http://thecostofknowledge.com

UPDATE 1/2/12 It is now possible to restrict the costofknowledge list by subject. So it has become easy to work out, for example, that (at the time of writing) 2632 people have left their names, of whom 613 are mathematicians.

Many thanks to Tyler Neylon for designing a website where one can declare one’s unwillingness to work for Elsevier journals. Already, without any announcement apart from brief mentions quite some way into the comments on the last post, it has 31 signatures, many of them from France, where for various reasons they are particularly annoyed with Elsevier.

This post is primarily to give the site some visibility, which I’ll also do on Google+ (if you support the venture, then please spread the word). It is not necessarily to persuade you to sign. I well understand that we are all in different situations and signing is easier for some people than others. But one thing I would definitely say is that if you already have a private non-cooperation policy (as I myself have done for years) then you will have much more effect if you go public about it. As I said in my previous post, the more people who sign, the more morally and socially acceptable it becomes to sign too: a private protest is just a nuisance to other mathematicians, but larger and more public one may have a chance of achieving something. So I hope that each signature will beget several others, at least for a while.

In the interests of balance, let me briefly mention two arguments against signing. (If you can think of others, then please let me know in the comments.) One is that Elsevier already allows authors to keep versions of their papers on the arXiv. This considerably weakens the argument that Elsevier papers, once published, disappear behind a very expensive paywall. (It also means that submitting to an Elsevier journal and not putting your article on the arXiv is a dereliction of duty.) Nevertheless, having to make do with arXiv versions is an inconvenience. For example, the page references in the arXiv version will be different from those in the journal. (Another principle: if you refer to an Elsevier paper, do so in a page-independent way such as, “See the discussion just after Lemma 3.1 in [XYZ].”) Also, it is not standard practice to refer to the arXiv versions of other papers if there are print versions.

The other argument that carries some force is that Springer and other publishers are just as bad as Elsevier. For instance, Springer too goes in for bundling. David Savitt put the counterargument nicely in a comment on the previous post, of which I quote a paragraph.

Certainly one can debate whether Elsevier is the right specific target, but I do think that if one wants to build some sort of movement, it’s best to start out in a relatively specific way. Targeting a particular bad behavior in a broad way may leave so few alternatives as to be impractical for many individuals, and if individuals can’t make a pledge and stick to it then one isn’t going to get anywhere. You also have to ask, pragmatically, what’s going to get a large number of people to participate? A high-minded commitment to a broad principle takes much more effort than a boycott of a specific company.

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66 Responses to “http://thecostofknowledge.com”

  1. Sam Says:

    I wonder how feasible it would be to automate the process of adding arXiv numbers to bibliographies. Even if mathematicians don’t do it, the arXiv itself could. When you submit a paper to the arXiv, for example, in-text references (to the bibliography or to theorems) become clickable links, even if they were not that way originally. This establishes a precedent: the arXiv could automatically make references to papers (even in Elsevier) hyperlinked to copies of those papers in the arXiv.

  2. Adrian Keister Says:

    I come down on the side of N. David Mermin in his book Boojums All the Way Through, in the chapter entitled “What’s wrong with this library?”, where he states the following:

    1. There are too many journals. Libraries need systematically to rid themselves of these pests.

    2. There are too many articles being written.

  3. plm Says:

    I am not sure rejecting bundling altogether is not exaggerating. It may make sense having more attractive prices for bundles. It seems to me this is a quantitative issue -affected by qualitative ones certainly.

    Also, I do not know much but I think there have been very good people working at Springer. I have had good experiences with Springer overall, while I have had mostly (only?) negative ones with Elsevier.

    Great initiative(s) in any case Tim. Thank you.

    • Greg Martin Says:

      Just a (hopefully friendly) aside: I’m more likely to skip to the next comment than to take the effort to parse a triple negative in your first sentence.

    • plm Says:

      Yea… :) I have to review those tips on writing I see on blogs and mathoverflow.

  4. juliawolf Says:

    The second “argument against signing” is indeed the one that bothers me (although I may not last much longer…). David Savitt’s counterargument seems to me to make more sense from the point of view of the initiators of this movement, than from the point of view of the individual considering whether or not to sign.

