Explaining resistance to the Elsevier boycott: Practicalities.

February 8, 2012

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.

No Responses Yet to “Explaining resistance to the Elsevier boycott: Practicalities.”

  1. Bashir Says:

    on that note…what about the Frontiers in X journals. Seems to be a PLoS-like organization.

    I haven’t submitted to PLoS or any OA journal as of yet. I am considering it partly because of the allegedly quick review process. Though the money thing is…kind of a thing.

    I’m super curious if this could even have an impact on the journals. I can’t see not submitting doing much. There are too many people scrambling to pubs in “good” places. Perhaps not reviewing. I’ve always heard that the supply of decent reviewers is thin.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    I can’t see not submitting doing much. There are too many people scrambling to pubs in “good” places.

    Speaking wrt the few journals where I have heard opinion making directly from the Editor in Chief, they are *all* concerned about getting “better” submissions at all times. The notion is that they are in mortal IF combat with one or two or even a handful of other journals. This spans a modest IF range within the consensus society-level journal population. They also track submissions, brag about year-over-year increases and their correspondingly shrinking acceptance rate.

    Obviously a handful here and there is not going to make a difference. But if you put, say a 10% dent they are going to notice, 20% and they are going to be concerned.


  3. Jeffmiller Says:

    Very interesting post indeed. My question is why is the Boycott simply attacking Elsevier? What about the others Springer, Wiley, Informa and others?

    Certainly the practices by Elsevier are not regarded as more unfair than the others?
    I also question the rationale that any publisher should be called-out for trying to make a profit.

    Just my 2 cents worth.


  4. Namnezia Says:

    I agree, we just had a paper published in society journal run by Elsevier and I couldn’t have been happier by the way the process went.

    Those Frontiers journals though, it’s a whole ‘nother alternate weird universe over there. I once was supposedly reviewing a paper and it got accepted automatically even before I could finish my review.


  5. whimple Says:

    My experience with PLoS journals has been largely negative. I was particularly unimpressed (as an author) with the length of time for review, given that speed is a claimed priority of theirs.


  6. Lee Says:

    I agree with boycotting Elsevier, in principle. Not too long ago (2004) Elsevier forced institutions to accept bundled journals at high prices or face even higher individual journal pricing. Individual institutional actions are outlined here: http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/4728931/suber_univactions.htm?sequence=1

    Elsevier is the poster-child of dick corporate moves that screw the little guy or the little guy’s library system. So I try to limit my participation in Elsevier journals. Luckily the main Society that I belong to uses Oxford as the publishing group.


  7. Peter Says:

    Very interesting to read.

    I’ve looked at this mostly from a mathematician’s point of view (which, arguably, is the origin of thy boycott) and it’s very good to read another point of view.

    I’m curious what you think about the recent Statement of Purpose” . It’s signed by 34 influential mathematicians, but I’m wondering if it might alienate non-mathematicians rather than bring us together.


  8. zb Says:

    Elsevier is being targeted at least partially for simplicity; it is the nature of boycotts that they fizzle if they are too generally applied. Elsevier is being targeted because they are big and general. In addition, they are the primary mover behind the Research Works Act, which would forbid the NIH from requiring delayed public access in return for taxpayer funding of the research. Some other publishers, most notably Nature Group, Cambridge, ITHAKA, MIT Press, AAAS oppose or do not support the RWA, so on the scale of opposition to public access, they Elsevier is worse than those publishers (I’m unsure about Springer’s PR statement on the topic and have seen no response from Wiley or Blackwell).

    I was, frankly, horrified by the self-serving justification of the status quo in this post (it reflected to me shadows of the self-serving justification of all the other unjust status quos that people averred personal responsibility for, demanding that other things change, that someone else do something first, that there was no other solution). For a parallel, see the NY Times article on underage fashion models in today’s paper: “The industry, for whatever reason, is resistant to change.”

    And, DM is providing more than a “explanation” because in fact the post says that he’s dismissing PLoS One as a venue over Elsevier without having even tried it, in spite of the fact that Elsevier is actively campaigning to take away the taxpayer’s (limited) access to the his research, which was funded by american taxpayers.

