As you are aware, calls to boycott submitting articles to, and reviewing manuscripts for, journals published by Elsevier are growing. The Cost of Knowledge petition stands at 4694 as of this writing. Of these some 623 signatories have identified themselves as being in Biology, 380 in Social Sciences, 260 in Medicine and 126 in Psychology.

These disciplines cover the sciences and the scientists I know best, including my own work.

There seems to be some dismay in certain quarters with the participation of people in these disciplines. This is based, I would assume, on a seat of the pants idea that there are way more active scientists in these disciplines than seems represented by signatures on the petition. Also, I surmise, based on the host of journals published by Elsevier that cater to various aspects of these broader disciplinary categories.

Others have pointed out that in certain cases, such as Cell or The Lancet, there is no way a set of authors are going to give up the cachet of a possible paper acceptance in that particular journal.

I want to address some more quotidian concerns.

I already mentioned the notion of academic societies which benefit from their relationship with Elsevier. Like it or not, they host a LOT of society journals. Sometimes this is just ego and sometimes the society might really be making some ca-change from the relationship. For those scientists who really love the notion that their society has its own journal, this needs to be addressed before they will get on board with a boycott.

Moving along we deal with the considerations that go into selection of a journal to publish in. Considerations that are not driven by Impact Factor since within the class of society journals, such concerns fade. The IFs are all really close, even if they do like to brag about incremental improvement, or about their numerical advantage over a competitor. Yes, 4.5 is better than 4.3 but c’mon. Other factors come into play.

Cost: Somewhere or other (was it Dr. Zen?) someone in this discussion brought up the notion that paying Open Access fees upfront is a big stumbling block. Yes, in one way or another the taxpayers (state and federal in the US) are footing the bill but from the perspective of the PI, increasing library fees to the University don’t matter. What matters are the Direct Cost budgets of her laboratory (and possible the Institutional funds budget). Sure, OA journals allow you to ask for a fee waiver…but who knows if they will give it? Why would you go through all that work (and time) to get the manuscript accepted just to have to pull it if they refuse to let you skip out on the fee? I mean, heck, $1,000 is always handier to have in the lab than being shunted off to the OA publisher, right? I don’t care how many R01s you have…

Convenience: The online manuscript handling system of Elsevier is good. I’ve had experience with a few others, Scholar ONE based systems, etc. Just heard a complaint about the PLoS system on the Twitts the other day, as it happens. Bottom line is that the Elsevier one works really well. Easy file uploading, fast PDF creation, reasonably workable input of all the extraneous info….and good progress/status updating as the manuscript undergoes peer review and decision-making at the editorial offices. This is not the case for all other publishers/journals. And what can I say? I like easy. I don’t like fighting with file uploads. I don’t like constantly having to email the managing editorial team to find out if my fucking manuscript is out for review, back from review, sitting on the Editor’s desk or what. And yeah, we didn’t have that info back in the day. And knowing the first two reviews are in but the journal is still waiting for the third one doesn’t really change a damn thing. But you know what? I like to see the progress.

Audience: One of the first things I do, when considering submitting to a journal in which I do not usually publish, is to keyword search for recent articles. Do they publish stuff like the one we’re about to submit? If yes, then I feel more comfortable in a general sense about editorial decision making and the selection of relevant reviewers. If no…well, why waste the time? Why start off with the dual problem of arguing the merits of both the specific paper and the general topic of interest? Now note, this is not always a valid assumption. I have a clear example in which the journal description seemed to encompass our work…but if you looked at the papers they generally published you’d think we were crazy to submit there. “But they only publish BadgerDigging Studies, not a BunnyHopper to be seen” you’d say. Well, turns out we didn’t have one lick of trouble about topic “fit” from that journal. Go figure. But even with that experience under my belt, I’m still gonna hesitate.

Editor (friendly): Yes, yes, I frequently point out how stupid and wrong we are when trying to game out who is going to respond favorably to our grant proposals. Same thing holds for paper review. But still. I can’t help but feel that I’ve gotten more editorial rulings going my way from editors that I know personally, know they know my work/me and suspect that they are at least 51% favorable towards me/my submissions. The hit rate from people that I’m pretty convinced don’t really know who I am seems somewhat reduced. So yeah, you are damn right I am going to scrutinize the Editorial board of a journal for signs of a friendly name.

Editor (unfriendly): Again, I know it is a fool’s errand. I know that just because I think someone is critical of our work, or has a personal dislike for me, this means jackall. Heck, I’ve probably given really nice manuscript and / or grant reviews to scientists who I personally think are complete jerks, myself. But still… it is common enough that biomedical scientists see pernicious payback lurking behind every corner. Perhaps with justification?

I don’t intend to just stay mad, but to get fucken EVEN the next time I’m reviewing one of theirs. Which will fucken happen. It will.

So yeah, many biomedical scientists are going to put “getting the damn paper accepted already” way up above any considerations about Elsevier’s support for closing off access to tax-payer funded science. Because they feel it is not their fight, yes, but also because it has the potential to cost ’em. This is going to have to be addressed.

On a personal note, PLoSONE currently fails the test. Their are some papers starting to come out in the substance abuse and behavioral pharmacology areas. Some. But not many. And it is hard to get a serious feel for the whole mystique over there about “solid study, not concerned about impact”. Because opinions vary on what represents a solid demonstration. Considerably. Then I look at the list of editors that claim to handle substance abuse. It isn’t extensive and I note at least a few…..strong personalities. Surely these individuals are going to trigger friendly/unfriendly issues for different scientists in their fields. Even worse, however, is the fact that many of them are not listed as having edited any papers published in PLoSONE yet. And that is totally concerning to me if I were considering submitting to that journal instead of one of the many Elsevier titles that might work for us.