  5. Terence Tao Says:

    Some relevant links for this discussion are being collected at

    http://michaelnielsen.org/polymath1/index.php?title=Journal_publishing_reform

  6. Mark Robinson Says:

    The problems with Elsevier, Springer, and similar companies is not restricted to the fields of mathematics, physics, and computer science. The same issues that bother you also plague other areas of scientific research. Unfortunately, they don’t have an equivalent of arXiv through which they can alleviate some of their concerns.

    It is a bit of a hot topic right now amongst researchers in the life sciences. Mike Taylor, who incidentally straddles the worlds of computer science and palaeontology, has written a number of cogent articles about this.

    If you’re interested, they’re here

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Let me explain why I (and numerous colleagues) haven’t signed the pledge yet. I completely support the spirit of the campaign and my reason for posting this explanation is not to criticize the campaign but to raise some important issues that hopefully others can find ways to mitigate (and in doing so, clear the way for those of us on the sidelines to step in and participate).

    The journal system plays a central role in assessing/certifying the quality of work. A hiring committee member will glance down a candidate’s publication list and reach a preliminary assessment in seconds based on journal quality. One can debate if this is how the system _should_ work, but it is how the current system _does_ work. To support this system there is a complicated hierarchy of journals of varying quality. Many of the Elsevier journals have unique and important places in this hierarchy. Some of these journals don’t have obvious counterparts (of similar focus and reputation) outside of Elsevier.

    It is important for those of us who are trying to build a strong reputation/CV to have a wide graduation of journals available to choose from. The reputation difference between a (say) Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Series A and the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics (perhaps the closest open access competitor) is meaningful to a young person’s CV. If a young person pledges not to publish in these journals he will probably pay a nontrivial cost in `reputation’ points on his CV.

    Most likely this will effect those in certain subareas more than others. Thinking a bit further down the road, if this campaign is successful (and I hope it will be), the result will be a surge in submissions to other journals. I can’t imagine all of the unintended consequences of this, however it seems that likely a fair number of strong papers will be forced into historically lesser journals. In the long run these issues will work themselves out as journal reputations adjust. But there will likely be some unintended casualties in the short term.

    In coordination with this campaign, we need the creation of some new low-cost high-reputation journals to take the place of those being boycotted.

    • David Roberts Says:

      You can always pledge just to not referee for Elsevier, which is free labour, but still submit to them, if you choose. I wish people who were concerned about building a career chose this option, instead of saying ‘I can’t do anything’.

    • anon2 Says:

      One indeed could make a pledge along the lines suggested by David Roberts, but I frankly would not recommend it. I think that a reasonable person could well view it as hypocritical for one to refuse on moral grounds to referee for a journal while continuing to publish in it. For example in the comments to
      http://blog.computationalcomplexity.org/2006/02/referees-boycott.html the consensus seems to be that a refereeing boycott of Elsevier is entirely appropriate but that “of course” if one submits to a journal then one should referee for it.

      Unlike Anonymous, I’m lucky in that due to my field I’ve always been able to find low- to moderately-priced non-Elsevier journals that seemed appropriate to the levels of my papers, so despite still being untenured I’ve never felt the need to compromise by submitting to an overpriced journal. However I’ve never really felt comfortable declining referee assignments from such journals–the main reason being that usually an editor who sends me a referee request is a major figure in my subfield on whom (given the current stage of my career) it might be unwise to make a bad impression, and the editor might view my refusal as irresponsible and/or sanctimonious. The blog post that I linked to above seems to corroborate this.

      Thanks to the cover provided by the pledge and the many distinguished names on it, I will start to decline referee requests from Elsevier (in addition to continuing not to submit there). However if I were a junior person submitting to an Elsevier journal
      I would probably also referee for that journal out of concern that the editor would regard me as hypocritical otherwise.

      I would add for Anonymous’ benefit that I think that the community is very sympathetic to the concern that you raise–indeed I’ve heard some of the most prominent and longstanding Elsevier critics state very clearly that they understand that younger mathematicians may
      need to submit to Elsevier journals for career-related reasons.

    • John Baez Says:

      anon2 wrote:

      I think that a reasonable person could well view it as hypocritical for one to refuse on moral grounds to referee for a journal while continuing to publish in it.

      I’d call this ‘moral weakness’ rather than ‘hypocrisy’, and I’m even more willing to forgive the former than the latter. If people can help pull down a bad system simply by refusing to do unpaid labor, I think they should do so even if they’re scared to take a bolder stance. It still helps.

