“Apparently, the bureaucracy at Elsevier is the most cumbersome thing in the world:” Journal editor

bbrcWe recently came across a paper in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, an Elsevier title, that had been temporarily removed without explanation. While we see a fair number of such opaque notices from Elsevier — and have written about why we think they’re a bad idea — we took interest in this one because the last author, Toren Finkel of the NIH, was the corresponding author of a Nature paper retracted earlier this year. (He also had two corrections on one Science paper, both of which are paywalled.)

What we learned suggests the withdrawal was completely unrelated to the Nature retraction, but also reveals a journal editor’s exasperation.

The title of the paper, “Unresolved questions from the analysis of mice lacking MCU expression,” now has “TEMPORARY REMOVAL” in front of it, and the notice reads:

The publisher regrets that this article has been temporarily removed. A replacement will appear as soon as possible in which the reason for the removal of the article will be specified, or the article will be reinstated.

The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy.

When we asked Finkel for more details, he forwarded us correspondence from journal editor-in-chief Ernesto Carafoli beginning May 29:

When  your articles (and the short Introduction I had written) were submitted, they were non lumped together  for the online pre-publication , but published separately. I felt the arrangement   was inadequate and confusing, and I thus asked that they be put together with an indication that they were part  of a Discussion Forum: technically,however,  this requires time and the papers were  labeled with the notation “Temporary Removal” , waiting for the last two to be sent in with some last minute correction.  I felt the notation was not the best one, and some of you were indeed confused and disappointed. Thus,  tomorrow  the notation will be  replaced with the verbiage   “Coming Soon”, and I strongly hope  the last two of you will send in their corrected piece at the latest over the week end. We will then lump all papers together  with an appropriate notation at the beginning of  one of the next Issues…

But as of this Monday, June 9, Finkel et al’s contribution was still labeled “TEMPORARY REMOVAL,” so Finkel asked Carafoli to change it:

For somewhat complicated reasons, it would be very helpful to me if this could be done as soon as possible .

Carafoli was sympathetic in an email sent the same day:

Dear Toren, I know the situation, and it disappoints me a lot. Apparently, the bureaucracy at Elsevier is the most cumbersome thing in the world. I have been  trying to have the verbiage changed since I discovered, ages ago, that the 5 Discussion Forum contributions, and my Introduction, had been pre-published online independently of one another, contrary to my recommendations. The way they are listed  now, and of course especially my Introduction, makes no sense at all. All what  I could achieve  is to have the contributions temporarily set apart, waiting for all of them  to come in in final form , and as a result they came up with this akward notation “Temporary Removal”, which is still there in spite of repeated promises that the thing would be corrected ASAP.  For technical reasons which I do not understand, to make this absolutely simple change that should be done in a minute takes instead weeks. Actually I did achieve something else: since Vamsi protested repeatedly, and quite  understandably, his paper is now labelled “Coming soon”.  I keep receiving promises that the situation will be put on the right track right  away, but as of today nothing  has changed. All I can ask you is to be patient a little longer.

One thought on ““Apparently, the bureaucracy at Elsevier is the most cumbersome thing in the world:” Journal editor”

  1. Elsevier cannot be considered in isolation. Scientists had better start to observe the larger structural base of its parent company, Reed-Elsevier. As long as scientists continue to think that Elsevier = sciencedirect.com and Scopus, they will be fooled by the brilliance of this machinery which is only superficially publishing. Bureaucracy is always in lace to slow down criticism and dissent. When companies (or corporations as in this case) set in place bureaucratic structures that make the system too complex for scientists and even editors to dissect, then dissent is stiffled. The ability to object becomes reduced to silence, and change only comes about when it suits the needs of the publisher, in this case Elsevier. I guess this is called protecting one’s interests. Those who know me, know that I have been a firm and open critique of the lack of accountability by this publisher. But too many are critical of my own “beef” with Elsevier because they are too blinded by the snazziness and functionality of the web-sites. When scentists get past the fact that a PDF file is only a PDF file, which any T, D or H can generate in Word 2010, then they will start to understand that we are nothing but the pawns on the chess-board.

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