Many publishers attract a significant amount of bile from scientists.

However, most bile is reserved for that titan of publishers, Elsevier. Now, many academics are signing on online pledge called The Cost of Knowledge, where you can pledge to boycott Elsevier journals. This can either involve refusing to submit papers, or refusing to provide refereeing or editorial work.

You may wonder why Elsevier in particular are being targeted. After all, as I've pointed out recently, while Elsevier certainly does charge obscene amounts to make obscene profit, it is not alone in doing so. Many of the major publishers cream off 33% of what you pay as profit. And though making these profits is hardly saintly, it is partly a consequence of the laws as they are. It's only natural that they will try and make as much profit as the market can bear.

No; while the profits are certainly rather unpalatable, it's more that Elsevier are - to put it bluntly - rather questionable in their practices. As a brief list (compiled by Michael Nielsen), some of their misdemeanors include,

Many scientists are unanimous in the opinion that the situation as it is cannot go on. If you asked us to imagine how science would be working in 50 years time, we certainly wouldn't want Elsevier, in it's current form, to be part of that. So why not now?

Despite the pomp of what I've said above, I must say that; though the boycott is not really intended for PhD students like me to sign, I don't expect that you will see many early career scientists sign this. I certainly wouldn't be brave enough. Though, of course, this may be a gross underestimate on my part; we'll just have to see.

Anyway, it's quite an unprecedented move into trying to take down this goliath, and some people, such as Andy Farke, have questioned whether it's the best way of going at this. After all, the main people who are going to be hurt by this are not going to be the Elsevier fat cats. It's going to be authors who submit papers. These papers will spend longer in review due to the lack of reviewers and editors.

Mike Taylor, who along with Tim Gowers is one of the major proponents of this move, has answered a lot of the objections that many have here. I'll quote him,

In short: there is no wholly good solution here.  It’s a matter of finding the least bad solution.  In the long term it is, unquestionably, to the advantage of all authors for open access to become ubiquitous.  Without a doubt we will need to make sacrifices to reach that future, including passing up opportunities to place our work in higher impact venues.  This is one more such sacrifice.

… and at this point, I’m a bit nonplussed.  What did we expect?  That it would just fall into our laps?  That the gigantic multinational corporations that eat our work would happily hand it all back to us?  That they would cheerfully give up the anti-science business model that has made them record profits year on year?  Did we think there would be no fight?  That we wouldn’t have to give anything up along the way?

I'll put his point even more succinctly.

This is war. And in war, you expect casualties.


You can find the petition at the link below, if you're in a position to sign it.

By the way, I just got a Twitter account. So, if you are so inclined, you can follow me at @OliverKnevitt.