  8. Antoine Chambert-Loir Says:

    In reply to Anonymous: We, scientists, are mostly responsible for the growing habit of relying on bibliometrics of any kind to get an impression about a person’s CV. I tend to believe that the situation is less worse in mathematics than in other fields, but my impression is that if worsens everyday.

    Relying on the content of the papers, rather than of the reputation of the journals where they are published, would obviously be a better basis for decisions.

    Although it is not directly related, I believe that the present anti-Elsevier action might be the beginning of better awareness from scientists of problems posed by the always increasing number of papers submitted, refereed, published, paid…

    In particular, both as an author and as an editor, I feel that it becomes very difficult to obtain good referee reports.

  9. Matthew Emerton Says:

    Dear TIm,

    Thank you, and thanks also to Tyler Nelson, for initiating this. For several years I have declined invitations to serve as an editor on Elsevier journals, or to publish in them. (As far as I know, I have one publication in a journal that was published by Elsevier at the time — although it is no longer, thankfully.) For me the deciding factor was the Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals affair, which laid bare Elsevier’s complete lack of interest in the scientific quality of its publications.

    Before now I have not consciously decided not to referee for Elsevier journals (although I don’t think that I have done so for some years), and it wasn’t as easy a decision to make as I expected (because in the past I have always allowed to myself that I would consider refereeing a young person’s Elsevier submission, if I thought that I was a good fit as referee).

    The problem of having good alternative journals to receive what would have been Elsevier submissions is a now an important one to address.

    Best wishes,

    Matt

  10. Danny Calegarii Says:

    I think it might be useful for the TCoK website to briefly summarize what aspects of Elsevier’s business practice we object to, and perhaps add links to your blog post, and Kirby’s analysis (e.g. http://math.berkeley.edu/~kirby/journals.html , http://math.berkeley.edu/~kirby/jp00.html and http://www.ams.org/notices/200402/commentary.pdf )

    Thanks for taking the initiative on this.

  11. Danny Calegari Says:

    Other relevant reading (the first mentions Elsevier as one of the worst offenders; the second describes an option that mathematicians working for an Elsevier journal might pursue):

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~neumann/journal.html

    http://www.ams.org/notices/200405/commentary.pdf

  12. David Solomon Says:

    I in general support your idea of such a boycott but will not sign this pledge at this time because the site lacks a statement of what business practices are being protested and what you expect Elsevier to change.

    Not hard to come up with such a statement but I feel it is wrong to create a site protesting the behavior of a company without clearly stating what they are doing that is wrong and what is expected of them.

    If we don’t act responsibly, our behavior in the eyes of many becomes the issue rather than Elsevier’s.

    • plm Says:

      The pledge states “radically change how they operate”.
      I think the statement is flexible enough for its purpose.

      Perhaps also implicit to the pledge is that Elsevier would not only have to change its business practices deeply but also to compensate for years of abuse, which looks so unlikely and would be so dramatic that those who pledge feel secure that would be radical enough to avoid misunderstandings, they feel confident that their statement is responsible, carefully considered.

      For instance pledgers would surely reverse their position if Elsevier invested, say 1 billion dollars into mathematics and commited to offer its publications at almost no profit for the foreseeable -or doing something equivalent. And then they would not feel guilty for betraying their pledge.
      But if Elsevier simply came to being fair in how they treat the mathematical community, they would need years to be forgiven -and would probably have to also check their behavior in other sectors. And each pledger could adapt her/his stance consistently with the statement s/he made, because it admits various interpretations.

      Finally the issue is certainly a little emotional too. Mathematicians (as well as other scientists though mathematicians may be seen as the “purest” in some respects) devote their life, their whole mind to contributing to knowledge, society and are usually relatively defenseless in policy making. They cannot really say: “I will stop researching if you cut my funds.”, because researching is like breathing for them. So they may feel frustration, especially in hard times. (From reading the Gazette de la SMF and following the french mathematical community I think there are long stories behind.) And here they see the light: they can directly threaten an evil company, right a wrong, taking relatively little risk -I think.

      PS: I cannot find alot on Elsevier math journals business. To reach the $1 bn figure I took £2 bn in 2010 divided by 40 for the math journal share and multiplied by 20 years (forget inflation, revenue growth, currency exchange)…

      http://reports.reedelsevier.com/documents/pdfs/reed_ar_2010.pdf

    • David Solomon Says:

      My point is to state this and give specifics or ask those signing this pledge to do so for themselves based on their own personal beliefs.

