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On Elsevier

by Michael Nielsen on January 25, 2012

Elsevier is the world’s largest and most profitable scientific publisher, making a profit of 1.1 billion dollars on revenue of 3.2 billion dollars in 2009. Elsevier have also been involved in many dubious practices, including the publishing of fake medical journals sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, and the publication of what are most kindly described as extraordinarily shoddy journals. Until 2009, parent company Reed Elsevier helped facilitate the international arms trade. (This is just a tiny sample: for more, see Gowers’s blog post, or look at some of the links on this page.) For this, executives at Reed Elsevier are paid multi-million dollar salaries (see, e.g., 1 and 2, and links therein).

All this is pretty widely known in the scientific community. However, Tim Gowers recently started a large-scale discussion of Elsevier by scientists, by blogging to explain that he will no longer be submitting papers to Elsevier journals, refereeing for Elsevier, or otherwise supporting the company in any way. The post now has more than 120 comments, with many mathematicians and scientists voicing similar concerns.

Following up from the discussion on Gowers’s post, Tyler Neylon has created a website called The Cost of Knowledge (see also Gowers’s followup) where researchers can declare their unwillingness to “support any Elsevier journal unless they radically change how they operate”. If you’re a mathematician or scientist who is unhappy with Elsevier’s practices, then consider signing the declaration. And while you’re at it, consider making your scientific papers open access, either by depositing them into open repositories such as the arXiv, or by submitting them to open access journals such as the Public Library of Science. Or do both.

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15 Comments
  1. As fantastic as PLoS is, its pricing is out of reach for most mathematicians (usually there’s no additional funding for publication costs). A better reference might be the Directory of Open Access Journals though, listing 200 open access mathematics journals, a lot of them without fees.

  2. PLoS apparently will waive fees when someone is unable to pay: http://www.plos.org/publish/pricing-policy/publication-fees/ I have not tested this myself.

    With that said, as you say there are many open access journals which may be less expensive or free to publish in.

  3. Yes, fair point, I never actually tested PLoS’s waiver policy myself either. But somehow I doubt they would waive it if all mathematicians suddenly wanted to submit for free ;)

  4. They have been giving us reasons to boycott their journals since at least the mid 90s. Back then we avoided Nuclear Physics B because Elsevier refused to lower subscription rates for universities in developing countries.

  5. Hi,
    as always thanks for your posts!

    While I do not feel ready to commit to this cause (lack of experience on one hand and dislike of other companies on the other), I do feel like joining for the spread of free access journals.

    I would like to point to
    http://www.frontiersin.org/
    it is open access (though I do not know details about reducing rather high fees). I have been reviewing for the journal and I find the review process most motivating. Not only the names of the reviewers will be known at the end (which, I think encourages good reviews, though it my frighten weak spirits… there is some history in the retaliation issue http://www.bmartin.cc/dissent/documents/ss/ss5.html) but also they offer an interactive review process. I have experienced, how this last process focused the reviewers efforts in improving the paper and not just rejecting it…. :D

    Even better would be that the whole review process itself could be accessed by readers. There is this inconspicuous physics journal working in that direction:
    http://www.papersinphysics.org/index.php/papersinphysics

  6. mathematician OR scientist??

  7. ArunD permalink

    @MN:
    The open source platforms are vulnerable to sub-standard inputs e.g. ArXiv which will form just another another motivated form of scientific publishing – does it really solve the problem . Especially the younger audience are prone to get into believing in something !
    A careful attention to make the online publishing websites open to industry database/ad’s could be a nice balancing way forward – more of a business revenue problem,it seems.
    What do you think of allowing others comment on your work that are posted on open source repositories ?
    Is the scientific community prepared for it ?

  8. I have benefited from the PLoS waiver policy. I did work that was not funded by any grant: no OA funds were available. PLoS granted a full fee waiver with no questions asked, just like they say they will.

    I think you should let PLoS handle the too-many waivers problem! Don’t let that stop you from submitting… submit, and if you have no money available, ask for a waiver. If this happens too many times (from mathematics, or anywhere), PLoS will figure out a solution. Based on their philosophy, I’m guessing they’d raise the rates and hit up funders before they’d stop granting waivers to people who can’t afford to pay.

    From http://bit.ly/x5feNV:

    >”All we ask is that you list what portion of the publication fee you can pay and that you explain your reasons so that we can work with funding agencies and institutions to encourage the development of appropriate funding policies.” – PLoS Medicine

  9. I wonder whether the Arts and Humanities Citation Index run by Thomson Reuters has some of the same flaws in it. Do the same problems apply to the humanities?

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