No matter how well-intended (and we all know to which place the road leads that is paved with good intentions!), transformative agreements (such as DEAL in Germany) are generally the wrong tool at the wrong time for making publicly funded science accessible to the public. If you count public statements, the picture of a rare academic consensus emerges: the DEAL-incompatible proposals and criteria from the Council of EU Science Ministers were enthusiastically welcomed by a wide range of scientific organizations. This was not surprising as these conclusions originated from within the scholarly community and build on existing solutions within scholarly institutions. More surprising is the positive feedback coming from the smaller publishers. They welcome these modern concepts from the scientific community that have found their way into the EU decisions, because they finally give them an opportunity to compete with the larger publishers. In short, the only ones still considering DEAL to be up to the task are DEAL themselves and the big publishers; all other relevant actors who have made public statements so far, all reject DEAL.

If DEAL needs to be rejected in general, the Elsevier DEAL needs to be rejected with particular fervor. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, the price negotiated by DEAL with Elsevier is many times more expensive than the market-based solutions favored by all other stakeholders. These spiraling costs will eventually eat into the budget also of non-DEAL fields, which have already taken massive hits by the serials crisis. Elsevier is also part of the surveillance corporation RELX and the clauses in the contract that are intended to protect users from data abuse are useless, because they are neither policed nor enforced. This blank check issued to Elsevier makes participating institutions accomplices in the corporation’s eventual privacy violations. Especially in times of globally growing autocratic tendencies, there should be no question that German universities ought not to denigrate themselves to data suppliers for international intelligence services and law enforcement agencies – all important RELX customers.

A continuation of DEAL in general, but especially a DEAL with Elsevier, is therefore neither in the interest of science, the scientific institutions, the scientists, nor the public that finances them. It is only in the interests of Elsevier and those DEAL employees, who will be offered lucrative positions at the publishers after the contract is signed. Rarely has there been so much agreement in academia: There must be no Elsevier DEAL. With the opt-in procedure of this DEAL contract, every institution is now faced with the choice of whether to position itself for or against this consensus in science.


Below are the fully referenced 14 reasons why no German institution should sign the brokered (botched, really) DEAL with Elsevier:

  1. In May, the EU science ministers clearly explained why “transformative agreements” (TAs) like DEAL are not in the spirit of science and what should be used in science instead: “interoperable, not-for-profit infrastructures for publishing based on open source software and open standards, in order to avoid the lock-in of services as well as proprietary systems, and to connect these infrastructures to the EOSC”. DEAL does not meet a single one of these criteria.
  2. These insights are supported by recent data showing that TAs like Plan S or DEAL unfortunately do not transform, but consolidate. TAs transform nothing but public funds into dividends. The transformation process is never completed because it affects a popular business model, which is why coalitionS came to the conclusion that only 1% of the journals they examined were actually transformed, while more than two thirds missed the Open Access criteria to such an extent that they were removed from the program.
  3. Ten major science organizations, representing most of the scientific institutions and scientific excellence in the EU, welcome the decisions of the science ministers and emphasize how groundbreaking they are (EUA, Science Europe, LIBER, ALLEA, AERG, MCAA, Eurodoc, cOAlition S , OPERAS, ANR). One of these organizations is the European University Association EUA. Their full members have already rejected DEAL in principle, via their EUA membership.
  4. Here in Germany, the DFG is also one of the official supporters of the Council of the EU’s decisions. The largest research funding organization and central self-governing institution for science in Germany has recognized how “trend-setting” the decisions of the science ministers are and also emphasizes how important it is to establish “open access infrastructures that operate without publication fees paid by authors and without profit intentions”. DEAL is diametrically opposed to these goals.
  5. The Council of the EU’s decisions follow long-formulated demands from the scientific community. Just recently, ten international experts highlighted how long overdue this modernization of scientific information infrastructures has become.
  6. The infrastructure units of the scientific community also emphasize that they are ready to implement the infrastructure recommended by the Council of the EU. The Coalition of Open Access Repositories (COAR) emphasizes in particular that a large part of the infrastructure already exists to implement the Council’s decisions.
  7. The small and medium-sized publishers damaged by DEAL also welcome the Council’s decisions, as their implementation promises an actual market that would replace the secret DEAL negotiations with the large monopolists.
  8. Elsevier is part of the surveillance corporation RELX, which has signed contracts with several intelligence services, so institutions with civil clauses need to take an even more critical stance. In principle, a university should protect the privacy and academic freedom of its members and not act as a willing provider of user data. In this respect, institutions which enter into a contract with Elsevier may face legal jeopardy and the risk of liability for libraries associated with DEAL is likely substantial.
  9. The clauses intended to protect user data and privacy in the DEAL contract with Elsevier, are neither policed nor enforced and therefore invalid. Elsevier de facto has full access to users’ private data and those affected are under the obligation to prove any damage.
  10. All “Article Processing Charges” (APCs) over ~€1,000 are not market-based and should therefore generally never be paid from public funds.
  11. The DEAL with Elsevier will be significantly more expensive than the negotiated prices suggest. For one, APCs rise supra-inflationary. Moreover, Elsevier forces its journals to publish more articles in order to increase sales.
  12. The DEAL was negotiated even though there are alternatives for publication services that can be tendered, so the contract violates procurement rules.
  13. Profit-oriented companies cannot dictate public institutions what research they are allowed to conduct. The AI ban in the DEAL with Elsevier represents a violation of (in Germany constitutionally protected) academic freedom.
  14. Overall, the DEAL project itself does not gain in trustworthiness if members of the DEAL project group sign up with one of the publishers even before the ink on the contract has dried.
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Posted on  at 16:42