      When you just state you are protesting Elsevier’s business practices and won’t support them until they change radically you sound like you are whining. If you can’t give specifics, why would anyone take you seriously?

    • plm Says:

      typos: “foreseeable future” and instead of “they would not feel guilty for betraying their pledge” I should have written “they would feel confident about reversing their stance”.

    • Matthew Emerton Says:

      Dear David,

      I don’t see it as whining. Mathematicians research, write, edit, and referee their articles. The services that publishers contribute are modest organizational structure (in some cases — it depends on the journal), dissemination, and perhaps some certificate of quality.

      The relationship between Elsevier and mathematicians, whatever
      it once may have been, is at this point a business one; we are paying them (indirectly, through our university library budgets) to provide the services they offer, and they are trying to make a profit on these services. As far as I understand business relationships, it is normal to stop using a business if you are dissatisfied with the service they provide; you are not obliged to continue, and it is not “whining” if you are legitimately dissatisfied. Furthermore, dissatisfaction doesn’t have to mean “bad service” in absolute terms; it just means “bad service given the amount being paid”. At this point, I think that many mathematicians are dissatisfied with the service that Elsevier provides, relative to the amount they charge.

      Indeed, as Tim’s post describes, Elsevier is close to vicious in the way it approaches its task of dissemination, and its role in the Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals affair has left me (and many others, I’m sure) convinced that it does not care at all about quality in its publications.

      As I already noted in an earlier comment, I have personally been boycotting Elsevier for some time, and I’ve certainly not been alone; this is one reason why the petition has attracted so many signatures so quickly. I’m confident it will attract any more, precisely because the case for dissatisfaction with Elsevier is so strong.

      Regards,

      Matthew

    • gowers Says:

      When I said that the site wasn’t in its final form, that was one of the changes that was planned. It is now there.

  13. Matthew Brown Says:

    “I don’t see it as whining. Mathematicians research, write, edit, and referee their articles. The services that publishers contribute are modest organizational str….”

    Right, this is the point. It isn’t whining if you explain your beef. The boycott website, however, doesn’t offer a summation of the case. Note last week’s worldwide web protests of the US PIPA and SOPA legislation: rather than state that PIPA merely = BAD, Wikipedia and others made a somewhat persuasive argument for shutting down the proposed laws. Or, look, for example, at the black banner on the upper right of this browser window. A Stop Censorship ribbon is essentially meaningless without linking to the page explaining how these laws could act to suppress speech. It doesn’t sound to me like David disagrees with your principle, I think he’s just saying that you can’t make the case to someone unfamiliar with the problem given the information they have to work with.

    • plm Says:

      When signing the pledge you can state your reasons as a comment or through a link to a blog post or a website explaining your position. This way each pledger may specify her/his own “beef”. If it actually specified precise reasons for or conditions to cancel the pledge, even only as pointers, that could be perceived as liabilities to all signers.

      (I find the pledge site’s simplicity quite suited to its purpose. But this is arguable. You can always contact its maintainer to contribute.)

      Through Terence Tao’s link above you may find information on (perceived) abuses of Elsevier. This is to a wiki repository that could certainly use further contributions, any is welcome.

    • gowers Says:

      Again, this complaint, though justified, is now out of date.

  14. David Solomon Says:

    Thanks Mathew (Brown). My point exactly, and much more clearly stated.

    It just needs to be clear what Elsevier is doing that motivates researcher/scholars to boycott them. Otherwise it just allows Elsevier and it supporters to dismiss this boycott out of hand.

    • plm Says:

      The fact is that coordination on the case is difficult. Many have mentioned mathematical societies, and perhaps the SMF or AMS will take some role, though I have no idea how realistic this is.

      Many SMF members have signed, but I cannot find members of the “Conseil d’Administration”.

      It seems the IMU is the most probable organization to take part, but it is not clear at all, if and how. http://blog.mathunion.org/journals/

      I think that that difficulty is part of what has led Tim to take the initiative that he has in the first place, hoping that we could organize our effort further from there.

  15. David Solomon Says:

    Thank you for clarifying the objections to Elsevier’s practices on the “Cost of Knowledge” web site. This was my only concern in my previous comments. I signed the pledge and will encourage others to do the same.

