LONDON. Scholarly publishing faces a stern test of its integrity, following one of the largest proposed acquisitions in recent years. On 27 October, Reed Elsevier reached an agreement to acquire Harcourt's scientific, technical and medical businesses as part of a more general acquisition of Harcourt General Inc for $4.5 billion in cash, plus the assumption of $1.2 billion in debt. Reed Elsevier then intends to sell on the Harcourt adult education divisions to Thompson Corporation for $2.1 billion.

Academics and other publishers can only stand by and watch as US authorities consider pleas from the opposition — mainly library research associations — for the acquisition to be disallowed on regulatory grounds. If the deal receives shareholder and regulatory approval, it will make Reed Elsevier the market leader in medical and science publishing.

In 1998, a proposed merger between Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer provoked a worried reaction from US academic...

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