRN watermarks, and allow authors to point readers to other download sites. If it does not reform, those who are serious about open access should not use SSRN.

Webinars | Accelerating Interdisciplinary research – Introducing BioRN @ SSRN

“Connect with SSRN experts through our SSRN webinar series. Scroll through our webinar channel, find a topic that interests you and register to attend. Even if you are unable to join the live session you will receive a link to the recording to watch at your own convenience.”

What Is SocArXiv? | The Scholarly Kitchen

“In the wake of these pseudo-controversies [about SSRN], we have SocArXiv. While it has been stated that SocArXiv was in the works prior to the announcement of the SSRN sale to Elsevier, their timing could not be better. They are hoping to capitalize on the growing discontent with SSRN….”

[Note that in the comment section, SocArXiv corrects many inaccuracies in the blog post.]



Is it time for authors to leave SSRN? | Authors Alliance

“Reports are surfacing that, without notice, SSRN is removing author-posted documents following SSRN’s own, opaque determination that the author must have transferred copyright, the publisher had not consented to the posting, or where the author has opted to use a non-commercial Creative Commons license.”

Impact of Social Sciences – Elsevier purchase SSRN: Social scientists face questions over whether centralised repository is in their interests.

“Two things about the deal stand out. First, Elsevier may be the most loathed academic publisher in the world, a reflection of its size, ubiquitousness, and success at maintaining a high-profit business model despite pressure for greater public access to publicly funded scientific research. More than 16,000 researchers have signed on to a boycott of publishing in or performing peer review service for Elsevier-published journals, in protest of the high costs of Elsevier journal articles despite the uncompensated labor of authors, reviewers, and editors. While Elsevier practices a for-profit model much like other academic publishers, the fees it charges to libraries, individual end-users, and authors (in the form of APCs) and the greater than 30% profit margin it earns on that revenue have led to sharp criticism by academics and high-profile organizations like the Wellcome Trust….

Second, yesterday’s acquisition links Elsevier to an immensely popular service that many of its users likely never recognized as a for-profit corporation. SSRN has been hugely successful, especially in Law and Economics, where it rivals the physical science’s arXiv in popularity. With papers authored by leading scholars, “eJournals” edited by the same, and paper downloads hosted by the Chicago Booth, Stanford Law School, and elsewhere, the site gives an impression of being a purely academic entity. Yet since its founding in 1994 SSRN has been run by a privately held corporation with claims of an after-dividends annual budget in excess of $1 million….”