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Elsevier stopped me doing my research

. 2 min read

This is a cross-post from the original, previously available on the Open Notebook Science Network.


I am a statistician interested in detecting potentially problematic research such as data fabrication, which results in unreliable findings and can harm policy-making, confound funding decisions, and hampers research progress.

To this end, I am content mining results reported in the psychology literature. Content mining the literature is a valuable avenue of investigating research questions with innovative methods. For example, our research group has written an automated program to mine research papers for errors in the reported results and found that 1/8 papers (of 30,000) contains at least one result that could directly influence the substantive conclusion [1].

In new research, I am trying to extract test results, figures, tables, and other information reported in papers throughout the majority of the psychology literature. As such, I need the research papers published in psychology that I can mine for these data. To this end, I started ‘bulk’ downloading research papers from, for instance, Sciencedirect. I was doing this for scholarly purposes and took into account potential server load by limiting the amount of papers I downloaded per minute to 9. I had no intention to redistribute the downloaded materials, had legal access to them because my university pays a subscription, and I only wanted to extract facts from these papers.

Full disclosure, I downloaded approximately 30GB of data from Sciencedirect in approximately 10 days. This boils down to a server load of 35KB/s, 0.0021GB/min, 0.125GB/h, 3GB/day.

Approximately two weeks after I started downloading psychology research papers, Elsevier notified my university that this was a violation of the access contract, that this could be considered stealing of content, and that they wanted it to stop. My librarian explicitly instructed me to stop downloading (which I did immediately), otherwise Elsevier would cut all access to Sciencedirect for my university.

I am now not able to mine a substantial part of the literature, and because of this Elsevier is directly hampering me in my research.

[1] Nuijten, M. B., Hartgerink, C. H. J., van Assen, M. A. L. M., Epskamp, S., & Wicherts, J. M. (2015). The prevalence of statistical reporting errors in psychology (1985–2013). Behavior Research Methods, 1–22. doi: 10.3758/s13428-015-0664-2

[MINOR EDITS: the link to the article was broken, should be fixed now. Also, I made the mistake of using "0.0021GB/s" which is now changed into "0.0021GB/min"; I also added "35KB/s" for completeness. One last thing: I am aware of Elsevier's TDM License agreement, and I nonetheless thank those who directed me towards it.]