A more formal statement about mathematical publishing

A group of mathematicians have been putting together a statement that explains some of the background to, and reasons for, the Elsevier boycott. This statement, which has been signed by 34 mathematicians (we are confident that many more would be happy to endorse it, but we had to stop somewhere), is now ready for release. If you are interested in reading it, then click here.

While I’m posting, let me briefly mention one or two items of Elsevier-related news.

1. Elsevier have written an open letter defending themselves against some of the charges that have been laid against them. (I plan to write a post soon responding to some of their points.)

2. In what I see as a fairly dramatic development, Ingrid Daubechies, President of the International Mathematical Union, has signed up at The Cost of Knowledge website, declaring that she has resigned from her editorial roles with Elsevier. I know of other people who have done the same, but I am not sure that they want that information to be widely publicized, so I think I had better not say who they are.

3. Apparently the boycott caused the Elsevier share price to fall. Amusingly, the investment firm Exane Paribas regards this as an opportunity to make money:

Please find our 8 page report on Reed Elsevier released this morning. We argue that:

Noise around boycott against Elsevier offers short term trading opportunity

Reed Elsevier was the worst performing media stock last week. We believe this is due to investor concerns on the back of T. Gowers’ petition to boycott publishing and refereeing in Elsevier’s journals. We believe the share price reaction was overdone and recommend buying the shares.

Scientists are boycotting the boycott

Similar petitions in favour of Open Access were organised in 2000 and 2007, with no impact on Elsevier’s fundamentals. Our tracking not only shows that this latest petition lags behind the two preceding ones but also suggests that its momentum is slowing. Fewer than 5,000 scientists have signed up, whereas Elsevier works with more than 6m scientists worldwide. The low take-up of this petition is a sign of the scientific community’s improving perception of Elsevier.

Open Access unlikely to hurt financials in the medium term and is priced in

The proportion of Open Access is growing at less than 1% pa. Elsevier’s contract lengths are getting longer and the company’s growth efforts are focused on new products rather than pricing. Open Access is unlikely to hurt Elsevier in the next five years and the longer term risk is more than priced in, in our view.

Results are due on 16 February

We expect EPS11e of 47p, slightly ahead of the consensus 46p, and an outlook supportive of the group’s defensive growth profile and improved fundamentals. The announcement of a new CFO and a possible share buyback could be two additional positives. Reed Elsevier PLC trades on EV/EBIT12e of 8.8x. It offers defensive growth at a reasonable price. We remain buyers of the stock on the current share price weakness.

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89 Responses to “A more formal statement about mathematical publishing”

  1. Chandan Singh Dalawat Says:

    Why didn’t it occur to us to make money out of this ?

  2. Statement on the Elsevier boycott « Quomodocumque Says:

    [...] many years.  What’s the next step?  A good place to follow people’s thinking will be Gowers’s blog.  Tim, of course, has been a driving force behind the current movement to stop complaining about [...]

  3. William Cook Says:

    The model used by Mathematical Programming Computation may be relevant to the discussion. The journal is published by the Mathematical Optimization Society (MOS) and Springer. All papers, in their final typeset form, are freely available at the MOS Web site mpc.zib.de. Springer delivers print copies and electronic copies via their own system. Springer can obtain fees for the value they add to the distribution system, while the full content of the journal is also distributed at no charge by the MOS. Springer also provides the MOS with a portion of their profits for use in running the society.

  4. Noah Snyder Says:

    I’ve been thinking, and I may try to write a blog post on this soon, that what’s really missing here is a small organization which facilitates editorial boards resigning and starting new journals. Since editors are busy people who want to do math and not logistics, it’s difficult for them to figure out which other publishing options are available or what they need to do to start a new journal there. If there were a place where editorial boards could call and say, “We want to quite and start a new journal, let us know what our best options are and take care of the logistics.” then I think we’d see boards doing this much more often.

