Elsevier: Raising Prices Easier Than Implementing Security?

March 19, 2019

Elsevier is a professional publishing company. The firm has a reputation for raising prices for its peer reviewed journals and online services. The challenge is that many subscribers are libraries and libraries are not rolling in cash. Raising prices is easy. One calls a meeting, examines models of money in vs subscribers out, and emails the price hike. No problem.

Security, however, works a bit differently. Elsevier may have learned this is the information in “Education and Science Giant Elsevier Left Users’ Passwords Exposed Online” is accurate. The write up asserts:

Elsevier, the company behind scientific journals such as The Lancet, left a server open to the public internet, exposing user email addresses and passwords. The impacted users include people from universities and educational institutions from across the world.

The article reports that Elsevier fixed the problem. The password security issue, not the burden on libraries.

Stephen E Arnold, March 19, 2019

Hashing Videos and Images Explained

March 17, 2019

A quite lucid explanation of video and image identification appears in “How Hashing Could Stop Violent Videos from Spreading.” Here’s one passage from the article:

Video hashing works by breaking down a video into key frames and giving each a unique alphanumerical signature, or hash. That hash is collected into a central database, where every video or photo that is uploaded to a platform is then compared against that dataset. The system requires a database of images and doesn’t use artificial intelligence to identify what is in an image — it only identifies a match between images and videos.

CNN emphasizes Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology. Information about that system may be found at this link. The write up points out that Facebook and Google use “this technology.”

One question is, “If the technology is available and in use, why are offensive videos and images finding their way into public facing, easily accessible systems?”

The answer according to an expert quoted in the CNN story is:

The decision not to do this [implement more effective hashing filter methods] is a question of will and policy—not a question of technology.”

The answer is that platforms are one way to avoid the editorial responsibility associated with old school methods of communication; for example, wire services, newspapers, and magazine. These types of communication were not perfect, but in many cases, an editorial process prevented certain types of information from appearing  in certain publications. So far, the hands off approach of some digital channels and the over hyped use of smart software have not been as effective as the hopelessly old fashioned processes used by some traditional media outlets.

So will? Policy?

Nah, money, expediency, and the high school science club approach to management.

Stephen E Arnold, March 17, 2019

Professional Publishing: Push Back and Grousing

March 1, 2019

The University of California is a foreign territory here in Harrod’s Creek. The nearest library harbors a few individuals who want to dive into the Commonwealth’s deep and thrilling history.

UC is different. For vendors pitching library centric products from smart shelving to digital copies of journals related to the fascinating insights into misbehaving cells, California UC is a very big deal. The reasons range from money to standing orders. Oh, that’s money too. Sorry.

I read “UC Terminates Subscriptions with World’s Largest Scientific Publisher in Push for Open Access to Publicly Funded Research.” This fine title means, “The library system will no longer pay professional publishers like Elsevier and others outrageous subscription fees about research funded by government research grants.


The reason is that the cost of certain professional journals is brutal. To add to the irritation of high prices, authors have to pay the professional publishers to have their content in the journal. Then, the professional publishers ask “experts” to read these articles in order to maintain quality. Hey, it is cheaper to let unpaid “experts” read and comment instead of hiring an expensive subject matter expert. (How fresh are articles in professionally published math journals? Answer: Not very.)

What companies are likely to be hit in the pocketbook with this policy? Elsevier, for sure. Probably Wolters Kluwer, some units of Thomson Reuters, maybe sickly fish like Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and Ebsco too. Even outliers like Emerald could be affected but I am not sure if Emerald has a “must be published in” title.

The UC news release said:

Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

From my point of view, universities have fed the high costs of professional journals. Here’s how the big time academics stumbled into an MBA trap:

  1. Unpaid, unloved, and often wacky PhDs have to prove that their work is important as part of the elusive and possibly endangered “tenure” track
  2. The academics whip up research using even more needy graduate students
  3. The “research” is crafted into a journal article published by an Elsevier-type outfit
  4. The PhD, tenure and approbation seeking author or authors then pay for page proofs and corrections. This is a nice way of saying, “You write this crazy stuff, so pay for the typesetting.”
  5. The journal’s editor sends out the submitted “research” to subject matter experts. Some of whom may not be paid or given a free copy of the journal or an invitation to the publisher’s suite at an academic conference
  6. The “good” write ups are queued for publication
  7. The author buys copies of the article, prints off citations, prays for or induces someone to write a review. These are then provided to the appropriate tenure track committee
  8. The tenure committee then uses these “research” publications in “important” journals as evidence of the desperate PhD’s academic work.