  16. Henry Cohn Says:

    I dislike the clarifications that are now on the web site, and think it is much better to be vague. It lists the “main objections” as being high prices, bundling, and supporting bills like SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act. This doesn’t seem to me to be a very good summary of the objections to Elsevier.

    The prices and bundling are indeed serious problems, but they don’t distinguish Elsevier from some of its competitors. As for supporting awful legislation, Elsevier seems to be unusually bad in this respect, but it is just a symptom of a deeper problem: even if Elsevier promised never to take a position on any bill, I wouldn’t be much happier. After all, it’s not that I think Elsevier is terribly influential compared with the many other supporters of these bills; instead, I think its support indicates that we have fundamentally different values, and I’m even more worried about the values than about whether Elsevier supports these particular bills.

    The fake medical journals and Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals scandals show that at least some parts of Elsevier are outrageously corrupt, violating even the most basic academic standards. I see this as a key factor distinguishing Elsevier from its overpriced competitors. Furthermore, Elsevier seems to be particularly determined to extract as much money as possible from academia and to oppose open access, and they fact that they are willing to publicly support these problematic bills is a very bad sign.

    I don’t see this boycott as seriously asking Elsevier to change its ways. I think it’s too late for that, and there are no plausible circumstances in which I would ever support Elsevier again. What I’m hoping is that the boycott hastens the transition from Elsevier’s journals to affordable open access journals, and that it inspires other publishers to take a different path from Elsevier’s.

    • Henry Wilton Says:

      I agree that the Chaos, Solitons and Fractals nonsense is far more important than Elsevier’s support of SOPA etc. That said, I think it’s appropriate that the main objections are clearly stated. If it were up to me, the third item would be removed from the website, and something about bogus journals put in its place.

    • Matthew Emerton Says:

      Dear Henry (Cohn),

      I agree with you. As I explained elsewhere, my objection to Elsevier was crystallized by the Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals affair. It indicates a fundamental divergence of values between them as commercial publishers and us as scientific researchers. I share your hope that the petition and boycott will lead to a separation of Elsevier and academic mathematics.

      Best wishes,

      Matt

    • Terence Tao Says:

      The past scandals involving Elsevier journals are indeed egregious – but they are in the past, and they have, in principle at least, been resolved (for instance, the editor-in-chief of Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals was replaced, and new publishing guidelines put in place). Of course, there may be comparable scandals currently brewing at other Elsevier journals, but in the absence of evidence to such, I don’t think they serve as the most suitable item to protest currently.

    • plm Says:

      Regarding Terence Tao’s comment that past scandals have been resolved, could anyone point to mathematicians statements that they are satisfied with what Elsevier did in the affairs “Chaos, Solitons & Fractals”, the fake journals, or links to the weapons industry, i.e. that they consider the affairs resolved? I think it would be difficult to find a consensus statement.

      I do not consider those affairs resolved, I think Elsevier still has to compensate for what they did -but I will think about it more.

    • online colleges Says:

      Brilliance for free; your parents must be a sweetheart and a certified genius.

  17. Paul Matthews Says:

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but an organistion of UK university libraries called RLUK got together and threatened not to renew some of the big ‘bundles’, see

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=417157

    Apparently they have managed to negotiate a price reduction, see

    http://www.rluk.ac.uk/content/rluk-members-welcome-new-and-improved-terms-largest-journal-publishers

    I avoid Elsevier journals now whenever possible but sometimes it is difficult – for example when after a conference there is a ‘special issue’ in an Elsevier journal.

  18. On Elsevier | Michael Nielsen Says:

    [...] on Gowers’s post, Tyler Neylon has created a website called The Cost of Knowledge (see also Gowers’s followup) where researchers can declare their unwillingness to “support any Elsevier journal unless [...]

  19. gowers Says:

    I have plenty of sympathy with people who are at an early stage in their careers, need to publish in the best journals they can, and find that those journals are published by Elsevier. A small thought that doesn’t solve the problem entirely but might do for some people is that one could state clearly on one’s CV that one is not publishing in Elsevier journals. There’s no guarantee how people would react to such a statement, but at least they wouldn’t be able to ask things like, “Why has this person got no publications in JCTA?”

  20. Ban Elsevier « Azimuth Says:

    [...] • Tim Gowers, Elsevier: my part in its downfall and http://thecostofknowledge.com. [...]

