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Scientists Organize Elsevier Boycott 206

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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  • Will referee? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jginspace (678908) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <ecapsnigj>> on Friday January 27, 2012 @08:57AM (#38838745) Homepage Journal
    They've been asked to say that they: "1) won’t publish with them, 2) won’t referee for them, and/or 3) won’t do editorial work for them ... At least do number 2)" ... most of those signed up have gone for all three however it seems like roughly one in ten have prevaricated on the "won't referee" pledge - what is the magnetic allure of refereeing for Elsevier journals?
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:09AM (#38838849)

    It's a vague sense of duty. For any given potential paper, there is a limited number of suitible peer reviewers. I'm trying something so odd right now I can think of less than 8 people who are are knowledgable about the materials and spectrosopic method off the top of my head. The people still willing to be a referee possibly feel that their field as a whole shouldn't suffer with suboptimal peer reviewers simple because another scientist is trying to get published in an Elsevier journal.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:11AM (#38838875)

    They seem unnecessary in the internet age. Set up some sort of social networking system for scientists.

    Also keep getting disturbing reports of journals censoring works for political reasons or because they're afraid that certain factions within the science community will boycott them.

    The whole thing is anti science. Create a forum where all scientists can share information freely without fear of being censored or favoritism. If other scientists don't find your work compelling then they don't have to listen to it.

    It will also make disclosing all the information about a given study easier since hopefully more of the work will be within the system.

  • by tstrunk (2562139) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:14AM (#38838901)

    Publishing articles nowadays is terribly easy and does not cost a thing (arxiv); filtering and getting good referees however is not.

    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.

    If a well known professor therefore signs your work, others will catch up to it. A 'good' paper will gain in publicity quickly due to being sent around a lot. One would also need to include a system of diminishing returns, as to avoid groups signing only their own papers. Ironing out these points of abuse will be the hardest part of this system.

    The specification above only consists of four to five sentences and yet I would call it more robust than the currently arbitrarily chosen journals.

  • It is about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tp1024 (2409684) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:27AM (#38839001)
    Go to google scholar, research anything and you'll inevitable bumb into those extortionists. What is the point of having all that knowledge theoretically at your fingertips, if people cannot have access to it? No matter what it is - an icelandic volcano erupting and you want to know what this means for your plans to fly somewhere? Well, there are plenty of papers that will tell you about ash emissions, the impact of ash on airplanes, the concentrations of ash in the air and so on and so forth.

    A nuclear reactor has a problem and you want to know what engineers found out about the likely consequences or progression of the accident, or what people in this country and other countries did about mitigation? It's right there. BUT:

    $30.00 for reading a paper (which more likely than not will not contain what you are looking for) just makes it impossible to research anything at all - unless you are at least a millionaire. Just having access to one research paper per day will cost you $11000 a year. That has nothing to do with copyrights or protecting intellectual property or anything else.

    It is all about extortion - thank you for trying to stop it.
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:30AM (#38839035) Journal
    If you have the support of the community, it's apparently not that hard to replace an established journal. In 2001, the Journal of Object-Oriented Programming was shut down by its new publisher. The Journal of Object Technology stepped into the gap, with the same set of reviewers, but no print publication just open access online-only publication. I'm a bit surprised that more fields haven't followed suit. If you've got a dozen respected researchers who are willing to do reviews, it's easy to start a new journal.
  • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:45AM (#38839183)

    In other words, you are saying that scientists in general have such low esteem of themselves that they crave for the respect of their own peers in order to survive

    This makes as much sense as claiming that the only reason athletes accept an invitation to play in the all-star game is that "in general have such low esteem of themselves that they crave for the respect of their own peers in order to survive".

    And this would also apply to prizes such as the fields medal and nobel prize.

    To put it simply, there is a considerable difference between having a low self-esteem and receiving an honour of having our own work recognized by the community.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:47AM (#38839199)

    How is that even remotely scientific?

    That's ad verecundiam. What should matter is the science.

    Now if you're worried about having some kind of filtration mechanism so scientists aren't bombarded by bad science then there are many ways of doing that without appealing to an opaque editor that has everyone's trust but has no transparency.

    Remember Bernie Madoff. Prior to the scandal he was an extremely well respected man in the finance world. Everyone trusted the guy. He was a legend. But no one audited his work. There was no transparency. And he f'ed everyone that trusted him.

    Now am I saying the journals are doing that? No. I'm saying the CAN do it.

    I don't care if they're respected. That isn't science. There should be nothing between the scientist and his/her peers. If their peers WANT to filter out bad science then it won't be hard to set up such filters in a way that can't be easily gamed.

  • by Terje Mathisen (128806) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:47AM (#38839207)

    Last year I sent an email to IEEE saying that I would leave the organization if they continued holding research papers hostage behind pay walls.

    I.e. authors were told that in order to get published they would have to assign their copyrights to IEEE and would have to remove any freely available copies on their own personal web page.

    See also [] and [] about locking research behind DRM gates.