    But, rather than being simply horrified, I’ll ask why? Is public access not important enough? Are the benefits to the Elsevier journal you prefer (review time and quality, for example) significantly better than PLoS One. are there ways to change those benefits? Would a dedicated fund to pay PLoS One (or JOV or another Open Access) charges change your mind?

    Would your views change if Elsevier succeeded in rolling back the NIH mandate for the PubMed repository?


  9. kevin. Says:

    I guess you’re saying that the submission system is one of those pesky and rare ‘value-added’ services Elsevier provides. Haha.

    It only makes sense that the boycott started immediately prior to me submitting a paper to an Elsevier journal.


  10. Martin Says:

    I want as many people as possible to be able to read my research papers, even if I have to pay a little for it. There is no reason to put the papers behind a paywall, restricting access, and especially not when it is just the publisher that makes the money.


  11. drugmonkey Says:

    I was, frankly, horrified by the self-serving justification of the status quo in this post

    be as horrified and judgmental as you like. biomedical scientists are a huge player in this scenario and if you don’t get them on board this boycott stuff is going nowhere.

    the post says that he’s dismissing PLoS One as a venue over Elsevier without having even tried it

    you need reading comprehension lessons. You haven’t the foggiest notion of what I may or may not be doing with respect to my paper submissions.

    Is public access not important enough?

    No. Public access is not important enough to me that I am willing to risk being out of a job to make a personal contribution to the cause. I’m not even entirely sure that I’m willing to burn 3-5 months on even a single paper submission just to take a chance on a nonElsevier journal that is my second, third or sixth choice of venues.

    what the wackaloon Open types need to understand is that is coming from someone who is generally sympathetic, engages thoughtfully with Eisen and co’s ideas, writes his CongressCritter and starts up some shitte about this in some IRL venues. Imagine how many people are in my shoes on the risk side who are ignorant or resistant to the pull side?

    You are going to have to do better than tut-tut in “horror”.


  12. Jeffmiller Says:

    Hi All-
    It seems that there are many misconceptions all around. Elsevier cannot possibly sposnor the RWA. Although their executives have given money to representatives sponsoring the bill. This is perfectly legal under the current laws and it’s common practice.

    The RWA is backed by, among others, the Association of American Publishers (AAP
    According to the AAP:

    “The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding.”

    I am not sure what is wrong with this part of the act. If an article was published by a private entity that has put reseources into making that article available, where’s the conflict here?


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    The conflict is that the “to some degree” part is equivalent to 97.65399%, give or take.


  14. Bob Yuncken Says:

    Actually, I was also struck by the self-servingness of the post. It seems that the argument boils down to: “The economics of it don’t affect me. I just want my stuff published in friendly journals with as little fuss as possible.”

    I understand that endangering a career is not worth it. For the record, I haven’t signed the boycott because my career is not completely stable yet, and it’s conceivable I’ll need to publish in Elsevier if it’s the only remaining chioce of a sufficient quality. But it’s certainly going to be an absolute last resort.


  15. This post may be self-serving to a degree but to my mind drugmonkey is articulating the thoughts of many — and being realistic about the scale of the problem. Any scientist who is serious about making a success of their career is necessarily self-serving, no?

    There are real difficulties with the current situation. It’s true that one or two labs striking out and risking martyrdom (or even a few thousand signatures on a petition) may not achieve the move to a better system of publication and reward. Nevertheless if we as a community think that the current publishing model is expensive, that Impact Factors are an unreliable guide to the trajectory of an applicant’s career, and that open access is generally a good thing for the vitality of science and society, then we should be thinking of ways to break out of the current logjam.

    I don’t know what the answers are. I tend to the view that the leaders and champions in the scientific community (the FRS’s, HHMI investigators, Nobel laureates) should be striking out in front here since they have less to risk than more junior investigators. But maybe that’s just buck-passing on my part…


  16. By the way, I have published in BMC Structural Biology and have no complaints about their submission or reviewing processes — as slick as Elsevier’s.


  17. greg Says:

    There is another way to boycott. Piracy. Create a culture in which those who have ready access to journals through their library on all you can eat type subscriptions pass them on. And anyone who can puts bunches of articles up on bittorrent at the first chance.