    • Bjoern Brembs Says:

      Why not start with your library? After all, they’ve been archiving and making the work of their faculty accessible for centuries. What do the publishers do that libraries couldn’t?
      Tell them to cut Elsevier subscriptions and use the money to do their own.

    • Willie Wong Says:

      Noah: While not exactly what you are describing, but Scholastica http://scholasticahq.com/ seems to at least do part of what you want.

    • Bjoern Brembs Says:

      Yes! Scholastica is exactly what you can recommend your library!

    • Scott Morrison Says:

      Hi Noah, I’m actually talking to the scholastica folks Friday 11am PST about arxiv integration they’ve just implemented. Want to join me?

      I absolutely agree that we need to work out how to make it as easy as possible for editorial boards to switch. Making sure that the new software being developed suits our needs is part of this, as well as ensuring that everyone knows about the software that will soon make the logistics so much easier.

    • Andy Putman Says:

      One thing I really don’t link about the Scholastica model is that they assume that authors pay fees to submit their papers. I would be strongly opposed to math journals moving in that direction. Journals need to make money to cover their costs, but that’s a reason to have (inexpensive) subscription charges.

    • D. J. Bernstein Says:

      “Open Journal Systems” (long-running joint project by SFU, UBC, and Stanford: http://pkp.sfu.ca/?q=ojs) is software to run an open-access journal. Your department’s webmaster installs it, and then it provides a web interface for handling authors, editors, etc., plus of course distributing the published articles. There are alternatives but OJS seems to be the most polished.

      The web page says that OJS is used by more than 10000 journals already. Flipping through the list of examples I find, e.g., the Journal of Computational Geometry (http://jocg.org) and Discrete Mathematics & Theoretical Computer Science (http://dmtcs.org), both of which look like perfectly reasonable models if you’re an editor who would like to move a journal away from Elsevier.

    • Joseph Myers Says:

      If a journal host is serious about “how to make it as easy as possible for editorial boards to switch” then they should also make it as easy as possible for editorial boards to switch *out* as well. The editorial board should have a one-click download of the entirety of the journal data, both public and nonpublic (all papers both source and PDF, all metadata, all data about current submissions, etc.), in an open, documented format suited for conversion for importing elsewhere, and have APIs for scripting operations on it. (And any member of the public should readily be able to download the entirety of the public data, and again have APIs for all the public interfaces.) Does Scholastica provide this?

      Eric Raymond has a series of blog posts about this issue for open source software hosting sites – http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=1282 is I think the first and http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=3931 is a more recent one linking to past discussions. As noted in some of those posts, there is a basic issue of software design involved – the underlying software needs a clean separation of the interface from the data storage back end, so that multiple interfaces to the data can readily be supported.

    • Ben Says:

      Open Journal Systems is an open-source software that should be preferred to Scholastica. It is already widely used, and for “free” journals the open source model makes much more sense than binding ourselves to another for-profit company.

  5. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » The battle against Elsevier gains momentum Says:

    [...] check out Timothy Gowers’ blog post announcing the statement.  The post includes a hilarious report by investment firm Exane Paribas, [...]

  6. A statement on the cost of knowledge declaration « What’s new Says:

    [...] many blogs and also the mainstream media (e.g. the Guardian, the Economist, Forbes, etc.), and even by Elsevier stock analysts.    (Elsevier itself released an open letter responding to the protest here.)  My interpretation [...]

  7. Bjoern Brembs Says:

    Even after reading the last section (What next?) of the formal statement the popularity of this boycott is both a blessing and a curse, IMHO. It’s a blessing, because it raises awareness and energizes the reform movement.
    It’s a curse because we do have control over our publishing system. However, the boycott makes it seem like we’re being inactive: we’ll promise to stop doing something in the hope that someone else will change their ways and solve our problems for us. Why don’t we actually do something ourselves? Why don’t we all go to our libraries tomorrow and tell them it’s ok to stop sending money to Elsevier or any other corporate publisher? Like supporting our libraries in making their repositories real competition for the corporate publishers’ archives? Especially mathematicians would be in a great position to publicize the shoddy math behind the Impact Factor – why aren’t people still using it ridiculed out of office? Are we afraid that such actions might actually be too uncomfortable? Is this boycott all the revolution we can muster from our armchairs?

