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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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  • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sockatume (732728) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:04AM (#38838815)

    Some sort of backwards-ass sympathetic magic? You don't get picked to referee unless you're solid in your field, so there's an irrational fear that they'll stop being a big deal if they stop refereeing (even though refereeing is anonymous)?

  • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:10AM (#38838865)
    Refereeing a journal article is a rather thankless job. There is no pay. There is very little kudos from your colleagues. It is a service to the community. To say you will not referee is something that impacts others who need to get published. Refereeing is something that can hurt you personally because of the time commitment. Not refereeing is something that hurts others.
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:12AM (#38838889)

    Refereeing allows you to scrutinze your competitors, preventing them from getting publications on subject you yourself are also working on, delaying them and/or at least making sure they acknowledge your own work. Even with double-blind reviews it is often clear to the reviewer who the author is and in many cases even vice versa, especially in small fields where this is even predicable.

  • Will referee? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lurker1997 (2005954) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:15AM (#38838903)
    Being a referee is part of being a scientist. Someone is taking the time to review your work and you are returning the favor. With a bit of luck, you also get an advance glimpse of some of the work that is being done in your area.
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:16AM (#38838905)

    what is the magnetic allure of refereeing for Elsevier journals?

    It isn't as much as refereeing for Elsevier journals, but to referee for well established and respected journals. Being invited to be a referee of one of those journals is seen as a sign of respect by the scientific community and a public acknowledgement of one's technical and scientific mastery. After all, if a community has to choose who will edit the scientific work done by their own community, they will choose the best in their field, not a snotty-nosed clueless newbie.

    Then, the real problem is that Elsevier managed to control the publication and access to journals which are seen as humanity's forum for specific scientific areas. So, Elsevier manages to get that "magentic allure" by proxy, not for the company's own merit. As soon as journals are published elsewhere, Elsevier will lose any prestige they might have, and although scientific papers will continue to be published, the world will be a better place for not being forced to shelve 40 euros for individual papers or thousands of euros for a subscription. Let's hope this boycott represents the tipping point.

  • Re:Will referee? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cjb-nc (887319) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:17AM (#38838921)
    Elsevier's standing relies on providing top quality, peer-reviewed journals. They cannot keep that up if the peers will not review for them. It is the cornerstone of their business model.
  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:20AM (#38838937) Journal
    The point of journals is for profs trying to get tenure to get published for some obscure piece of research, and so the publishers can sell said journals for ridiculous prices to universities who don't care about the cost because they can always jack up the price of tuition. That's also the point of most education conferences.
  • by jimwelch (309748) <jimwelchok.gmail@com> on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:23AM (#38838963) Homepage Journal
    There is another part to the open access. Trade associations that publish specs. They want anywhere from $100-$1000 for a specification that MUST be used to manufacture equipment. Those specs are written by employees of many businesses (users). These associations do not pay taxes.These specs should be published as e-books for a reasonable price. $35 for example. They are still living in the 50s.
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PeterM from Berkeley (15510) <petermardahl@NospAm.yahoo.com> on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:26AM (#38838997) Journal

    I think the process for choosing reviewers is a lot less about respect than you think. You can get picked for a review by just having published a bit in the same field, by being named by someone else who is too busy to do the review himself, or because the editor knows you personally and he asks you to do the review as a favor.

    Yes, picking leaders in the field is preferred, but they are often unavailable! Reviews take time.

    --PM

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:27AM (#38839003) Homepage Journal

    The point of journals is the value of their reputation. A well respected scientific journal is useful because they've repeatedly put their name on the line publishing scientific papers, and when the vast majority of those papers are valid and well reviewed, you can have some hope of trusting an as yet unread paper. "Censorship" in the form of verification and peer review, is one of the driving mechanisms of science, because not all ideas are made equal.

    It's not the dead trees that make journals valued, but the credibility they help maintain. Having well-respected scientists be widely opposed to your journal is a deadly circumstance, as trust is all you have.

  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:32AM (#38839049) Journal

    Being a referee is part of being a scientist.

    Being a human being with integrity is ALSO part of being a scientist.

    If one wants to think one being worthy to be known as a SCIENTIST one must at least have the integrity to know that keep on feeding leeches such as Elsevier does the scientific community a dis-service

    Restricting the access to information is an antithesis to scientific principle.

  • by Anrego (830717) * on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:35AM (#38839081)

    Sounds kinda like digg for scientific research.

    Which quite honestly scares me...

  • My solution for this would be a public network of papers, where everybody can publish, read and 'sign' those papers. If you agree with a paper, you put your signature under it and the worth of this paper goes up. As your 'worth' goes up your signature also gains in weight, when signing other papers. Every paper gets a comment section, where reviews can be written and errors pointed out.

    The problem with that is that you have to persuade other people — tenured professors, associate professors, funding agencies, etc. — that it's worth buying into your system. Once they buy in, it will work fine (modulo teething problems, of course). But if people don't believe that it counts towards your academic career, it most certainly doesn't count. Maybe that doesn't matter so much for someone with a Fields Medal or Nobel Prize as they've already shown that they merit tenure (or equivalent) anywhere in the world, but for someone earlier in their career it matters hugely.

    People want to publish in top rank journals because that's how they show they are doing top ranked work. Competition is ferocious (if usually polite).