What Elsevier type outfits have done is monetize this institutional, symbiotic process. The UC system wants to change the rules.

Will this method work? Yes, if other universities jump on the bandwagon and stay there. The problem is that Elsevier-type publications may have more influence over academic institutions than the individuals who work in the university bureaucracies?

Nifty, eh. Universities like the UC units set up a system which feeds back high prices in a loop the hapless PhDs cannot escape. Who wants to accept a blog post or a tweet as proof of excellence. Certainly few on a tenure committee are keen on this approach. There are standards to maintain.

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2019

Elsevier Excitement: Not an Oxymoron

January 16, 2019

Professional publishing – the information designed for lawyers, accountants, scientists, technologists, and their ilk – is usually a quiet place. Notice that I did not say, “Dull.”

Now one of the leaders in this small club of gatekeepers has evidenced some actual management excitement at least here in Harrod’s Creek.

According to Inside Higher Education:

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resigned Thursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work. Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies.

Most of the folks outside the STEM world of publishing are unaware that many professional publishers rely on a very reliable business model. Some of its features include:

  1. Work with august academic institutions to make sure the paper based “publish or perish” model is required for anything close to a tenure track or a jump in pay
  2. Charge the authors for various things. Remember. The authors have to publish in esteemed journals which are in theory reviewed by hard working peers. The idea is to make sure those fudged data are identified and stopped before the vetted paper is published. Non reproducible results? Let’s not talk about those.
  3. Charge the academic institutions with the tenure track and aspiring scholars to subscribe to these peer reviewed journals.
  4. Recycle the content in different ways to generate downstream revenue from online databases and services.
  5. Work with vendors who create digital or microfilm versions of the older versions of the publications to generate royalties.

Most of these methods are little known and only partially understood by individuals who don’t pay much attention to a $2,000 for four issues paper publication.

Now the revolt is indeed exciting. The write up does the normal journalism thing. The good stuff is the business model, the somewhat generous money generating mechanisms from which the authors and the institutions are excluded, and the fact that scholarly information is only available to those with the money to pay for these documents.

Is this the beginning of the end for Elsevier-type outfits and their close cousins, the Reed Elsevier type outfits?

To me this is an interesting question.

Stephen E Arnold, January 16, 2019

Facebook: The Fallacy of Rules in an Open Ended Datasphere

December 29, 2018

I read “Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech.” Yogi Berra time: It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Some history, gentle reader.

Years ago I met with a text analytics company. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to identify problematic content; for example, falsified reports related to a warfighting location.

I listened as the 20 somethings and a couple of MBA types bandied about ideas for creating a set of rules that would identify the ways in which information is falsified. There was the inevitable knowledgebase, a taxonomy of terms and jargon, and rules. “If then” stuff.

The big idea was to filter the content with the front end of old school look ups and then feed the outputs into the company’s smart system. I listened and suggested that the cost and time of fiddling with rules would consume the available manpower, time, and money.

Ho, ho, ho was the response. Listen to the old goose from rural Kentucky.

Yeah, that was in 2005, and where is that system now? It’s being used as a utility for IBM’s staggering mountain of smart software and for finding items of interest for a handful of financial clients.

Ho, ho, ho. The joke is one the whiz kids and the investors, who care going to run out of patience when the light bulb does on and says:

“Yo, folks, figuring out what’s fake, shaped, disinformationized, or reformationized content is what makes search difficult.”

I read a scoop from the New York Times. Yep, that’s the print newspaper which delivers to my door each day information that is two or three days old. I see most of the stories online in one form or another. Tip: 85 percent of news is triggered by AP or Reuters feeds.

The article reveals that Facebook’s really smart people cannot figure out how to deal with various types of speech: Political and other types. The child porn content on WhatsApp is a challenge as well I would add.

The write up says:

An examination of the files revealed numerous gaps, biases and outright errors. As Facebook employees grope for the right answers, they have allowed extremist language to flourish in some countries while censoring mainstream speech in others.