    • Terence Tao Says:

      Actually, the maths and stats community have been warning against the excessive use of citation statistics for some time now; see for instance this joint report of the International Mathematical Union, the International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics from 2008. And many of us have been involved in supporting lower-cost publishing (Mathematical Science Publishing is one of my personal favorites, for instance). In short, there has always been activity in these directions, but this is the first time in many years in which one of these campaigns got enough visibility to be noticed outside of the usual mathematical circles.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      I certainly agree that we need to take real action, but this boycott is already a big step if we take it seriously. Cancelling all Elsevier subscriptions tomorrow would certainly be one solution, but it just isn’t going to happen, because it would be truly disruptive for research. The important question is how to achieve actual progress by balancing long-term goals with what the community considers reasonable. This boycott excites me because it has revealed that certain steps that might have seemed extreme a few years ago, such as refusing to referee for Elsevier journals, are gaining mainstream acceptability. We may be at a tipping point now, and I’m hoping for real change, but it has to occur sensibly.

    • Mike Taylor Says:

      “However, the boycott makes it seem like we’re being inactive: we’ll promise to stop doing something in the hope that someone else will change their ways and solve our problems for us.”

      Not for me. I didn’t sign the boycott to persuade someone to do something for me. I signed it because I have done something for myself — that is, stop being part of the Elsevier machine. As I’ve said elsewhere: it’s not a petition, it’s a declaration of independence.

    • brembs Says:

      @Terrence: Excellent point! I actually meant to link to the IMU report that I frequently cite. IMHO, the issue we’re facing (parasitic publishers) cannot be separated from journal rank. Indeed, from a biologist’s perspective at least, journal rank is one of the root causes of the problem and the publishers just the symptom. Hence I’d argue that the best way to stop parasitic publishers is to destroy journal rank (and I’m currently writing a review article covering the available peer-reviewed evidence against journal rank). IMHO, mathematicians should push the IMU report just as hard, if not harder, than the boycott.

      @Henry: It’s precisely the ‘disruption to research’ that I mentioned as maybe being too uncomfortable for armchair activists. Journal rank and one of its consequences, parasitic publishers, have been disrupting science for decades. What if it takes a short period of further disruption to get the scholarly communication system we want? If only a third of all libraries unsubscribe from Elsevier, there are a) still enough libraries around to supply demand by asking colleagues or b) authors. Yet, the funds freed by this action would not only hit Elsevier where it hurts, it would also generate huge potential for investment in a replacement system based on what libraries are already good at.

      @Mike: Independence is good, but what do we do with it? Let’s say, hypothetically, we get Evilsevier out of business. Then we still are left with essentially the same publishing structure as we have now with just one of the worst offenders removed. That’s still lightyears away from a modern communication system.

      @all: what is it that this boycott should accomplish? The peer-reviewed evidence I have read is quite.unambiguous: journal rank hurts science. So why would anyone want to keep it?

    • Mike Taylor Says:

      “@Mike: Independence is good, but what do we do with it? Let’s say, hypothetically, we get Evilsevier out of business. Then we still are left with essentially the same publishing structure as we have now with just one of the worst offenders removed. That’s still lightyears away from a modern communication system.”

      Absolutely. I don’t just mean independence from Elsevier (though I think small concrete steps are the way to go), I mean independence from the 18th-Century practice of parcelling out science in small chunks that get locked behind paywalls for the benefit of third parties. Elsevier is just the start. (Though if they do go down and other STM publishers look on that event with enough fear that they radically change how they work, then there might still be a place for them.)

