How would people react if Starbucks bought their favorite local coffee shop? Or if Halliburton bought Greenpeace? Or if the Rebel Alliance… allied itself with the Galactic Empire? Judging by the outburst of the online scientific community one would think all three happened at once when, on April 8th 2013, Mendeley and its popular research paper management and sharing program was sold to scientific publishing giant Elsevier, for an amount that is reported to be somewhere between 69 and 100 million dollars.The backlash from the scientific community, especially from proponents of the Open Access movement who had largely adopted Mendeley as their preferred platform was immediate. A grassroots campaign was started on twitter under the hash tags #mendelete and #mendelsevier and has picked up a small following, pushing for researchers to abandon the application and delete all their data from Mendeley’s databanks. Prominent blogs have weighed in on the matter (examples here and here). Good friend Duncan Hull has posted on his blog a step-by-step guide on how to delete your Mendeley account, which seems to be making the rounds on the blogosphere and the twitterverse.

Mendeley officials have gone on the offensive on social media (see in particular the comments of that Danah Boyd post), trying to convince their users and the community of their continuing good intentions and their commitment to the integrity of their product. While there have also been voices pointing out that Elsevier’s move shows that even a publisher known for its corporate ugliness and greed is willing to expand its open data efforts and promote easier access to its content, disgruntled scientists are not buying it. This is partly because the glass between the scientific community and Elsevier had already been broken. Last year, another grassroots movement was started against Elsevier by mathematician Timothy Gowers to protest their support of SOPA and their business model. The protest has so far managed to convince more than 13,000 scientists to promise not to support Elsevier journals until they change their practices.

Users retain the right to chose their own platform. Even if Mendeley provides a good product, and proves eventually that their new affiliation will not fundamentally change their practices, the fact remains that they are now part of Elsevier and therefore, for many, on the wrong side of the fence. Scientists are free to abandon the software if they still have strong enough feelings about this.

Among them, myself. I pledged last year to avoid supporting Elsevier in any capacity if I can help it, and I feel that now this extends to Mendeley. Yesterday, I jumped on the bandwagon and #mendeleted, moving all my literature database to zotero.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *