Some Key Events of 2023

Some of the top stories of the year reveal a few key — and encouraging — themes.

This past year was memorable for a few major events and an overall trend — the OA movement under stress and not standing up to scrutiny. Major consequences landed hard in some cases.

And, of course, there was the emergence of commercial LLMs.

Overall, it underscored the need to look beneath the surface, ask questions, and double-check claims.

Here’s a quick rundown to remind you of some of what went down.

  • Wiley Pays Again and Again for Acquiring Hindawi. Discovering it had acquired a sketchy publisher — something that surprised nobody with any amount of knowledge of the company’s history — Wiley did the right thing, and clamped down on questionable editorial practices. But Wiley paid a massive price. Their stock tumbled, their CEO was bumped, the Hindawi brand was killed off, and the risk of Wiley itself being acquired was presented in a late-year analyst’s report.
  • ChatGPT Emerges, Acknowledges It’s Not an Author. ChatGPT hit the scene fast and hard, and journals responded quickly to implement policies against LLMs claiming authorship — something these burlesques of actual human knowledge surfaced when asked. Yet, some continued to toy with the idea of technology overlords, and it’s not clear that prohibitions are entirely effective in an age where there are massive incentives to generate and publish as many papers as possible.
  • Springer Nature Acquires Journal, Straightens It Out. From the hotbed of techno-utopianism (Stanford University), a cheeky medical journal called Cureus emerged, and was acquired by Springer Nature. Once it became prominent via the acquisition, it was easy to see that the domain was being abused to sell illicit goods. Springer Nature responded by plugging the holes. The new owners also shut down the journal’s controversial and ill-conceived “Wall of Shame.”
  • The Internet Archive Ruled to Be Commercial. In a summary judgement, the Internet Archive was found to be a commercial entity, and not simply a digital lending library. The Internet Archive’s Director of Finance testified that “every single page of the Archive is monetized.”
  • The Department of Justice Seizes the Z-Libraries Domains. Last year, two Russian nationals associated with Z-Library were arrested in Argentina, and more than 250 domains seized. In 2023, the seizures were announced. This came amidst the growing realization that “shadow libraries” have effectively leveraged pseudo-rebel instincts in academia regarding copyright and publisher profits into a vulnerability Russians and others exploit at US institutions of higher education, medical centers, and research centers.
  • Exploiting Students With Bogus Journals for Profit. A ProPublica report found that students competing for college admissions are being exploited by placement counselors running “journals” on the side and extracting payments for publication events the students can cite in their applications.
  • PLOS Workers Unionize. Following in the footsteps of employees at Duke University Press, the workers at PLOS unionized this year.
  • cOAlition S Admits Defeat. Acknowledging the APC model doesn’t work, cOAlition S admitted defeat, Robert-Jan Smits published a weepy essay attempting to rally the troops, and the radicals who remain proposed a completely untenable alternative approach — another sign they are mainly insurrectionists without constructive ideas, and are only bent on destroying the information space to watch it burn.
  • eLife Has a Rough Year. From airing its dirty laundry in the wake of a sad tweet thread from Michael Eisen, its now-former Editor-in-Chief, to being forced to remove Eisen after more troublesome tweeting, to being played by Netflix, to revealing it’s a pipsqueak as far as journals go, eLife had a terrible year.
  • Dimensions Reveals Its OA Politics. Via its search interface, Dimensions revealed that it is playing OA politics. Interesting to see political statements in an interface.
  • The Cochrane Collaboration Tailspins. With its finances failing, the famous evidence-based center embraced OA, which could spell its doom.
  • MDPI and Frontiers Caught in Self-citation Schemes. Evidence points to a carefully managed approach to self-citation via “special issues” to boost impact factors and elude standard detection techniques.
  • Annual Reviews Acquires the Charleston Conference. In a gentler form of consolidation, the famous conference got a new, benevolent owner.
  • Bulk Retractions Hit Thousands of Authors. It’s a new thing OA has brought us — bulk retractions following bulk publication — and thousands of articles were retracted this past year. But is it fair?
  • A Reviewer Mill Emerges. Taking the ill-conceived gripes about unpaid reviewers seriously, a librarian running a small manuscript management operation decided to launch a paid reviewer scheme, taking a 40% cut and showing us exactly how a reviewer mill might operate.
  • Journals Make Authors Pay to Point Out Problems. It’s an unexpected wrinkle, but in the OA world, it seems many journals have failed to create exceptions for authors reporting issues with published papers, charging them for publishing articles that point out problems, and using standard APC pricing.
  • Poynder Throws In the Towel on OA. Calling it a failure, temperate and careful reporter Richard Poynder threw in the towel on OA this year, a milestone of sorts for those paying attention.
  • LLMs Trigger Rapid Commercial and Policy Responses. In a healthy sign for the future of the information space, publishers, artists, and IP attorneys rallied quickly in the face of new LLMs to ensure rights retention, royalty payments, and general protections.
  • Higher Education Seen as Losing Its Grip. Expensive, more out-of-touch, and with an unclear value proposition, higher education may be in for a long slog as it has been hijacked by bureaucrats who want a high-paying, safe, and unaccountable monoculture for themselves. Sound familiar?

All in all, it was a year of OA collapsing under its own misconceptions, accountability coming to transgressives via shareholders and stakeholders, and increased skepticism around technological theories of information propagation, while the cultural problems of higher education and those who model is came under increasing scrutiny.

In other words, it was a more rational and positive year if you like sanity, accountability, and positive change.