    • brembs Says:

      Someone else is agreeing that parasitic publishers are a symptom and not the cause. http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/feb/08/open-access-journals-elsvier-boycott

  8. Barry Sanders Says:

    Tim, what do you see as the solution to the problem other than bringing Elsevier to its knees? Perhaps you could give a constructive suggestion about what you think Elsevier should do to get back in your good books of commercial publishers. Which commercial publishers do you see as “good”? This boycott is ultimately going to hurt science and scientists if it is just about punishing a commercial publisher, which is seen as being at one extreme of a bad-publisher spectrum. I am a publisher of an Elsevier journal and see much good, and I am certainly unconvinced that Elsevier is the demon my colleagues think it is from your posts. I accept Elsevier has made mistakes but let’s find a constructive path rather than gleefully trying to bring down a corporation make investors in science publishing lose money.

    • Colin Says:

      It is interesting to note the relatively small number of physicists that have signed the cost of knowledge petition. I can only speculate on the possible causes:
      1) Many physicists prefer to publish journals associated with Physics Organizations, such as IOP, APS, AIP, Royal Society, etc.
      2) Physicists are content with the current overall publishing options, not necessarily with every single publisher.
      3) Physicists are happy with the ArXiv and think it is sufficient.

      As an editor of Optics Comm, Prof. Sanders may be able to provide some insight on what benefits to that particular journal Elsevier provides. It may shed some key differences between mathematics and physics.

      However, I want to add a voice from a lesser developed nation to the cloud of blog posts and comments made over the last few months on this topic.
      1) If elite university libraries can’t afford these pricy journals, spare a thought for poorer nation’s libraries and by extension students. Moreover, these libraries get papers or books usually between 2 to 4 weeks. I have gotten responses at times like “the credit card is overlimit”.
      2) This cost issue is well known in Physics with the ICTP assisting individuals of a few, usually the poorest, nations. Please note many under-developed nations and businesses do not invest in science and one can use this as blame, but it does not solve the problem.
      3) Reviewing an article for an Elsevier journal means getting full access to ScienceDirect, Scopus, etc for a month. These are very precious resources given these universities expenditure. In fact a helpful person may use this access to get journals for as many individuals as possible.

      Active research at varying standards can certainly improve physics education in those countries, inspire new conversations and informed discussions among citizens, which can slowly change long standing cultures through inspiration and empowerment in a myriad of ways.

  9. A more formal statement about mathematical publishing | hyperbole Says:

    [...] This statement has just been published in  a new post on Tim Gowers’s Weblog. [...]

  10. Anonymous Says:

    It is disappointing that there are no demands in this letter. For example, if Elsevier declares that it is cancelling its bundling practice and is reducing all math journal prices by 50%, will this end the boycott? We can achieve something great if we set a clear goal and let Elsevier know what it must do to end the boycott.

    • Scott Aaronson Says:

      Anonymous: But that’s assuming the goal is to get Elsevier to change its ways! While Elsevier might change, its actions over the past decade have convinced most observers that that’s extremely unlikely (or rather, that it will change by raising its prices even further, lobbying against open-access even more, etc). And crucially, we no longer need them. So I think the real goal here should simply be a separation of the mathematical community from Elsevier, with the ball in Elsevier’s court (should it choose) to undertake radical reforms that would make us reconsider. The two things you mention would certainly be a start.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      I agree with Scott. Elsevier has lost my trust, and while they could in principle win it back through dramatic changes, I’m not holding my breath. The point of this boycott is not to establish minimal standards for the worst behavior we can possibly accept and then to encourage Elsevier to stay above that line, or to set a high standard and then punish Elsevier for not fulfilling all our dreams. Instead, we’re taking a step in the direction of a publishing system we can trust and respect.

