Testify: The Open-Science Movement Catches Fire

For years, the open science movement has sought to light a fire about the “closed” journal-publication system. In the last few weeks their efforts seemed to have ignited a broader flame, driven mainly, it seems, by the revelation that one of the most resented publishers, Elsevier, was backing the Research Works Act — some tomfoolery I noted in Congress Considers Paywalling Science You Already Paid For, on Jan 6. Now, 24 days later, scientists are pledging by the hundreds to not cooperate with Elsevier in any way — refusing to publish in its journals, referee its papers, or do the editorial work that researchers have been supplying to journals without charge for decades — and the rebellion is repeatedly reaching the pages of the New York Times and Forbes. This is easily the biggest surge the open-science movement has ever put on. At The Cost of Knowledge, the site created for the roster, there were 1,400 signatories last night, and when I woke today at 5 a.m., over 1,600. The thing seems to be snowballing. Some have ached to take action for years. Others are newly radicalized. In my feature I speculated whether librarians would eventually lead the charge. But Jason Hoyt, then of Mendeley and now of OpenRePub, seemed to have it closer: The revolution awaited only the researchers. A skim through their testimony (below the jump here) is an education in why the call for open science is going mainstream:

Scott Aaronson MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab – Computer Science
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
I’ve been boycotting Elsevier and most other commercial publishers since 2004, and am thrilled to see this movement picking up momentum!
Nigel Brown University of Edinburgh – Biology
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Former Elsevier Chief Editor. Journal moved to other publishers. Still expensive
David Atkinson FL Institute for Human and Machine Cognition – Computer Science
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Science requires the exchange of ideas. Anything that impedes that exchange obstructs progress. Elsevier’s practices are anti-science.
David Doyle Industry
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Professional Engineer & author of 2 published papers. I’m particularly frustrated by having Elsevier’s papers returned in Google searches. I have to guess from Google’s excerpt whether it’s worth my $$$ to buy. I live in the Rocky Mountains and don’t have a nearby university library to visit.
Jean-Luc Eggen Tudelft, inscipa.com
won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Research paid with public money needs to be public. The current organization of scientific journals limits knowledge sharing
David Eppstein University of California, Irvine – Computer Science
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
I was on the editorial board of J. Algorithms that resigned en masse in 2003, and I’ve been avoiding both submitting to and reviewing for Elsevier journals, with rare exception, since 2009.
Mark Everitt National Institute of Informatics – Physics
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
For years I’ve refused to send manuscripts to Elsevier for these reasons. It’s good to see so many like-minded people.

John Faithfull Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow

won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Geologist. Elsevier and similar journal publishers have been perpetrating an appalling swindle on authors, libraries, the general public, and the bodies who fund public science.
José Figueroa-O’Farrill University of Edinburgh – Physics
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
I have refused to (knowingly) referee and publish in Elsevier journals for more than 10 years now… It started with a boycott of Nuclear Physics B.
Kai von Fintel MIT
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Elsevier is not the only big publisher with anti-science practices, but they might be the worst.

Andy Forceno University of Connecticut

won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
I object to both the incredibly high prices of your journals, through which you are essentially keeping knowledge from large swathes of humanity, and your support of measures such as SOPA & PIPA.
David Gerts USAF – Physics
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
The nuclear physics community NEEDS to get on this. The LHC community could make a huge impace… Imagine if the Higgs boson discovery and all other related discoveries weren’t published with Elsevier!
Ian Gibson Memorial University of Newfoundland Libraries
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
It is refreshing to see so many names from such a diversity of backgrounds on this list… More please!
Lus Ibanez Kitware Inc. – Computer Science
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
Scientific research needs publishers that are actually committed to the wide dissemination of information. The economic models of the 20th century are obsolete in the Information Age. Publishers should learn from modern approaches to the dissemination of scientific information, follow the lead of PLoS and BiomedCentral.
Eric Kansa Opencontext.org / UC Berkeley
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
The public finances research effort. Peer-review effort comes from individual researchers performing a public service to their discipline, not from Elsevier. Research funding is most effective when research outcome are accessible, easier reuse and build upon.
Lew Yao Long Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak Campus) – Chemistry
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
We slave in the lab and go through strenuous grant applications in order for our work to be restricted behind a pay-wall? I don’t think that’s how I want my research to be remembered.
Paul Manning Trent University
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
I have already removed myself from the editorial board of an Elsevier journal which I have worked extensively with on January 18th to protest their position on SOPA
Paul Muhly University of Iowa – Mathematics
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
I have been boycotting Elsevier for since roughly 2000. I quit my editorship of JMAA, and have refused to publish in or referee for any Elsevier publication since. I am delighted to learn of all the support for this effort.
Ardal Powell University of Cambridge
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
My personal experience with Elsevier, as a journal editor, has taught me that the company exists solely to reap exorbitant profits. Its operation IMO is excessively bureaucratic and wasteful. The vast sums subscribers pay only perpetuate such inefficiencies without delivering value in return. Schumpeterian creative destruction is in order. Perish Elsevier and release your resources to more enlightened operations!
DAO Duy Quang Institut Pprime, UPR CNRS 3346 Département FTC, Branche Combustion, 1 Avenue Clément Ader, BP 40109 86961 Chasseneuil Futuroscope, France, – Chemistry
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
With a super-high cost of Elsevier publications, i wonder how the poor countries like Vietnam can access the knowledge resourceses like Elsevier. I won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work.
Florian Wolf mergeflow AG – Computer Science
won’t publish, won’t referee, won’t do editorial work
The “standard academic publishing model” works like this: academics write papers (not paid by publishers), do reviews (not paid by publishers), and act as editors (not paid by publishers). Now, publishers enter the stage and put their name on the papers — definitely not for free. Hmmmm…

17 responses

  1. I worked for several years at the American Chemical Society, overseeing a group of 11 editors. Their job was to take papers that had been accepted by scientific journals and clean them up. Not heavy editing, mind you, but correcting typos, making sure it adhered to the style guide, and so on. One editor had even automated the process to a large extent with a rather complex Word macro.