  18. Drugmonkey may be self-serving (or at least this post of his), but the world would be a different place if this were a minority attitude. Thus, I think his points should be well-heeded by the (us?) “OA wackaloons”. Any new way of doing business needs to be better than the one it seeks to replace, not just more ethical. More ethical just doesn’t cut it and quite frankly, the ‘better’ bar is quite low given what we currently have, so I don’t have any issues with this post. If we can’t come up with something that clearly superior to the way we publish now, we should stay at home.

    Academic publishing is so obviously dysfunctional that, given sufficient funds, it’s a piece of cake to offer something superior. Where can we get these funds from? Partner with a bunch of libraries with fat (Elsevier) subscriptions and convince them to cancel the subscriptions. KIT in Germany for instance would just have to cut their ten most expensive journals to have about 150k per year to play with. Only 9 more libraries on that scale and you have more than a million in investments every single year. Add to that the running infrastructure of ten reasonably sized libraries and you should be able to come up with something better in no time at all without disrupting much access. The potential should be obvious to anyone: the entire scholarly literature in a single place, semantically linked with data and an intelligent alert system that adapts to your reading choices that filters and ranks papers better than any journal hierarchy and is customizable to boot. We could have that tomorrow if we started asking our libraries to cut subscriptions and use the funds to invest in our future.


  19. Mary Says:

    I have a question about the structure of the open access system: who pays for all the work around rejected manuscripts? There’s still coordination, review, contact, etc around those. And I can imagine that’s something of a burden on the staffing based on the submission rates. Is that supported by the accepted paper fees, or are there fees for just submission too?


  20. CK Says:

    Yesterday I received a review request from an Elsevier journal. I’ve been following the boycott online and I hesitated to accept. But then I remembered that back in Nov, I submitted a paper to an Elsevier journal…and it’s still under review. Could I refuse to review a paper when at the same time I need someone to review mine? I don’t like the idea of my paper (submitted long before the boycott) being hung up by this and felt that the authors of the paper I was being asked to review (who likely submitted just before this blew up) would feel the same. I appreciate the reasons for the boycott. But as it stands, I feel obligated to continue to participate in the system.


  21. Zen Faulkes Says:

    It’s a bit sad that Drugmonkey does a better job of defending Elsevier than Elsevier defends Elsevier.


  22. Those of you who are dissatisfied with the roster of academic editors at PLoS ONE in your field, how about *you* fucken volunteer to serve? And then–once you have enough experience to be credible–you suggest to your fucken colleagues in your field/subfield that they (1) submit their non-glamour work and (2) sign up as editors themselves?

    This is exactly what has occurred in each of the several fields/subfields that I operate within, and there are now excellent editors in those fields/subfields, we receive excellent paper submissions, and we have little trouble enlisting excellent reviewers for those submissions.

    This is how you build a critical mass, not by telling people that it is unethical for them to publish in some subset of journals.


  23. Mr. Gunn Says:

    Drugmonkey, thanks for adding your voice to the conversation, however, I think people are aware of the quotidian concerns you mention above. Where true, they’re in fact rather obvious. The “I’m just being impartial and pointing out some facts” tone of your post is belied by the fact that you mention only your concerns and fail to mention all the hard work that has been put in by people to address these concerns. Leaving aside the assumptions you present as facts, let me point out a few things:

    The boycott is now at 5200 (up 200 since yesterday), with the proportion of Biology, chemistry, and medicine growing as the number of signatories grow. It’s now around 20% and, based on Mendeley readership demographics, needs to get up to about 60% to be considered broadly representative of the diversity of fields, but that’s probably an overestimate given the overrepresentation of biomedical science in Mendeley. The point is that its continuing to grow and it’s already starting to have an effect. There’s also a petition targeted against the Research Works Act, which everyone can oppose, if you don’t want to take part in the Elsevier boycott: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/!/petition/oppose-hr3699-research-works-act/vKMhCX9k

    Open Access papers get read and cited more. http://melissaterras.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-happens-when-you-tweet-open-access.html and http://www.jmir.org/2011/4/e123/ Funders are increasingly requiring that they get their money’s worth from funding they provide and as long as the indirect costs keep rolling in for a university, no one’s job is going to be in jeopardy.

    Let me now call for an absolute total moratorium on the “OA puts my job in jeopardy” statement. No one has presented any evidence to show this is true, and Mike Eisen and others have presented evidence to the contrary. When people continue to make this argument without engaging with this evidence, I can only conclude that they’ve not read up on the issue at all and are just presenting uninformed opinion, or that they’re actively interested in furthering this incorrect idea.