    • Ross Mounce (@rmounce) Says:

      Scott A. – please don’t forget: this has grown to be about more than just the mathematical community. It’s about all of STM publishing (and possibly wider than that). If the maths community did leave Elsevier completely, I suspect it wouldn’t make much of an impact on Elsevier. Let’s use this to promote wider scholarly reform. Not just in maths.

      [ I'm English so I say maths, not *math* okay ;) ]

    • sam Says:

      Scott and Henry: other than the two of you there are 32 very respected mathematicians who signed this letter. Was this matter clarified during your discussions? What you write above seems to be a shift from the original intention of this boycott, which was specifically about the COST of knowledge. Do all the people who signed this letter realize that they agreed to a demandless boycott which is not focused on lowering the cost but rather aiming for “a separation of the mathematical community from Elsevier”? I expected this boycott to lead to explicit price reduction demands for maths journals, that would then probably lead to price reductions for other sciences. What you write is quite extreme, and I want to know if specifically Daubechies, who is an elected official, realizes that she signed on to such a boycott. I do share your distrust of elsevier, and I have no expectation that they will easily reduce the cost of their journals. But I would be very happy if this happened and I think that it is important to keep the initial spirit of the “cost of knowledge movement” by making explicit price reduction demands.

    • Terence Tao Says:

      This particular topic was discussed quite extensively among us. The consensus was that if it were not for Elsevier’s past history with price negotations (alluded to, for instance, in the resignation letter of the Topology board, who spent over five years trying to reduce the price of that Elsevier journal before resigning), it might be worthwhile to try to hold out for some real improvement in Elsevier’s practices; but in view of that history, a separation appears to be the more realistic option.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      Ross, certainly the Elsevier issues are about more than the mathematical community, but I don’t see that as an argument against separating mathematics and Elsevier.

      1. Mathematical publishing practices are rather different from those in other scientific fields, so there’s no reason we should necessarily have the same publishers.

      2. I believe all fields should abandon Elsevier, but mathematics is all I can address with any confidence or authority.

      3. You are right that even if mathematics abandoned Elsevier entirely, Elsevier would survive just fine (math publishing is small potatoes compared with medicine, for example), but that’s OK: the goal is to help the research community, not to hurt Elsevier. Getting mathematics to be independent of Elsevier would be a good thing in itself as well as a good example for other fields, and it would at least weaken Elsevier’s bargaining position with libraries somewhat.

    • Tom Leinster Says:

      Henry makes an important point:

      the goal is to help the research community, not to hurt Elsevier.

      In order to join the boycott, you don’t need to be able to mount an informed critique of Elsevier. You don’t need to have any criticism of Elsevier at all.

      You’re merely choosing not to work for them for free. This needs no justification.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      Sam, I can’t speak for any of the other mathematicians involved, and signing the letter commits people to nothing not stated in the letter. We discussed these issues extensively, and we decided against adding any demands. Opinions differ about what endgame is realistic or desirable, but Scott and I are not the only ones who hope for separation.

      I interpret the “cost of knowledge” as being not just monetary. As for the original intent of the boycott, anyone can join the boycott for their own reasons, and there hasn’t been a clear statement of what it meant. Part of the purpose of the new statement is to explain how we view the boycott, and I hope we have captured much of its spirit, but for a movement of this size there’s no way to write anything universally applicable (and we don’t claim to have done so).

      Incidentally, list price reductions are more or less meaningless unless they are huge enough to undermine bundling, and accepting list price reductions as progress is a trap people have fallen into. Elsevier and other large publishers negotiate very aggressively with libraries over bundle prices, and the results have little relationship with the list prices; the only real constraint is that the bundle price can be no larger than the combined list prices of the journals you really want. The bundle price is the figure we should be most concerned about, but the details are typically covered by nondisclosure agreements.

      However, no matter how low the price got, I would not be happy until Elsevier changed its behavior in other ways as well (various problems are outlined in the statement).

