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Wikipedia under fire for relationship with academic publisher

Ars Technica reported on Elsevier’s recent deal with Wikipedia — the publisher has given 45 free ScienceDirect memberships to “top editors” on Wikipedia.

Open-access advocate Michael Eisen — co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and supporter of numerous other ventures — criticized the deal on Twitter and dubbed it “WikiGate.” His main fear is that those with access to ScienceDirect’s database will add links to its content on Wikipedia articles. When general users click one of the links, they’ll be redirected to ScienceDirect’s paywall and prompted to either buy a subscription to the site or pay a one-time access fee — which can run upwards of 10 pounds ($15 USD).

Eisen asked Wikimedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to reconsider the company’s relationship with Elsevier and suggested providing article citations rather than active links.

Peter Murray-Rust, Reader Emeritus in Molecular Informatics at the University Of Cambridge and another open-access advocate, didn’t mince words in an email to Ars Technica about the deal. Calling it “crumbs from the rich man’s table,” he said it will encourage elitism among editors.

Notably, this isn’t the first time a paywalled journal has made a deal with Wikimedia. The Wikipedia Library project aims to give prolific editors access to more accurate information for Wikipedia pages and makes deals similar to Elsevier’s — a closed journal offers a certain number of free subscriptions, usually for around a year. Wikimedia also said it can promote via social media and blog posts any sources that give away subscriptions.

While Eisen and Murray-Rust are fans of Wikipedia, they think projects like Wikipedia Library are stifling in the quest for more open-access journals. Not all “Wikimedians” see this is a bad thing, however. Martin Poulter, organizer of the Wikipedia Science Conference, said while he doesn’t use Wikipedia Library, he think it’s a good idea because Wikimedia must operate “in the real world,” one of many closed-access journals.

Elsevier, based in Amsterdam, had revenues of £2.48 billion (about $3.83 billion USD) last year. It is no stranger to controversy thanks to its high profit margins and stance on copyright.

In December 2014, the prominent scientific journal Nature made much of its database free to access, albeit with a few caveats.

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