    The positive approach would be to highlight open access papers on your CV and include early indicators or impact such as bookmarks or downloads. This is particularly useful for younger faculty, who haven’t had time for their citations to begin to accumulate. If one wished to be truly helpful, instead of just propagating harmful memes, you could point this out. Jason Priem, Gunther Eysenbach, Heather Piwowar, Dario Taraborelli, and many others have worked tirelessly to establish altmetrics as a more useful and effective way to find and characterize, and measure the true impact of research.

    I get that some people feel the boycott is a personal criticism of them if they can’t comply. It’s not. Don’t take it personally if you really can’t. All we’re saying is look around to see what options you really do have before dismissing it and then going on the offensive against something that really just presents a minor inconvenience to you.

    Final fact: Pubmed Central runs on a budget of several million a year. Elsevier makes over a billion in profit a year to provide essentially the same thing we could get if we continued to peer-review each others manuscripts and then just paid for them to be copy-edited before depositing them in Pubmed Central. How many more grants do you think would be funded with that extra $8-900 million sloshing around in the NIH budget? It’s enough to just make everything open access, pay for all the IT costs, and even kick societies some extra money for the stuff they do that they’re now paying for via subscriptions. We have a truly terrible system, one that’s unsustainable, and we would all be much better off joining in and helping in whatever way possible rather than sitting around engaging in these self-defeating arguments.


  24. You are confused if you think DM id “engaging in…self-defeating arguments”. I would have thought it was obvious, but whatever: what he is doing is pointing out some of the barriers that will have to be overcome in the process of weaning biomedical scientists away from their go-to journals and towards newer venues such as PLoS ONE.

    Since this is obviously very obscure to some of you: He is not, himself, arguing *against* you; he is trying to *help* you understand what you are going to have to overcome if you wish to succeed. All this shitte about hundreds of millions of dollars that NIH could save if only everyone fled the journals–with their stable rosters of editors and go-to reviewers–they have been working with for years in favor of a–for them–wholly untested environment such as PLoS ONE doesn’t mean jacke diddly fucke to Jane PI who is right now trying to decide where to send her latest paper.


  25. Mr. Gunn Says:

    So it would appear that the first problem is that Jane PI isn’t aware of the very good reasons that have been discussed over the past several years why many of those concerns aren’t real. If DM would like to help, he could have helped by presenting such information along with the concerns, instead of just presenting the concerns as if people aren’t aware of them and haven’t been working to address the ones which are actually real.


  26. drugmonkey Says:

    The concerns are, in fact, quite real when it comes to getting papers accepted as rapidly as possible. Also when it comes to the Glamour issues. There is also the fact that whether proven by data or not, “education” isn’t going to change perceptions. Particularly when local mentors are giving out advice that counters your theological belief structure, Mr. Gunn.


  27. drugmonkey Says:

    Oh and since we’re playing high school debate team and all, Why do the advocates fail to express my oh-so-obvious points “along with” their fevered posts on this matter?


  28. If DM would like to help, he could have helped by presenting such information along with the concerns, instead of just presenting the concerns as if people aren’t aware of them and haven’t been working to address the ones which are actually real.

    Dumshitte, he’s helping by trying to get you to pay some fucken attention to the concerns of scientists in the trenches that you are going to have to overcome, and to the fact that you are not going to overcome these concerns by telling people that they aren’t “real”.

    Do you get that this is an issue of marketing, and not a debate that you can “win” by being “right”?


  29. Dr Becca Says:

    why many of those concerns aren’t real.

    If you think those concerns aren’t real, then you haven’t sat in on a TT faculty search meeting recently.


  30. […] Elsevier Boycott I linked to a post or two ago has had some questions raised about it, and a critique or two from sympathetic scholars (warning: Comrade PhysioProffe is prone to using very adult–that is […]


  31. Grumble Says:

    Yeah, in this case DM is spot-on (although I might just be, um, stupid and wrong).