  21. Michael Harris Says:

    When the number of signatures reaches a certain target figure — 500, say, or 1000 — the next step is to send an open letter to the members of the editorial board of one of the Elsevier journals, explaining why they might want either to look into changing publishers or, if this is impossible for contractual reasons, to resign. Since the editors are colleagues, the tone should not be confrontational. Instead, one should make the point that their remaining on the editorial board in the face of such a massive show of rejection will naturally be interpreted as a defense of Elsevier’s business practices; and more pragmatically, it will be more difficult to maintain the quality of a journal subject to boycott.

    I’m willing to draft such a letter if there is sufficient interest and if no one else volunteers, though I’m hardly the most qualified to do so. It would need at least 20 signatures from a broad sampling of mathematical specialties.

    For your information, since the list on Elsevier’s Comptes Rendus page has not been updated for several years, here is the current list of editors:

    Rédacteurs en chef : Jean-Michel Bony, Philippe G. Ciarlet, Jean-Pierre Demailly.
    Comité de rédaction :
    M. Atiyah, A. Bensoussan, M. Berger, J.-M. Bismut, E. Bombieri, J.-M. Bony, J. Bourgain, H. Brezis, G. Bricogne, L. Carleson, Y. Choquet-Bruhat, Ph.G. Ciarlet, A. Colmerauer, A. Connes, P. Deheuvels, P. Deligne, J.-P. Demailly, S. Donaldson, M. Duflo, L. Faddeev, J.-M. Fontaine, P. Gabriel, E. Ghys, J.-Y. Girard, M. Gromov, H. Hironaka, F. Hirzebruck, G. Iooss, H. Jacquet, J.-P. Kahane, M. Kashiwara, S. Klainerman, M. Kontsevich, J.-L. Koszul, L. Lafforgue, G. Laumon, P. Lax, G. Lebeau, P. Lelong, P.-L. Lions, B. Malgrange, E. Malinvaud, Y. Manin, C.-M. Marle, Y. Meyer, L. Nirenberg, M. Nivat, J. Palis, G. Pisier, J.-P. Ramis, M. Raynaud, J.-P. Serre, C. Soulé, M. Talagrand, L. Tartar, J. Tate, R. Temam, J. Tits, M. Vergne, C. Voisin, W. Werner, A. Wiles, J.-C. Yoccoz, M. Yor.

    • Michael Harris Says:

      To clarify: I’m not saying suggesting Comptes Rendus is necessarily the most appropriate target; I printed the list because it takes several steps to find it online. The best target is the one we are most likely to influence quickly.

    • Burt Totaro Says:

      I like the sort of collective action by mathematicians which TIm Gowers and Michael Harris are proposing. But I would also like to suggest a more narrowly-targeted approach.

      If you are asked to referee for an Elsevier journal and don’t want to do so, please tell the editor why. One possibility is to make a very specific request: to the editor: that the editors should ask Elsevier to lower the price of the journal. I understand that the former editors of Topology received such letters, and used them to press Elsevier to lower the price of the journal.

      For example, I recently sent the following letter when I was asked to referee for the Journal of Algebra:

      “I’m afraid that I cannot now referee for the Journal of Algebra because of the price of the journal.

      In April 2011, Cambridge University Library had to cut its mathematics journal subscriptions by 5000 pounds per year. At that time, I found that we are paying 6758.56 pounds per year for the Journal of Algebra. By my count, that is about 1.59 US dollars per page (based on 6942 pages in 2010, and 1 pound = 1.64 USD).

      That is an outrageously high price. An average Springer journal like Math. Zeitschrift costs about 1.23 US dollars per page, and most journals published by academic societies are far cheaper than that. For example, Transactions of the AMS is roughly comparable in size and quality to the Journal of Algebra, and it costs my library only 1375 pounds/year for 6203 pages, so about 0.36 US dollars per page: that is, less than one fourth of the cost of the Journal of Algebra. And the AMS does not do this as a charity; they make a profit from their journals which supports their other activities.

      If Elsevier lowered the price of the journal, it would have a direct benefit to mathematics departments around the world. I would appreciate it if you could forward this note to the other editors. It would be great if the editors could jointly insist that Elsevier lowers the price.”

