What is going on with the number of Open Access Journals indexed in Elsevier’s Scopus?

Here is a table of the minimum number full/gold open access journals that Scopus has claimed to index for each month in the last year. This is taken right from the archived Scopus Content page from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. (Missing months are because the page wasn’t archived that month).

Date (Based on Web Archived Dates) Minimum OA Journals Indexed
January 21, 2016 3,800
From February 15, 2016 to January 3, 2017 4,200
February 1, 2017 4,470
February 19, 2017[Most recent archived page] 3,476
May 5, 2017 [Date of this blog post] 3,476

From these numbers it looks like Scopus added around 400 open access journals after January 2016, then another 270 after January 2017, and finally removed around 1,000 after February 1st, 2017.

Removing around 1,000 open access journals is big deal. That’s almost a quarter of all the open access journals Scopus has in their collection. Why didn’t we hear anything about this mass removal of open access journals? Why didn’t Scopus put out a press release? Removing this many open access journals from one of the top research tools should not be treated lightly.

So I started looking into this and things got very confusing very quickly. I did get some help on this problem from an Elsevier Representative, however they seemed just as confused as I was.

Scopus does have a list of removed journals that appears to cover from 2010 onward, the Scopus Discontinued Sources List. However, there are only 176 journals (Closed and OA) listed as being removed for 2016-17. So that can’t give us the 1,000 number we are looking for. Also, it appears like the list might not be fully up-to date, so we should likely look elsewhere.

What if we look at the actual Scopus title lists? Scopus usually releases one full title list a year, the Scopus Source List. I’ve listed the number of OA journals from these title lists below and the month they were released (The links will take you to the archived page where you can access those title lists). I’ve also listed the corresponding Scopus Website numbers from that date (i.e. the info from the first table)

Source List Date OA journals in Source List  Minimum Scopus Website claim for that month
November 2015 4,231 3,800
October 2016 3,481 4,200
April 2017 3,759 3,476

Why does the Source List Number drop from 4,231 in November 2015 to 3,481 in October 2016? This was likely due to the mass DOAJ de-listing of OA journals in May 2016.

Now here is where it gets interesting:

Starting in October 2016 and continuing well after that date, Scopus claimed on their website to index “more than 4,200” open access journals. However, looking at their actually Source List for that date shows it was actually about 320 less than that and certainly not “more than” 4,200.  Scopus was misleading/lying to its clients about how many OA journals it indexed,

Now, maybe this was just an oversight? Maybe whoever compiles the Source List and whoever updates the website just had a miscommunication? That the website people thought the November 2015 Source List number was still accurate? After all, journals are added and subtracted from Scopus all the time and it’s hard to keep numbers updated.

This is still a bit fishy because we still don’t have an answer for where that 4,470 number on February 1st, 2017 came from. Lets look at a section of the first table again:

Date (Based on Web Archived Dates) Minimum OA Journals Indexed
From February 15, 2016 to January 3, 2017 4,200
February 1, 2017 4,470
February 19, 2017[Most recent archived page] 3,476

Over a month and a half period, the Scopus website changed their numbers by adding 270 more journals and then suddenly removing 1,000. What happened here?

Looks like they added another 270 new OA journals to Scopus and were told to update the website as well, then someone from Scopus noticed, “Huh, that number seems a lot higher than it should be” and soon realized, “Crap! That’s nowhere near our real number of OA journals”

So yes. I think this likely just an oversight. However, all of this does not change the fact that Scopus over-reported and mislead its customers about how many open access journals they indexed.

Now, I try actively to see Elsevier in a sympathetic light. I do think that librarians and researchers often use Elsevier as a scapegoat to blame our own failings on.

I also think that Elsevier likely is made up of well-meaning people, who get swallowed up by the size and profit system of the company.

But come on.

Shouldn’t you have a process for making sure these mistakes don’t happen? Shouldn’t you be actively checking and making sure that you are giving your customers the right information about what your product contains?

Elsevier has a history of playing fast-and-loose with open access. Openwashing, if you will. From double-dipping to paywalling OA content, they give the lip-service to OA but rarely any actual attention or action.

Elsevier’s response to this blog will likely be that this is just a slip-up and a mistake that anyone could have made. But, Elsevier, these open access slip-ups are really starting to add up.

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About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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3 Responses to What is going on with the number of Open Access Journals indexed in Elsevier’s Scopus?

  1. @mrgunn says:

    I’m afraid there’s really nothing that surprising here, just a miscommunication between the people who update that part of the website & the Scopus team.

    If we report numbers on our website, we should have them pulled from a live data source, but unfortunately there’s some legacy pages that contain static data that can go overlooked.

  2. Ryan Regier says:

    Thanks for clarifying. Just two quick things:
    – This is the Scopus main content page, not a legacy page. Elsevier reps link and point their customers and potential customers right to this page. That’s why it is so worrisome.
    – Larger point here was that these kind of open access miscommunications seem to keep happening at Elsevier.

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