    To add my $0.02, Cell and Neuron are Elsevier journals that fill a specific (and high profile) niche. No sane PI is going to give up a chance at a paper in one of these journals just because of some high-minded boycott. There are alternative journals, but not enough of them. Until there are as many open access high-profile (OK, Glamour) journals as there are for-obscene-profit ones, we’re stuck with the system as it is.


  32. To add my $0.02, Cell and Neuron are Elsevier journals that fill a specific (and high profile) niche. No sane PI is going to give up a chance at a paper in one of these journals just because of some high-minded boycott.

    And Douchemonkey’s point is that there are numerous low-profile low-impact journals that also fill a very specific niche: they have real-scientist editorial staff and a steady roster of expert reviewers who are *known to and trusted by the motherfucken authors*. Until open-access journals replicate this situation, they are not going to convince authors to flock to them.


  33. drugmonkey Says:

    as long as the indirect costs keep rolling in for a university, no one’s job is going to be in jeopardy.

    This is incorrect. It overlooks the trainees who have yet to obtain a job, but would very much like to do so. It also is a naive view of tenure and promotions. I know of lots of cases of tenure denial and failure/struggle to advance post-tenure in which the individual was well funded. University P&T committees are still quite free to ignore funding and ding a person for lack of Glamour. If you look at the usual tenure criteria, you’ll find the vast majority are informed more by where one published and how many papers one has published, than by grant dollars acquired.


  34. Grumble Says:

    “…there are numerous low-profile low-impact journals that also fill a very specific niche: they have real-scientist editorial staff and a steady roster of expert reviewers who are *known to and trusted by the motherfucken authors*. Until open-access journals replicate this situation, they are not going to convince authors to flock to them.”

    The Frontiers journals are starting to attract this kind of following among authors, at least in some fields. They’re an interesting case because published papers list the editor and reviewers. In my particular subfield of neuro-arcana, a quick scan of authors, editors and reviewers reveals a developing in-crowd of the up-and-coming. What DM describes is an informal clique (your buddy, or at least someone you trust, is the editor of Journal X, so you send your paper to him, and he sends it to his buddies/people he trusts for review). The clique structure is transparent at the Frontiers journals, instantly revealed to anyone who takes 5 minutes to look.


  35. As I pointed out upthread, PLoS ONE is getting there, too, at least in certain fields/subfields. I am both an academic editor at PLoS ONE and a reviewing editor for Frontiers. My experience is that PLoS ONE gets better submissions in my fields/subfields and the Web-based submission/editorial/reviewing system is *much* better.


  36. Mike_F Says:

    Well, I looked at the “Statement of Purpose” put out by those ’34 prominent mathematicians’ and found the last sentence in the following paragraph quite informative:

    “…The Annals of Mathematics, published by Princeton University Press,
    is one of the absolute top mathematics journals … . For comparison, three other top journals competing with the Annals are Acta Mathematica, … , Journal of
    the American Mathematical Society, … , and Inventiones Mathematicae, … . Note that none of Elsevier’s mathematics journals is generally considered comparable in quality to these journals…”

    So these knights in shining armor are leading the charge against a publisher of second rate journals in their field. When the mathematicians are brave enough to boycott a publisher of top tier math journals, this initiative might seem more credible. I guess the likelihood of that happening is even lower than the likelihood that biologists will start boycotting the publisher of Cell/Neuron/Immunity etc etc…


  37. Yemon Choi Says:

    [Disclosure: I have not signed up to the boycott, although I don’t rule out doing it in the future.]

    Mike_F: it seems either disingenuous or mistaken to interpret that paragraph as “leading the charge against a publisher of second rate journals in their field.” (And what’s with all the ellipsis?)

    The journals mentioned are regarded as the creme de la creme among journals in (non-applied) mathematics; there are several excellent journals falling just below, some of which (Advances in Mathematics, Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra, Journal of Functional Analysis, to name just three that I am reasonably familar with) are published by Elsevier, in at least one case via their purchase/takeover of Academic Press. To me at least, and to the Powers That Be who rank and judge people on where they publish, these are high tier journals; calling them second rate may be technically correct, but it is like calling all athletes who fail to win medals at the Olympics second rate, even though they could still beat you and me without breaking sweat.