    With very little visible change to their attitudes, I decided to leave.


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

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:50AM (#38839237) Journal
    Indeed. I did some reviews when I was a PhD student. Someone at a journal knows my PhD supervisor and says 'do you have anyone who knows a bit about this stuff?' He then nominates me, and I do a review. Typically the paper is reviewed by about 4 people in this way, and then a committee reads the reviews and decides whether or not to accept. You usually have to fill in a set of questions including how you'd rate your knowledge of the subject. I've had papers back from review where a reviewer rates his knowledge of the subject area as 1 out of 5 (although this usually doesn't stop them from listing a load of criticisms...)
  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Friday January 27, 2012 @09:51AM (#38839241)

    It's easy enough to sign up, and to say you hate Elsevier (so do I). But if you're in a research group at a university, and you're the PhD student, you're probably not doing yourself a favor by signing this. Your name will show up in search results, so people may know you signed (if you used your own name and institute).
    In order to get your PhD, you will need to publish somewhere, and your prof will want you to get the highest "impact factor", because that's good for the whole group. You're in a way just an employee, so you better listen to the boss.

    By effectively saying "screw you" to the whole system of publications, and going online to a really open system, you gamble. Better make sure the prof agrees.

    But I applaud you, if you do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:15AM (#38839535)

    Let's not forget, that Elsevier created two dozen completely fake magazines full of completely fake "articles", which were ads for pharma industry products disguised as medical studies. They then planted those in doctors' offices for doctors to read.
    Doctors based their trust on that, assuming it was factually correct, and prescribed millions of pointless drugs to patients, often endangering their health.
    All for the profit of the pharma industry. Which is clearly bordering on... how do you call that in English? Mass felony mayhem? Mass battery? (I mean "Massen-Körperverletzung")

    Nobody will argue that that wasn't a huge crime, and that Elsevier should not be closed down and its management put in PMITA prison.

  • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Friday January 27, 2012 @10:23AM (#38839619)
    Transparency is generally a good thing, and I agree that many aspects of the publishing process are needlessly opaque. This should be fixed. But anonymous peer review has certain advantages. It provides an opportunity for reviewers to be completely honest. Think about a junior scientist reviewing a paper by a more well-established peer: they may fear that a critical review will seriously hurt their career. Think about scientists not wanting to be critical in a review of a friend's paper, or conversely people punishing papers because 'they rejected my last paper!' And so on. The journal editor serves the role of maintaining the anonymous peer review system. (Note that in anonymous peer review, the reviewer is still free to disclose their identity by signing their review; and indeed many scientists do this.)

    Of course there could be ways to do anonymous peer-review in an open forum system (e.g. using trusted editor-like intermediaries, or using verifiable keys that can establish trust without disclosing who posted the review). It could be done; in fact nothing prevents all of this from happening right now (even now, authors could individually post their rejected articles, including all peer-review and editor comments, to their institutional websites; this at least partially happens through arXiv []).

    My point about efficiency was that for a given final state X, we can either tweak our current journal model until it reaches X, or we can start from scratch building a new initially inefficient system A, and then tweak that until we reach X. Both will have serious growing pains, but it seems to me that it will be easier (in particular, easier to get scientists on-board with the changes) by smoothly transitioning from the current system to the final desired state of X. Doing it smoothly means no downtime; each adjustment can be tested and the community can decide whether they like the change. So, again, I agree that there are many things about the journal system that could be fixed, and which modern Internet technology can help fix (open access, transparency, better logging of opinions/comments/etc., allowing any scientists to comment on any article, creating a space for public debates/discussions, etc.). I just think that the most kinetically favorable path to that new state is a series of changes from the current journal system (for all it's faults, the community is doing a lot of great science these days!).
  • Re:Will referee? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bgeezus (1252178) on Friday January 27, 2012 @12:39PM (#38841625)

    what is the magnetic allure of refereeing for Elsevier journals?

    Refereeing is a complicated thing. As much as you might hope that all scientists and scientific papers are honest and accurate, this is not always the case. I've refereed for several low-quality journals, not because I took any pride in the act, but because people were submitting low quality papers directly based on my work. If I don't serve as a reviewer for these kinds of papers, then I don't have an opportunity to make sure they did things correctly. And whether or not it's correct, a pile of misinformed papers can still gain traction in the larger community. This is becoming more and more the case, particularly since graduate students (in general) are becoming less and less inclined to do very deep and detailed literature reviews. Reviewing is not about supporting a journal. It's an important duty to prevent the spread of misinformation, and also to make sure that the existing work is described in a proper context. Promising to abstain from reviewing certain journals would be a great disservice to your own work and to your scientific field.

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

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Friday January 27, 2012 @12:43PM (#38841705)

    "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."

    Sure. If you want to ruin a journal over the long term and you don't care about the quality of the science that gets published in the meantime, it's a great way to go. Most scientists DO care about the quality of the science that gets published though.

Pascal is a language for children wanting to be naughty. -- Dr. Kasi Ananthanarayanan