    The big joke of all this was that university libraries had to pay through the nose for these journals — despite the fact that these colleges actually _provided_ the journals’ content! How did the ACS justify its exorbitant subscription prices? The editing. Most of which could be done with Word macros.

    So universities not only fund the research done by scientists, but then the ACS charges them to see the results of that research. “Scam” doesn’t begin to describe it. And, of course, it means that taxpayers who fund the research then have to pay a private organization to actually see the results.

    Sure, the justifications were rampant: Editing, printing, etc. But they always rang hollow. And the idea that science could someday be PUBLIC — well, ha ha ha. No, you see, if you want to see science, the American Chemical Society (or Elsevier, or whomever) will want its cut first.

  2. Hard to get too worked up about it when most of the people uniting for a cause here are doing rather well already.  If you want to find a victim to feel sympathy for and rally behind you usually have to look further down the food chain.  Perhaps their interns and students?  Yeah they probably need our help more than these folks.  What are they going to call this movement the 96-to-97th percent?

    • Not sure where you’re getting your information from.  While senior researchers and PIs do make a fair bit of money (around 60k/yr) a lot of us postdocs and grad students (and we greatly outweigh the former group in numbers) make 16-30k a year. 

      Regardless of how much money we make, the argument here is that US taxpayers (and that should be the 100%) are funding work which publishers turn around and charge you $30 per article to access.  They also charge the scientists publishing the article a publication fee.  Finally they sell advertising in their journals.  Meanwhile a lot of their editors/reviewers are university professors who are being paid by US taxpayer money (NIH grants) and they do not get any compensation from the journals for their services.

      This would be similar to Wired charging you to comment on this article as well as charging others who read your comment AND charging their advertisers for ad space.

    • The point isn’t financial compensation, you dolt! These academics aren’t itching for a piece of the cut.The point is making information openly available, to the entire 100%. The academics (the ones who do the research, write the papers, and even review the papers) want the public at large to be able to read their work, instead of having it hidden behind exorbitantly, unduly, obscenely expensive paywalls. They’re not in it for the money; they’re in it for the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. But institutional and bureaucratic inertia prevents them from realizing the benefits of the Internet and keeps them shackled to the no longer relevant traditional journal system. That’s the problem; the academics are trying to be charitable, not greedy, but the publishers are flexing every rent-seeking muscle they have to prevent a more open paradigm of research from flourishing.

  3. Most western universities have their own printery and on-line libraries that are linked in a closed,  world-wide tertirary group that is accessible with a username and password for a yearly fee. In house publications do occur. This needs to be developed more, even as an alternative to traditional journal publications.

  4. I work to compile and correlate research that can help parents and teachers better understand the many dimensions of science related to how human beings learn to become who they become. My work is free.  I’ve often followed promising trails only to hit the walls of journals that want a prohibitive fee for accessing what I’m interested in. I am all for “free science” and I am looking forward to the wall coming down. 

  5. Excellent movement.

    Sean Carroll brought me here.

    I’m not a scientist- yet (undergrad currently). And it enrages me to think that if I were to be publishing scientific papers that they would not be accessible to everyone.

    For the sake of the world, information ought to be free. Charging for information is stifling a system that will lead to more efficient breakthroughs in all of science. It’s an absolutely greed driven system that ~only~ favors the few people who make a profit off of the publication, parasitizing the rest of us…

  6. I’d like to see more than just scientists join in this rebellion. Let the humanists and the social scientists join as well. For academic work I see no reason in the world to hide what we do behind any sort of wall, either of privilege or of money.

  7. Yes!   I’ve never joined the publish or perish world.  And I am annoyed when web search is blocked by a paywall when a significant part of the production of that material is public domain – private or for-profit IP rarely sees the journals in a meaningful ways as to not leave money laying around.

    Open source (registered and moderated wiki style) would be amazing – especially if the “number of hits” started to have an impact on ranking for stuff like tenure or contract work..  Credibility is important – but so is breaking down the walls of the research club.  

    Stuff like this could be very disruptive in many ways – and may be just what the world needs to revamp the centuries-old professional journal establishment.

  8. Without the peer review  work, the journals will sink to the bottom like Titanic. This is the most important part and it is done for free. The journals make too much money on free contributions of the scientific world.

  9. So instead of just boycotting the bad thing, maybe some of us could get together to create a replacement?  Seems like it shouldn’t be too difficult (relatively speaking) to design/implement a web-based journal system the works somewhat along the line of the WIKI model…possibly pulling in ideas from other “web 2.0” applications for quality/content control, etc…

    • There are quite a few projects looking to replace, part by part, the conventional research-and-publish system. I’m putting together a post about them presently, hope to publish tonight or Wed (2/1) a.m.

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