Boycott Elsevier

January 30, 2012 • 8:13 pm

If you’re an academic who publishes, reviews, or subscribes to journals, you’ll know that the publishing outfit Elsevier has a long and sordid history of overcharging scientists and libraries for their products, as well as supporting measures to restrict the dissemination of scientific information.  At last there’s a boycott in effect, with many scientists signing a petition vowing to abstain from publishing, refereeing, or doing any other editorial work for Elsevier journals. I’ve signed it, and if you’re as ticked off as many of us are, you will want to join in.

Add your name at The Cost of Knowledge.

h/t: P. Z. Myers

25 thoughts on “Boycott Elsevier

  1. The biggest gouger in my field is Ashgate, which charges $250 – $300 for books of previously published articles that are available in JSTOR. They also publish monographs so it’s hard to boycott them as a buyer but I do it while holding my nose.

  2. When I was doing my PhD in Organic Chem in the early ’80s each volume of Beilstein was rumoured to cost more than its weight in gold…

  3. Done and did. Am pissed that our chapter in Network Epidemiology requires a $150 entrance fee. Not to mention the thousands in grant money to get the ball rolling. Grrr.

    Stephen Q. Muth

  4. The thing is, most of the research published in these journals comes from tax-payer funded institutions, and it only seems just that states should enact policy requiring that the results of tax payer funded academic research should be made freely available to citizens.

    At least in physics, the journals already tolerate most articles being freely accessible on the ArXiv (often with slightly less polished formatting). So it’s clearly feasible.

    Of course, most of the referreeing is also ultimately tax-payer funded. And most of the readers of the journals obtain their articles solely in electronic format. So the journal itself contributes diminishingly little itself (a LaTeX stylesheet and a brand name?) to justify the rent they seek (again, ultimately from tax payers). So it’s hard not to contemplate alternative models for assessing the credibility of scientific publications. Especially with the slashdot comment moderation system, or the computer science of “trust networks”, to build from. It isn’t hard to imagine a website that collates each article with the comments that it has provoked, weighing according to the reputations of those commentors.. And no shortage of researches would philosophically prefer an open alternative system. The problem to overcome is that, in the absence of external intervention, it is locally in each researcher’s interest to keep submitting to the journals with the best impact in their field (just as it is locally in the journal’s interest to seek rent).

    1. Big publishers like Elsevier claim that the likes of ArXiv are stealing from them, hence the promotion of PIPA and other odious fascist legislation. Unless we can entirely cut out the for-profit publishers, we’re screwed – knowledge is held at ransom.

  5. Your readers should also be aware, if they aren’t already, of the Research Works Act, which among other things seeks to stop NIH or other governmental granting agencies from requiring their grantees to ensure that their publications appear in the open-source literature (as NIH requires after 1 year). See Derek Lowe’s articles in “In the Pipeline” (a medicinal chemistry blog) at and
    I am not Derek Lowe, just an admirer of his writing in my field.

  6. Couple of years ago, the library at my university was penalised by Elsevier for not agreeing to a new deal (paying a lot more for online publications). Net result: some 2/3 of all subscriptions had to be cancelled.

    I hope this boycott will have some effect, but I doubt it, unless institutional subscribers everywhere present a united front. Failing that, I doubt critical mass can be achieved by individual scientists alone.

    Also, coordinated political action is required to counter the kind of lobbying that leads to aberrations like the Research Works Act (see Derek’s post above).

  7. I’ve always preferred professional society journals, found them to be of higher quality, and they’re much cheaper.

  8. Unfortunately a lot of my institution’s scientists publish in Forest Ecology and Management. I haven’t yet, but am increasingly likely to have work for which that is an appropriate outlet. I will seek ways around that.

  9. This is also a good time to check what your institutional library does to aid open access to scientific data. Many already maintain a repository of local scientific output, and here in Denmark we aggregate these in the Danish Research Database.

    The number of open access fulltexts is steadily rising.

  10. Ha! 31st of January is the feast day of St. John Bosco, patron saint editors! [Geoffrey Kacirk’s Calendar of Forgotten English]

    There are two aspects to this – Elsevier & libraries, & Elsevier & academics. Elsevier seem to have hoovered up an awful lot of publishers over the years – very often what was an independent one has become merely an imprint. At UCL we have only e-subscriptions to their journals now. Of course that leaves libraries stuck with no access to an archive except through the publisher. It is my understanding that many libraries were trying to avoid Elsevier supplied databases like SCOPUS until it was decided in the UK that SCOPUS was to be used for the bibliometrics (yawn) for working out an individual academics impact factors. Of course it is blooming expensive.

  11. This may be of interest –
    “We are delighted to announce our plans to launch F1000 Research (from Faculty of 1000), a novel, fully Open Access publishing program. The project, which will begin publishing later this year, is intended to address three major issues afflicting scientific publishing today: timely dissemination of research, peer review and sharing of data.”

  12. Elsevier should be boycotted not only because of their subscription gouging model but also because they support crap: Check out the Elsevier journal ‘Homeopathy’ for instance. I am not kidding.

  13. Are Elsevier that much worse than the other companies? Whenever I see calls for a boycott like this my first thought is always to wonder whether it is a stealth campaign by one of their rivals.

      1. Depends on the field. In the subsection of Chemistry I did my PhD in I hardly ever had to pay attention to Elsevier publications (as far as I can remember). The societies (ACS, RSC) and Wiley were responsible for most of the interesting publications and articles.

  14. Elsevier has some choices at this point. Either take a long hard look at their business model and make adjustments. Or, as they probably will, remain arrogant until we find a way to make an “end run” around them and render them irrelevant, which will be a messy process and may hurt scientific publishing in the short term.

  15. Well there goes the only referee gig I ever had. I wonder how I’m going to make out without all that nothing I was receiving.

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