    • Matthew Emerton Says:

      We can also achieve something by drawing attention to the current situation with Elsevier (extracting enormous costs for a service that is to some reasonable approximation no longer required), and thinking about how to move ourselves out of that situation. This is my motivation for joining the boycott, and signing the statement.

      The point made by others about prices and bundling is crucial, in my view: we don’t know in detail what Elsevier is charging our libraries (and this is by design on Elsevier’s part), but we do know (from talking to our librarians) that library budgets are being crippled by the cost of journal subscriptions.

      It seems possible that mathematics can start to move away from publishers like Elsevier towards more sustainable (i.e. less costly) models. My hope is that the focus on this possibility that is being generated by the boycott and this statement will help move it towards becoming a reality.

    • Mike Taylor Says:

      Henry Cohn makes the very important point: “I interpret the “cost of knowledge” as being not just monetary.” So true. In English, our discussion of these issues is often hampered by the two very different meanings of the word “free” — freedom, or zero-price. The word “cost” has similar issues. But we are concerned with much more than *just* the financial cost.

      Henry continues: “As for the original intent of the boycott, anyone can join the boycott for their own reasons, and there hasn’t been a clear statement of what it meant.” Well, that is not really true any more. The site now has rather a good one-sentence summary — “The key to all these issues is the right of authors to achieve easily-accessible distribution of their work.” (But really, I think it’s always been pretty clear what it meant, from the wording of the actual declaration.)

    • ilya Says:

      Anonymous suggested that we demand cancellation of bundling in addition to reducing prices. The subsequent comments ignored this point, citing bundling as a reason why we cannot determine the price of elsevier journals. The initial suggestion seems to be a very good condition for the end of the boycott.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      One difficulty regarding bundling is how to formulate what is acceptable. Elsevier and its ilk use bundling combined with unreasonable list prices to extract as much money as possible from libraries (basically by holding research papers hostage), and this is a big problem. However, it’s difficult to make the case that there’s anything morally wrong with quantity discounts, and in fact some large university presses and other less problematic publishers also offer bundles. It’s also not unreasonable to charge different prices to different universities (for example, based on size), so there are other ways for companies to negotiate very aggressively even if they don’t use bundling. Ultimately, I don’t think we can set simple, fair conditions that would ensure a reasonable outcome, and we certainly can’t micromanage Elsevier’s pricing. If it ever reaches the point where librarians confirm that Elsevier is offering reasonable, affordable prices, then we would be OK on the price side of things, but I don’t foresee this happening (it would ruin their extraordinarily profitable business, and the shareholders would throw a fit if Elsevier had any other options), and in any case it wouldn’t address the non-monetary side of things.

    • Richard Thomas Says:

      A friend of mine just signed up to costofknowledge.com. This got him thinking; he soon realised he was an editor of an Elsevier journal.

      I also nearly submitted a paper to an Elsevier journal 2 weeks ago without thinking. This despite all the controversy of the last 5 or 10 years. (I always intended not dealing with Elsevier, and edit for a saintly journal.)

      We have short memories and too many other things to think about. Previous campaigns have led to more cost for our libraries, not less (for instance they now have to pay for the same Elsevier bundle and the new Journal of Topology).

      So it does seem the only solution is indeed to remove our subject from Elsevier completely this time, so our libraries can unbundle themselves from their universities’ bundles. This looks like being a long and unpleasant split.

  11. Konstantinos Says:

    The economist wrote some things about the whole movement http://www.economist.com/node/21545974

  12. Konstantinos Says:

    Reblogged this on Between numbers and commented:
    Results from the boycott towards Elsevier.

  13. A statement on the cost of knowledge declaration | t1u Says:

    [...] many blogs and also the mainstream media (e.g. the Guardian, the Economist, Forbes, etc.), and even by Elsevier stock analysts.    (Elsevier itself released an open letter responding to the protest here.)  My [...]

