Friday, 3 February 2012

Why boycott Elsevier?

Widespread dissatisfaction amongst academic researchers about the state of academic publishing has come to a head with the move to boycott Elsevier. Tim Gowers ignited the move in his blog post here. There are many posts on the web where the misdeeds of Elsevier can be found so I won't repeat their specific sins. I've been holding my own private boycott of Elsevier for several years and it is a relief to see coordinated action on sending a message to exploitative publishers that their free ride is ending. The reasons for my boycott are:
  • We, the researcher (by extension our institution and the public at large), do the research, paid for out of our own grants and funding
  • To publish research we are often charged for the "privilege", and the publishers demand that they receive copyright of the paper, i.e. we pay them to donate our research to them
  • We act as referees of papers, for free, to evaluate the soundness of the research. Editors of the journals also often work for free
  • We, through our libraries, have to then buy back access to the papers, often at outrageous prices. Individuals have to pay ridiculous amounts for per article access
In my field, we produce the majority of the editing and typesetting, there is not much of an "improvement" between the drafts produced solely by the authors and those appearing in print.

No wonder Elsevier has been able to make enormous profits where the authors pay to give them their research, work for free as referees and editors, and then pay massive amounts to get it all back. It doesn't really seem fair to me.

The academic publishing system, whether it is author pays or reader pays, has to be funded somehow so I don't expect everything to be free. However, to "extort" money at both ends does not seem to support assertions that they "expand access in sustainable ways, improve the research experience and enhance knowledge and discovery". I will only donate my time and effort to those organisations which do work towards these goals rather than line their pockets.