  22. Pierre Colmez Says:

    The presence of many french mathematicians on the list of signtures is probably due to the existence in France of a similar petition concerning Springer’s behaviour. It is all very good to denounce the way these two european publishers behave, but it won’t make them change as they are in the hands of powerful financial institutions which are fully aware that their life expectancy is not that long and are determined to maximise their profits as long as possible. The only solution is to accelerate their disparition by reinforcing the european academic publications like SMF, EMS… but this takes a lot of energy (not to mention the fact that these academic publishers are, for the time being, much to small to take over) and it is not that easy to create ex nihilo journals as prestigious as Inventiones.

  23. cityopenaccess Says:

    You can of course also archive your papers in your institution’s own repository- useful if you work in a field that doesn’t have an active subject repository, like the excellent arXiv. At City University London, we have a newly created repository for research, called City Research Online: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/.

  24. Researchers taking a stand against publishers | IU Bloomington Chemistry Library Blog Says:

    [...] by publishing, refereeing, or doing editorial work. You may read more about the declaration here and find it here. This entry was posted in Chemistry news and events, Scholarly communication and [...]

  25. Ross Anderson Says:

    When I’m asked to write a reference for someone, whether for promotion or tenure or some kind of award, I use Google Scholar and look at those publications that are available to read online without charge. I once cast the deciding vote against a proposal to award someone an honorary doctorate because the quantity of work visible online was trivial. If everyone on university committees did as I do, the Elsevier problem would fix itself pretty quickly.

    We academics are in the business of providing public goods. Scientific knowledge is like national security, or clean air, or financial stability; we all enjoy it, or none of us do. If we publish work that can be read by professors at Princeton but not in Peru, we’re not doing our job. There’s more at

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/517e31c8-45bd-11e1-93f1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1kT5mZi8h

    There are many other campaigns, including one with hundres of computer scientists:

    http://www.researchwithoutwalls.org/

    Ross Anderson

  26. Links only « Notes on Disordered Matter Says:

    [...] Gowers speaks out in his blog post Elsevier — my part in its downfall (and a follow up post here), and PZ Myers rants Elsevier = Evil in his blog. There is even a website where you can sign upto [...]

  27. Science : Le libre accès et l’appel au boycott contre Elsevier | Didier Villers, UMONS Says:

    [...] non négligeable puisque Gowers est un mathématicien très prestigieux (Médaille Fields en 1998). Un site web a été lancé pour permettre aux autres mathématiciens de signer cet engagement : http://thecostofknowledge.com [...]

  28. Bruce Bartlett Says:

    I believe the most effective way to combat the issue of overpriced journals is the Green Open Access model. Steven Harnad is the biggest proponent of this model, and he can argue it better than I can, see http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/865-guid.html.

    Let me summarize the Green Open Access model.

    1. Everyone self-archives (the aim is that universities mandate staff to do this) the final, peer-reviewed draft of their articles on their institutional repositories. Over 60% of all publishers currently allow this, and almost all of the major publishers do (including Elsevier).

    2. In the rare cases where self-archiving is not allowed, the scholar is still mandated by his / her university to upload the metadata of the article. The repository then contains an “Email me eprint” button. Upon pushing this, the author gets an email with a link in it, and one click then sends an eprint to the requester (this is completely allowed under “Fair use”).

    3. The net result is that 100% of all articles produced are available online – most immediately, and a tiny minority after a day or two (the time it takes for the author to check his/her email and click the link.)

    4. Libraries stop buying overpriced journals (why should they when it is available for free.)

    5. Publishing houses like Elsevier realize they need to change their business model: instead of SELLING journals, they are more in the business of PROVIDING AN EDITORIAL SERVICE.

    6. These services are funded by the libraries… at a tiny fraction of the cost it used to take to buy the old overpriced journals.

    This is more of a “digging away at the foundations” of companies like Elsevier as opposed to a full frontal attack. Over time, a new journal industry emerges.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    I like the idea but am rather sceptical whether it’s going to work, imagine you are in charge of Elsevier do you think you are going to compromise if the *whole* of mathematics threatened that they wanted to pull out? I bet they simply don’t care!

    • gowers Says:

      The last outcome I expect is that the mighty Elsevier dramatically lowers its journal prices because of anything that mathematicians might do. However, a significant migration of mathematicians away from Elsevier looks like a more realistic goal, and one that could be of great benefit to mathematics (as the money saved could be put to much better use).