  14. Chris Wilkins Says:

    One rather good summation of the current state of the peer-reviewed journal industry, and where it may go in the future;


    Very pertinent to this discussion.

  15. Bobito Says:

    The vast majority of those working professionally as mathematicians are not of the level of the Gowers-Taos and do not work at places like UCLA or Cambridge. For those of you who are Gowers-Taos-etc, I think it can be hard to appreciate the material and professional situation of the vast majority of mathematicians. I, for example, work at a public university somewhere in the Mediterranean. The second most senior member of my department has less than a dozen articles listed in MathSciNet (mostly coauthored with other members of my department who wrote their theses with him) – all of them published in Elsevier journals – and about half published in none other than Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals. I have a temporary position, in a time of economic crisis, in a country with absurd levels of unemployment. Were he aware that I strongly disapproved of where and how he publishes (that is, how he makes his living), I might have problems getting my contract renewed. It’s important also to keep in mind that even in a department like this, there are good, serious people, who take seriously their research as well as their teaching. Put simply: the professional mathematical world is full of clowns, and that’s what drives the Elsevier circus. Some aeronautical engineer looks at the CV, sees some publications with what appear to be decent impact factors for their area (although, to be sure, from his point of view they are pitifully low impact factors) and, more importantly, sees impact factors that are higher than those on other CVs coming fromt the same department, and figures this guy is the serious guy. Is that how it should work? Clearly, no. Is that how it works? More often than not.

    In this context, a statement like you have distributed is very useful. Names like Gowers and Tao have the authority which convinces those who rely primarily on external authority to arrive at their valuations (although this takes for granted that they have even heard of Gowers and Tao – many of them haven’t). Appealing to what is done in the best US/British universities is always helpful, because these are always being trotted out as models (to be later ignored) and everyone likes to think his department is almost as good as Princeton’s. On the other hand, the fundamental problem remains – with hiring, promotion, and the awarding of grants conditioned more and more, often by legislation, on impact factor weighted citation counts, it is essential to the great mass of mediocre academics to have available large numbers of low quality, easy acceptance journals. The fundamental dynamic by which university libraries are supporting (through their subscriptions) lousy scholarship is a consequence of the imposition of business style valuations on the academic world. The fellow who publishes only one really good paper each year, has trouble surviving. Much better to publish several crappy papers repeatedly, varying the coauthors. To bring down Elsevier, there has to be changed the incentive system which motivates publishing in Elsevier (not to mention editing its journals).

    • David Speyer Says:

      Several of the leaders of the boycott (Cohn, Gowers, Tao) have been careful to state that they do not view joining the boycott as a negative judgment on those who publish in Elsevier journals. I also do not interpret it that way. If you don’t respect your colleague’s work, it probably is wise to keep that opinion private, but doing so is compatible with joining the boycott.

  16. jane Says:

    Professor Gowers, Channel 4 News would be keen to discuss this further with you if you could email me on jane.kinney@itn.co.uk
    Many thanks

  17. Carme Calderer Says:

    I fully adhere to the boycott to Elsevier’s current model of academic publication. I support the community as it struggles to find a new model, or combination of models, that guarantees academic honesty, journal accessibilty and fair publication prices.

  18. Orr Shalit Says:

    I would like first to commend the initiators of this letter – it is always heartwarming to see people take action according to their values, trying to make their community better.

    I also think that it takes a certain amount of courage to start a movement like this.

    I decided not to join this boycott, and I thought it might be of some interest to others if I make my voice heard.

    I would rather see the current system fade away rather than broken.

    The internet is a powerful tool for sharing knowledge, but we should be wary about the accelerated and unexpected dynamics of change that it brings. Timothy Gowers himself wrote (on Jan 29) that when he began writing his blog post on Jan 21, he did not have a campaign in mind, and that the idea of a website came to his mind while he was writing the post. Two days later the site theCostOfKnowldege was up, and in another few days there were thousands of signatures.
    This is very fast.

