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Scientists Organize Elsevier Boycott 206

Posted by Soulskill
from the information-wants-to-be-free dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The academic publisher Elsevier has attracted controversy for its high prices, the practice of bundling journals for sale to libraries and its support for legislation such as SOPA and the Research Works Act. Fields medal-winning mathematician Tim Gowers decided to go public with a blog post describing how he'll no longer have anything to do with Elsevier journals, and suggesting that a public website where mathematicians and scientists could register their support for an Elsevier boycott would further the cause. Such a website now exists, with hundreds of academics signing-up so far. John Baez has a nice write-up of the problem and possible solutions."
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Scientists Organize Elsevier Boycott

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  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:33AM (#38839059) Journal
    The problem is that academics get all of those benefits from papers that people read and most importantly from ones that they cite. A research paper that is never cited does very little to an academic's reputation. Elsevier tries very hard to restrict access to their journals. Unless you buy a subscription to a load of them together you are likely to end up paying $10-30 or more for each paper that you might want to read. Most people, when they encounter this kind of paywall will just go elsewhere and read someone else's related work. And then they'll cite the paper that the other person wrote and it's as if yours doesn't exist.
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:43AM (#38839159) Journal

    There are several points to journals. The first is to have a fixed, published and immutable, snapshot of some research that people can refer to in the future. At the very least, this has to be hosted by someone other than the author (for obvious reasons), and it generally needs a DOI assigned so that it can be easily referenced and uniquely identified in the future.

    The second, obviously, is peer review. Anyone can, for example, put a bit of research on their blog or on arxive.org. They can then get feedback immediately, which is useful for them, but people wanting to read about a subject want to have a filter - a set of papers that they can read that the community agrees are up to a certain standard.

  • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:44AM (#38839165)
    The problem with a free forum is signal to noise. It would have to have some kind of reputation system, such as scientists rating/flagging each other's contributions. That way, you could add some respected scientists to your 'trusted' list, and things that they trust would be highlighted/promoted to you. Essentially a web of trust model. This has obvious downsides, such as scalability and the inherent formation of cliques and the like.

    The thing is that journals are actually a decent solution to these issues. They curate content on your behalf, and you decide which journals are more reputable than others. By doing some of the leg-work for you, they handle scalability and make the format relatively open to all comers. They also have the advantage of already existing: scientists already know which journals are better than others, understand the process of submitting to journals, and so on...

    My point is that while you could entirely ditch the journals, and build a whole new system... this would be inefficient. It would seem simpler to take the current journal system, and just fix the things that are wrong with it (in particular, the exorbitant costs and the lack of open access). On the one hand, you may say it's hopelessly idealistic of me to expect for-profit journals to willingly move towards a more open format. On the other hand, there are already highly successful open-access journal ventures (e.g. PLoS [plos.org]), which are indeed pushing the journal system towards open access. So there is hope that we can reform the journal system.
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Informative)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:00AM (#38839351)

    Undoubtedly it is easy to start a new journal. The hard part is to turn it into a credible one, and the hardest part is to turn it into the "go to" forum for scientific and technical discussion of a specific subject.

    This call by Tim Gowers isn't intended to fix the problem of starting a new journal. This problem has been fixed for decades now, with the inception of the internet as the main platform for knowledge access and distribution, cheap computers and cheaper software. What Tim Gowers intends to achieve is the hard part of the problem: how to turn freshly created or obscure foruns into the main forum for scientific discourse of every scientific and technical field, and destitute the current midlemen to those forums who are restricting access to those journals as old fashion trolls.

    This is why Tim Gowers is appealing to the community to stop helping Elsevier out, and instead redirect their efforts to create or contribute to open access journals. Elsevier's power is in manipulating a flock of sheep to not only give them their work for free but also pay them hansomely to access that which they did themselves. Once Elsevier loses the ability to manipulate them to do their bidding, the scientific community, and therefore humanity, wins in multiple ways. So, it is a social problem, not a technical one, and to fix this problem then that specifc segment of society must change. This is what Tim Gowers (and others, too) ultimately intends to achieve.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:15AM (#38839529)

    I can think of two big ones(there are lots of other, smaller ones):

    1) The sheer volume of science being done. I don't think you appreciate just how much research is published, and how long it takes to fully read a paper. I cannot possibly read all the papers that I would like to as is, an I certainly find it beneficial to have a few of my peers perform basic checks for quality, coherence, relevance and correctness before I decide to invest my time in it.

    2) The system provides an organized way for tracking the output of a scientist. Evaluating the importance and significance of a researchers contributions in a holistic way is incredibly difficult, and, for better or worse, quantitative metrics are an important guide. The reduction of a career to number-of-papers-in-which-journals-with-how-many-citations has significant drawbacks, but most types careers suffer similarly. Without such metrics evaluating job performance becomes much murkier.

    Furthermore, I'd think you'd fine that a sufficiently sophisticated social networking system would end up looking a lot like the journal system. We need a few scientists in the same field to check a paper and make sure that it's worth everyone's time to read? And a way of distributing the load among the community? Like peer review? What about a way of "liking" work you think is important or useful? You mean like citing it? Or what about a way of getting groups of well-regarded researchers to endorse papers that they think are of high quality so they are visible to the appropriate communities? You mean like journals?

    Virtually every scientist (that I know at least) believes that the closed access/high prices are a problem, but these can be solved without getting rid of the journal system. Neither is the journal system perfect, but most of the problems would still be present in any social networking system (if not more prevalent), and will be around as long as human beings are the ones doing science.

  • by lbbros (900904) on Friday January 27, 2012 @02:21PM (#38842453) Homepage
    If you are legally allowed to. Some journals require copyright trasnfer upon acceptance of a manuscript, which makes such things illegal.

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