Yep, a scoop.

Facebook’s hubris, like the text processing company which dragged me into a series of bull sessions, allows the company to demonstrate that it cannot cope with filtering within a datasphere in which controls are going to be tough to enforce.

The fix is to create a for fee country club. If a person does not meet the criteria, no membership for you. Then each member gets the equivalent of a US social security number which is linked to the verified identity, the payment mechanism, and other data the system can link.

Amazon has this type of system available, but I am not sure the Facebookers are going to pay Amazon to use its policeware to create a clean, well lit place. (Sorry, Ernest, not “lighted”.)

As a final point, may I suggest that rules based systems where big data floweth are going to be tough to create, update, and pay for.

On the other hand, why not hire the New York Times to set up an old school editorial board to do the work. News is not ringing the financial bell at the NYT, so maybe becoming the Facebook solution is a path forward. The cost may put Facebook in the dog house with investors, but the NYT regains it position as the arbiter of what’s in and what’s out.

Power again!

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2018

Happy Holidays: Google News May Be Mortally Wounded

December 25, 2018

I read “Google Says EU Rules Will Force It to Cut News Services.” My first reaction was, “There goes traffic to the news Web sites.” Then I thought, “What traffic?”

The write up reports:

Google has claimed it will be forced to slash the range of news thrown up by its search engine if European rules to protect copyright owners come into force.

Those copyright rules were, in part, triggered by Google itself. The click loving newspapers took a middle of the road approach: Not good, not bad.

Now the EC has cranked out a copyright regulation with Article 11. The lingo refers to “neighboring rights.” The idea is that Google has surfed on hard working journalists’ work. I assume the fraudulent stories in Der Spiegel are not included. (Yikes, a back link. Trouble looms for the Beyond Search goose.)

If the GOOG sticks in a link, the GOOG has to pay the publisher. It gives me a headache to think about the “who”. Many newspapers are pastiches of content from a wide range of sources. The copyright sensitive Associated Press is not going to be happy if one of its syndicated stories is not handled in a way that makes the AP’s legal eagle happy.

To sum up: The Google News death watch has begun. Will the GOOG survive or will it succumb to the EC’s immune system?

Stephen E Arnold, December 25, 2018

Publisher Morphs into Software Vendor

December 12, 2018

Just when we thought content management systems were dead, a publisher is jumping in with feet of Clay. That is the publishing platform Fast Company refers to in its headline, “Why New York Magazine is Selling Its Own Technology to Other Media Companies.” It has been some time since the magazine built its in-house platform, Clay, but recently it partnered with Slate to redesign that site’s CMS. That went so well that two other sites are following suit—Golf.com uses the tech for its large collection of data on U.S. golf courses, and it has been built into Radio.com, which streams music while users peruse the site. Writer Cale Guthrie Weissman reports:

“These features require their own bespoke functionalities—which Clay powers—but they weren’t part of an existing template, like the kind you would find in a conventional CMS. In fact, Clay goes against the model of template-based CMSs, and instead allows developers to use its code base and tools to build their own unique features. ‘What I think makes our CMS and model unique is that [clients are] not buying what we have,’ Hallac says. ‘The way Clay works is that licensees are part of a closed, open-sourced network.’ In a sense, all the customers are part of a consortium building their own things. The Clay codebase is shared among all of them, but they fork it and then build whatever they want atop it themselves.”

And search? Alas, it is not mentioned.

Weissman goes on to observe that selling such in-house software is becoming a trend, giving these examples:

“Vox Media, for instance, has been pushing its Chorus software—which offers both a CMS and an ad network. (New York Media is not selling any sort of advertising network products besides the ability to put ads on a site.) The Washington Post, too, has its own platform, called Arc, which is being licensed to newspapers around the world. Differences aside, the idea and price model is generally the same. Media companies find licensees who shell out monthly fees.”

This is indeed an interesting direction for the publishing industry. As for the Clay platform, Weissman suspects this timing may be an effort to make its parent company, New York Media, LLC, look tasty to potential buyers. The company is reported to have already fielded a few offers.

Cynthia Murrell, December 12, 2018

Thomson Reuters: Content Slicing and Dicing Chops People

December 6, 2018

A certain database company raked in the dough by pitching XML slicing and dicing as the way to piles of cash, happy customers, and reduced editorial costs. Thomson Reuters was “into” XML inspired slicing and dicing. Now the chopping up has moved from disparate content to staff.