  30. What’s wrong with electronic journals? « Gowers's Weblog Says:

    [...] felt I had at least to think about that when Michael Harris made a comment of which here is the beginning. When the number of signatures reaches a certain target figure — [...]

  31. Infobib » Elsevier vs. Wissenschaft Says:

    [...] Resonanz auf die Aktion reicht von Mathematikern (und nochmal Mathematikern) zu Historikern, von Linguisten über Biologen zu [...]

  32. Petition Targeting Elsevier’s Business Practices Begins to Snowball Says:

    [...] acknowledged, in a subsequent blog post, that Elsevier’s involvement with arXiv “considerably weakens the argument that Elsevier [...]

  33. Kannan Soundararajan Says:

    Could someone please point me to a recent survey of journal
    prices (eg. per page)? I found the AMS survey from a few years back (2008 data): see

    http://www.mathematik.unibielefeld.de/~rehmann/BIB/AMS/Publisher.html

    I found a couple of points that surprised me. While Elsevier
    is never on the cheap side, it did not seem too far out of line with
    other publishers. More surprisingly, society and university
    publishers did not seem as inexpensive as one might have thought.

  34. Boycotting Elsevier | hyperbole Says:

    [...] such a site, and has gained several thousand signatories in the first few weeks. See also his follow-up post and the  PolyMath journal publishing reform page, where a large number of links are posted, many [...]

  35. Bernie Says:

    We are our own worst enemies in submitting to the criteria imposed on us for career advancement.
    We had number of publications, then when that was rumbled came impact factors, later divide by number of authors, subsequently corrected with a factor accounting for the positioning in the author list. Now we have H index which can be easily skewed by creating a mutual citation club and ensuring that your enemies have a hard time publishing.
    Any ideas for the next step?

  36. Scott Morrison Says:

    Andrew Stacey and I just launched Math 2.0 (http://www.math.ntnu.no/~stacey/Mathforge/Math2.0), a forum for facilitating discussion of the future of mathematical publishing.

    So many good ideas have been suggested in blog comments and social networking threads. We hope providing a forum will allow interested participants to have focused discussions on concrete plans! Let’s go!

  37. Christina Haig Says:

    I’m going to say it, I guess, because no one else has. IOPScience, anyone? This Elsevier and/or Springer discussion is kind of academic for me personally, and many physicists, because most of our journals are published with IOPScience. The only journal I (rarely) need access to through Elsevier is The Journal of Computational Physics, which I wish sincerely would leave for IOPScience.

    IOPScience is a non-profit publishing arm of the Institute of Physics, and all of their papers are available for free, with the correct page reference, on the NASA Abstract Data Service (ADS), along with papers from Phys. Rev. (American Physical Society).

    As far as I’m concerned, any journal that isn’t associated with a non-profit organization dedicated to the sciences is suspect. In fact, I believe it should be illegal to be a publisher of government funded works and NOT be non-profit.

    I’m not pointed fingers at anyone, but have you considered talking to the equivalent institutions in mathematics and biology? I have followed this discussion in the news for the past couple years, and that is all I can think of anytime I see an article on the subject.

  38. Édition scientifique : la parabole des fermiers. « Droits d'auteur Says:

    [...] allume la mèche avec un billet de blog : « Elsevier — my part in its downfall ». Le 23, il lance le projet The Cost of Knowledge : les universitaires du monde entiers s’engagent à ne plus [...]

  39. Elsevier’s letter to mathematicians « Xi'an's Og Says:

    [...] Research Work Act. This email was an answer to the growing action of the mathematical community to boycott Elsevier through [not] publishing/refereeing/aediting in Elsevier’s journals, an action started by an [...]

  40. Kent Morrison Says:

    Are those who support the boycott also declining to review papers in Elsevier journals for Math Reviews?

  41. Sarah Says:

    I thought you might be interested in the recent letter from Harvard’s library to their faculty. The gist of it is:

    Harvard Library’s Faculty Advisory Council is telling faculty that it’s financially ‘untenable’ for the university to keep on paying extortionate access fees for academic journals. It’s suggesting that faculty make their research publicly available, switch to publishing in open access journals and consider resigning from the boards of journals that don’t allow open access.

    Link via BoingBoing: http://boingboing.net/2012/04/23/harvard-library-to-faculty-we.html

    Harvard link: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k77982&tabgroupid=icb.tabgroup143448

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