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What does open science have to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict? As of last week, quite a bit, writes TU Delft Library employee Saba Sharma in this letter.

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On 23 October 2023, Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the eLife open access journal, was fired from his job [1]. In a social media post, he revealed that he had been let go after re-posting an article from The Onion, a parody news website, which satirised the indifference to Palestinian lives in the ongoing bombings and airstrikes.

Dr Eisen, who before being fired was criticised by Israeli researchers for re-posting the article, reiterated his position in the face of critique [2], arguing that as someone with family in Israel, he was horrified by the terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas, but was equally committed to condemning the collective punishment and dehumanisation of Gazans, which was no less terrifying or abhorrent.

Eisen has an established track record in the field of open access and open science [3], pioneering a ‘publish-review-curate’ model at eLife, which works with article preprints and open peer review, rather than the traditional journal model of accepting or rejecting papers.

Moreover, as with his current position on speaking out about Gaza, he has been vocal about challenging the status quo in academia, for instance, writing about institutional complicity [4] in academic paywalls and its disastrous consequences for the activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life after being criminally charged for illegally downloading journal articles.

Purportedly, the board of eLife did not want to be associated with anything ‘controversial’ and saw Eisen’s dismissal as ‘best to safeguard eLife’s future and reputation’, to quote their own statement on the incident [5].

‘We live by the underlying values of freedom of speech, and openness and inclusion’

However, a brief glance at the history of open access shows that it is, by definition, associated with ‘controversial’ positions that challenge the status quo, in this case of commercial publishing in academia.

An early proposition by cognitive scientist Steven Harnad to self-archive research articles for free online, for instance, was named ‘The Subversive Proposal’ [6], acknowledging its radical perspective.

That the current publishing environment has more room for open access now is down to the insistence of its champions to critique and question traditional publishing models, a practice that continues until today.

Moreover, advocacy for open access and open science has not arisen in a vacuum, but rather as a response to the commercialisation of academic publishing [7], and its concentration in the hands of companies like Elsevier.

As Jeff Handmaker of Erasmus University Rotterdam recently wrote [8] in relation to the present Israel-Palestine conflict, feeling discomfort when confronting a political issue should not be a reason to not speak up or hear others. Many of those who have access to any kind of platform, even if it is a X (formerly Twitter) account, have used them to add their voices to these discussions, as did Michael Eisen.

Several editors and advisors at eLife have resigned in support of Eisen [9], while 1,300+ academics have signed an open letter [10] in support of him. It is imperative that, as a community at TU Delft that practices and advocates open access and open science, we also live by the underlying values of freedom of speech, and openness and inclusion for everyone, including those who are currently powerless to speak.

Saba Sharma works on Open Science projects at the TU Delft Library. All views expressed in this article are personal.


[1] nature.com/articles/d41586-023-03330-w

[2] science.org/content/article/prominent-journal-editor-fired-endorsing-satirical-article-israel-hamas

[3] defector.com/who-is-allowed-to-do-science

[4] michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1254

[5] science.org/content/article/prominent-journal-editor-fired-endorsing-satirical-article-israel-hamas

[6] eprints.soton.ac.uk/253351/1/subversive.pdf

[7] blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2018/10/02/the-expansion-of-open-access-is-being-driven-by-commercialisation-where-private-benefit-is-adopting-the-mantle-of-public-value

[8] erasmusmagazine.nl/en/2023/10/27/it-is-okay-to-feel-uncomfortable-when-talking-about-horrific-events

[9] science.org/content/article/prominent-journal-editor-fired-endorsing-satirical-article-israel-hamas

[10] docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfdJyIQzIsTypmmZXIi-RfSjbe4Psp1RIvjXz-DxWJKA5hHIQ/viewform