According to a real news organization, the article “Thomson Reuters to cut 3,200 jobs by 2020, offer fewer products” states:

Thomson Reuters said it plans to cut its workforce by 12 percent, or 3,200 positions, by 2020 as part of a push to reduce spending.

Capital outlays as a share of revenue will be down about 30 percent by 2020, Thomson Reuters said Tuesday in a presentation for investors. By that year, Thomson Reuters expects to have about 11 percent fewer products and pare its number of locations by 30 percent. The pullback underscores efforts to exert cost discipline after third-quarter revenue came in 2.3 percent less than analysts had expected.

TR revenues have been less than exciting. Despite management’s heroic efforts, the company has not been able to shake the money tree with the vigor some stakeholders expect.

Thus, slicing and dicing of staff and products is underway. Nothing like a hefty reduction in force or RIF to brighten the individuals who can now look forward to finding their future elsewhere.

The larger question is, “What will TR do if the staff reductions and new points of focus do not generate revenue?” The account, lawyer, and MBA infused senior management may have to look for different sources of inspiration; for example:

  1. Seeking to pull the company into new markets with must have products and services. Not easy, I know, but TR will have to do more than follow the well worn grooves in the business models which are like the streets of Pompeii
  2. Selling itself to another large professional publishing outfit. What about a Thomson Elsevier or (perish the thought) an Ebsco Thomson?
  3. Selling the bits and pieces to investment banks or small companies eager to capitalize on TR’s missed penalty kicks. What would Bloomberg pay for the terminal business and maybe the Palantir inspired services? Perhaps Factset would toss a soccer boot on the pitch?
  4. Modifying its executive compensation methods so that TR unit managers actually cooperate on certain opportunities and initiatives.

There are, of course, other options, but many of these have been tried before; for instance, new units, new senior managers, new acquisitions, and new technologies.

Net net: TR may have to start thinking about life as a smaller, leaner, less profitable operation. Lord Thomson of Fleet may not be able to return and infuse the company. He’s needed in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2018

SciTech Journals Resist Smart Software

December 1, 2018

The scientific community is in the throes of a battle that might sound familiar even to folks who have nothing to do with science. They are trying to overcome a glut of fake news, and are turning those weapons on themselves to do so. We discovered more in a recent Analytics India article, “How AI is Tackling Fake Academic Research That is Plaguing Scientific Community.”

According to the story:

“A decade ago, researchers Jeremy Stribling, Dan Aguayo and Max Krohna of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) built a computer science paper generator that could stitch together nonsense papers with impressive graphs and such. The papers drummed up by SCIgen software were accepted at major conferences and even by reputed journals.”

The article purports that that AI technology used to make fake articles is not being utilized in debunking them as well. According to Nature, these tools are running the gamut for academic journals, from choosing which peer reviewers to work with, to verifying statistics, and even summarizing complex articles. This is a neat tool that proves the only way to fight fire is with fire. We can only hope that we are able to keep ahead of the frauds.

Patrick Roland, December 1, 2018

Thomson Reuters on a Privacy International Beat

November 26, 2018

I know that commercial database publishers can be profitable operations. But in order to keep pace with erosion of some traditional revenue streams, some professional publishers have been working to generate new databases which can be licensed to certain government agencies. In most cases, a researcher or librarian will not have these electronic files in their toolkit.

Privacy International published “Who Supplies the Data, Analysis, and Tech Infrastructure to US Immigration Authorities?” The report is available without charge, but I suggest that you download it promptly. Certain reports about some topics can go offline without notice.

I don’t want to dig through the references to references to Palantir. The information about that company is not particularly fresh. However, Privacy International has gathered some useful examples of Thomson Reuters’ products and services to law enforcement and other government agencies.

Privacy International seems unaware that many LE and intel entities routinely outsource work to third part, license a wide range of numeric and factual data, and tap into the talent pools at third party firms.

The Privacy International report does not provide much information about Thomson Reuters’ use of the Palantir technology. That might be an interesting topic for some young researcher to explore. We will do a short item about some of the Privacy International information in the DarkCyber for December 11, 2018.

Stephen E Arnold, November 26, 2018

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