    Moreover, it isn’t usually the case for a mathematician to publish most, let alone all of their papers in the three mentioned in your quote: one still needs to publish less stellar work, but one needs to publish it somewhere good, and that is where the boycott can become a real issue for a working mathematician. Indeed, my impression from what I have read and who I have talked to is that it is precisely because the boycott would cover some journals that are respected or “necessary” in the field, that has prevented even more mathematicians signing.

    So I think your snide portrayal is somewhat off the mark here.


  38. Yemon Choi Says:

    To get back on topic, I think this is a valuable blog post since it sets out “quotidian concerns” which I suspect are really what matters to many of us as practising academics.


  39. […] Federal Research Public Access Act Deconstructing Dengue: How Old Is That Mosquito? Going batty: What’s in a name? A Dominant Dolichoderine Explaining resistance to the Elsevier boycott: Practicalities. […]


  40. […] IN this journal that subfields are either in or out. There are some cultural forces going on here which I touched on previously. People want to make assumptions that they are going to get "their" editors and "their" […]


  41. […] have been pondering the role of the open access journal PLoS ONE of late. In particular, pondering whether my subfield of science should use this journal more and, obviously, whether I should use it for any of my various publishing purposes. This […]


  42. gradstudent Says:

    Er… many science mags are freely available ’cause they have ads as a revenue source. At the risk of diluting the sacredness of a science journal, if they were allowed to take in ads, will OA be easier, with a lighter load on the PI?


  43. Mr Cabbage Says:

    Yemon Choi – you’re a clever sausage, aren’t you! I had to use a dictionary to read your posts. I wonder, why would anyone ever use a word like “quotidian” when it means “daily” or “every day”, which can be used instead and which can be understood easily? Your use of language looks like complication for the sake of complication, which is pointless, and suggests a lack of understanding of the purpose or value of communication.

    Anyway, I’m cleverer than you, Yemon Choi, and better at maths!

    As for the Elsevier boycott, it won’t work unless a very large number of people join in, much more than already have. And that won’t happen. Academia has grown into an enormous thing internationally, far bigger than it needs to be. This places publishers in a strong position, because there’s more supply of papers than ever before. It’s simply supply and demand, you see.

    Far too many academics in the world = huge supply of papers = huge demand for publication = big power for established journal publishers like Elsevier.

    In my opinion, academia needs to be scaled down globally. Why does everyone need a degree anyway? I work at a university in the UK, and some of the people I’ve seen graduating in recent years are very weak at the subject they’ve graduated in. Standards are now very watered down – a degree just doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

    I say, raise the standards again! Scale down universities! Reduce undergraduate admissions! This will raise the quality of the students.

    I say, reduce the number of phd students. This will reduce the massive oversupply of phd students, which makes it impossible for nearly all phd students to get a permanent academic job, which is the main reason for doing a phd in the first place.

    I say, get rid of all postdoc positions! They’re an insult anyway. All they do is delay people from getting the job that they’ve already trained to get by doing a phd. All they do is increase the time from starting a phd to getting your first proper permanent job. All they do is perpetuate the unrealistic hope of getting a lectureship, which will never happen for the majority of postdocs. Get rid of ALL postdoc positions.

    Get rid of research grant applications too! Most of them are rejected anyway. What a waste of time! What a waste of valuable research time! All these academics spending much of their research time applying for grants which most of them won’t get because there are far more applications than grants. And who’s paying academics to waste their time? Often, it is the tax payer. What a waste of time and money!

    What a stupid system! Scale everything down! This will give power back to the academics, including power over publication.

    As for the Elsevier boycott, I say this to someone signing up to it:

    Thanks! You’ve just reduced my competition to publish in an Elsevier journal, making it MORE LIKELY that I will take my chances trying to publish in one. You’ve made my life easier.


  44. Mr Cabbage Says:

    And here’s another point:

    I know it’s bad for publishers to bundle journals in packages and try to charge libraries a lot of money, but as an individual researcher with some initiative, you find that it is often easy to get hold of papers for free even when the journal charges.

    After all, many academics put pdfs of their papers on their webpages, and if they don’t do that, then you can just email them (using the email address on their paper, which is displayed free of charge even when a journal charges for access to a paper) and ask for the paper, and usually they’ll just send it to you. That’s my experience.


  45. announcer Says:

    Happy New Year CPP and thanks for your posts!


  46. announcer Says:

    And the same to you DM!. Keep going!


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