Elsevier Boycott Not a Petition, But “A Declaration of Independence”

So says computer programmer and sauropod fan  Mike Taylor in a particularly rich rallying cry at Discover’s “The Crux” blog. The ongoing boycott of academic-publishing giant Elsevier — almost 7000 researchers and counting — writes Bristol,

[has] sometimes been described as a petition, but isn’t trying to persuade Elsevier to do something. It’s a declaration of independence.

It’s a particularly sharp rundown of the forces in play in the growing open-science revolt, with due attention to both the changes that have created this revolt and to the changes still needed from researchers if it’s to succeed in making open-access publication of scientific results the norm instead of the exception.

At this point, it seems clear that the old publishers aren’t going to change; their support for the RWA is proof enough of this. To fix the academic publishing mess, researchers need to stop sending their work to barrier-based journals. And for that to happen, we need funding bodies and job-search committees to judge candidates on the quality of their work, not on which brand name it’s associated with.

Happily, there are signs of movement in this direction: for example, The Wellcome Trust says “it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.” We need more funding and hiring bodies to make such declarations. Only then will researchers will be free of the need (real or apparent) to prop up parasitic publishers by sending their best work to big-name, barrier-based journals.

The move by Wellcome, among the biggest funders of scientific research in the UK, is particularly significant, since funder support of open-science principles can greatly speed change. There’s a long way to go yet. But at this point,  the pressure continues to grow on both Elsevier and hesitant researchers virtually by the day, and declarations of independence like the one voiced here by Taylor reveal the growing confidence of open-science advocates.

From: It’s Not Academic: How Publishers Are Squelching Science Communication | The Crux | Discover Magazine.

Corrections: Initial post had Mike Taylor, the author of the post in question, as Mike Bristol. Taylor is at University of Bristol, and my mind was apparently elsewhere when I typed his last name. H/t to Stephen Curry for correction.


  1. While this article is interesting and even thought provoking, it fails to mention that open science/open source is not the sole domain of non profits like the Welcome Trust. For profit journal publishers such as Elsevier also have open science journals and the mere fact that Elsevier is supporting RWA does not make it a parasite.

    1. This is one post of many and not meant to be comprehensive. I tried to list other posts that hit the points you note missing here, but, alas, our ‘see also’ widget is wonky (which I didn’t realize till just now; it had seemed to work when I posted) and left those out. I’ll try to add a couple manually now to the end of the post. Thanks for the heads-up. 

    2. No, everything else it does makes it a parasite. Its support of RWA is just an attempt to keep the teeth in the vein for as long as parasitically possible.

  2. I strongly support the public-spirited revolt by researchers in their pledge to boycott the academic journal publisher Elsevier. This aims to meaningfully register their protest of long-exorbitant and profitably-priced access to Elsevier journals.
    The price of advocacy for unrestricted access to findings from publicly funded research could be the prejudiced administrative handling and peer assessment of current and future manuscripts submitted to Elsevier journals by Cost of Knowledge signatories. In agreeing to not submit to, and review or edit manuscripts from, Elsevier�€™s stable of prestigious journals, conscientious objectors risk not gaining academic promotion and peer recognition from a positive association with high impact Elsevier journals.
    The preferred target destinations Cost of Knowledge signatories are to divert their work remains undeclared. One would think the most ethical stance is for researchers to pay to publish in open a ccess journals that remain free to readers. A prestigious journal housed under the corporate umbrella of Wolters Kluver, another business-minded global information services and publishing behemoth, seems unconscionable. More worrisome is the collateral damage that could result from the open-ended stand-off between Elsevier and medical researchers. Delays and uncertainties in the dissemination of seminal health care research findings whilst publishing models and houses are under threat could impede timely gains in patient care.
    Declarations: I was a clinical medicine textbook editor under the Elsevier imprint (2009) as well as a recent correspondent to the Lancet. This letter constitutes personal opinion

    1. Thanks for writing in. Good points all around. As to danger of slow movement of medically relevant findings because of this standoff: that’s a reasonable concern, but to my eye is largely offset by two factors: there are not a lot of biomed researchers among then boycotters (though those are growing); and the open PLoS and other emerging open models give those researchers ample publication venues.
      In any event, this train is leaving the station, and Elsevier is fighting a losing battle. I suspect it will soon realize it needs to change (much faster than it is so far) or increasingly suffer.
      David Dobbs
      via mobile

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