  • by lurker1997 (2005954) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:54AM (#38839283)
    I have published a number of papers in a particular Elsevier journal. When I submit papers, the editorial staff of this journal promptly replies with detailed reviews completed by knowledgable reviewers that in almost all cases have significantly improved the papers I have written (or occasionally prevented something stupid I did from being published at all). That same journal is one of the few that I regularly read for new advances in my field. This is actually the first time I have ever heard something negative about Elsevier, but as a big company there are undoubtedly all kinds of things they do that some people don't like. Normally when thinking about a particular journal, I don't give much thought to who the publishing company is. Regardless, I will happily review other articles for the journal I publish in, because I appreciate the work others have done in reviewing my work, and I am happy that journal remains a source of high quality information about my field. I don't agree with Elsevier's behavior as described in the summary, but one often has to take the bad with the good.
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:01AM (#38839373)

    Not likely. Being a reviewer is a PITA, and generally doesn't advance you in any way. I once applied for a grant that asked how many papers I'd reviewed in the past year, but they just wanted a number, completely unsubstantiated, so I doubt they put much weight on it.

    Scientists do peer review because it's a duty. Not publishing with a journal you don't like is an easy choice. Refusing to participate in peer review with them just means they'll get someone else to do it, and poor papers may slip through.

  • by CSMoran (1577071) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:07AM (#38839441) Journal
    An intelligent scientist, however, publishes a copy of his/her paper on arxiv.org so that those who cannot get over the paywall can read the arxiv version while still citing the original. Win-win.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:07AM (#38839443)

    [...] but one often has to take the bad with the good.

    Only for as long as you choose to, and as long as everybody thinks like you the bad will just get worse.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:08AM (#38839461)

    Journals are a filter. They're supposed to prevent some things from getting published - the low quality, scientifically dubious and shoddily done research. It's hard enough keeping up with the reviewed, edited and published work, never mind some kind of free for all "scientific" networking site that would probably be 90% drug and equipment supplier spam within a week and the other 10% long papers espousing crackpot theories.

  • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Defenestrar (1773808) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:31AM (#38839721)

    ...Refusing to participate in peer review with them just means they'll get someone else to do it, and poor papers may slip through.

    Thus degrading the quality of the journal and after about 10 years people will learn to treat it as one of the trashier neighborhoods. The problem is the impact (factor and public) that the article will have in the transition period. Also, the editor will have to keep hitting up the scientists who don't refuse until they burn out. This can actually be a feedback loop where the reviewing scientist decides that they must get asked to review because they publish so often in that journal, so picking a journal with a lower review load may be worth looking into. Forgoing review is a nasty and dirty type of boycott which definitely flirts the line between dereliction of duty and the need to advance science by publishing in a public forum (which country-club nit-picky-HOA Elsevier is not). Most of those journals are good, and often the sale to Elsevier was to free up their editorial board and professional staff for the real work on the journal. This problem has been building for years and there's not much that will solve it outside of legislation and possibly international treaty. Even the US legislation which says papers written on research performed with public money should be free to access (perhaps with a 6 month delay) has too many loopholes for it to work well.

  • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash.p10link@net> on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:31AM (#38839723) Homepage

    Replacing an abandoned journal is rather different from trying to displace a journal by force. Setting up the website is easy, even finding reviewers is probablly not that hard. The difficult bit is convinving people to chose your journal over the established one. Oh and someone has to pay for your new journal (afaict reviewers do get paid even if it's only a nominal ammount) so if you are open access you will probablly have to charge authours to cover the cost of peer review. If you aren't open access and aren't affiliated with one of the big publishers (see below) you will have a hard time getting people to read your papers.

    It's important to realise that individual academics and students within instituations don't directly pay for access to most papers from our budgets just like we don't directly pay for "core" software (we do pay for some more specialised software out of our own budgets but windows, office, matlab, endnote and so on are all covered centrally). Those things are paid for centrally as part of block subscriptions. If academics actually had to pay the prices that are shown to the general public I suspect there would be a very quick move towards open access journals.

  • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @11:01AM (#38840073) Journal

    Setting up the website is easy, even finding reviewers is probablly not that hard. The difficult bit is convinving people to chose your journal over the established one

    That's why you need buy-in from a few established name. In most fields there are a dozen or so people that almost all of the community respects. If these people are the board for your new journal, then it is instantly credible. In the case of JOT, having Bertrand Meyer as the editor does this, and if you look at the board you'll see a list of names of people at the top of the field.

    Oh and someone has to pay for your new journal (afaict reviewers do get paid even if it's only a nominal ammount) so if you are open access you will probablly have to charge authours to cover the cost of peer review

    Reviewers are sometimes paid, but most of the time, for academics, this money just goes into their grant fund or, in some cases, into a general department fund. It's not really a motivating factor. I've never received money for reviews I've done for journals. Again, using JOT as an example, they don't pay reviewers, nor do they charge authors.

    It's important to realise that individual academics and students within instituations don't directly pay for access to most papers from our budgets just like we don't directly pay for "core" software

    That depends. If the journal is in one of the bundles that your institution subscribes to, then it is 'free' to the end user. If it isn't, then you pay $30 or so, and this comes out of your grant, which means filling in extra paperwork. I've been in exactly the situation that I outlined in another post: papers that I wanted to read were in an Elsevier journal and my institution only had the subscription for the latest few issues - if I wanted older papers I had to pay. As a PhD student, doing this meant getting approval from my supervisor, filling in a form, getting him to sign it, and so on. As a lazy PhD student, this meant just reading papers that cited the one I was interested in that were published in open access journals, and citing them instead...

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