    After the wave starts moving, it has a life of its own. The wave has to keep on moving, a letter has to be written, and then some serious questions have to be answered. Why Elsevier and not Springer? I think that the argument (in the “formal statement” signed by the distinguished mathematicians) that explains the difference between Elsevier and Springer is rather weak. As regards to the main point of the letter as I understand it, there is not much difference.

    I prefer the slow change that was already taking place, due to some wonderful activity: opinion articles, some blogging activity, and the founding of some free electronic mathematical journals at all levels such as New York Journal of Math., Documenta Math., or Banach Journal of Math. By the way I think this slow change has to go hand in hand with a change in the way we rank (“evaluate”) each others.

    What will happen if Elsevier journals dissappear tomorrow?
    Yes, I agree, everybody should put their papers on the arxiv. But mathematicians will need to publish.

    One type of journal for which I do not edit nor referee, and to which I will not submit papers, is the author-pays-to-publish type of journal; this kind of journal usually prefers to present itself as “open access”. I am concerned that the mathematical community might push itself into the arms of this so-called-open-access model, which I think is the worst. This model has many faults. The worst of which, in my opinion, is that one needs funding in order to publish. This is bad because it might increase the dependence of mathematicians on grants – an affliction that already makes our profession quite sick.

    Imagine the same admirable process that happenned now (Timothy Gowers posts on his blog, the site goes up, a letter is written) with one difference: In the site theCostOfKnowledge, people can sign up and say: “I have been not-submitting-to/not-editing-for/not-refereeing-for Elsevier (or some other publisher) for N years”, where N has to be a positive integer.

    Full discloser: I published a paper in an Elsevier journal last year (and another one before), and mayhap my opinions were shaped by this.

    • Yiftach Barnea Says:

      Like Orr I have not joined the boycott. I am very unhappy with Elsevier. But I agree that a slow change is better than a rapid change (there are many risks involved in a revolution). I also generally like the journal system. I think most of the issues will be solved if journals will be held by non-commercial publishers. Indeed, I believe most people are reasonably happy with the AMS and LMS journals, Annals, etc.

      Being an algebraist I am particularly worried about the Journal of Algebra. Currently there is no alternative to it. Now, it might be possible to build an alternative, but that will be a solution for the future. We might even be able to live without submitting to it for a short while. However, what about access to past papers? Without access to past papers in the Journal of Algebra it will be very difficult to conduct research in algebra. (I also think there is no good alternative to Advances and presumably this is true for some other journals).

      So what is the solution? Well, I think that the best solution is for non-commercial publishers to buy Elsevier journals. In that sense the boycott might be useful in driving Elsevier to accept such a solution. However, I would like to see the AMS or the LMS or the EMS trying to buy these journals. In such case it will be easier to join the boycott as there will be a clear demand which is reasonable.

    • dmoskovich Says:

      However strong or weak the argument, I’d boycott Elsevier, but not Springer. I don’t know… it’s a bit hypocritical of me, but I *like* Springer. I would be completely happy with Springer buying journals off Elsevier, even if they were to sell them at roughly similar prices.

    • Anonymous Says:

      I can see the point of worrying about `where the wave goes’. But I think that in this case there is really not too much in the path that we would like to keep.

      What Elsevier owns that is valuable to the community is a collection of names (which are good for getting grants with) and a collection of back issues. They don’t do anything like commissioning and publishing (relatively) unprofitable books on specialist issues which require (relatively) serious professional copy-editing – Springer, for instance, does, and I’d be unhappy with boycotting Springer on the basis that this might cause them to stop publishing such things.

      Now the names Elsevier owns will get replaced in time (probably not much time) by other names if the Elsevier journals go under: either existing journals will take the papers, or editorial boards will set up new journals as replacements. Some people will lose out who submit works early to these journals and don’t get the recognition they deserve (which will depend on what the funding body feels like – some may well decide that the new journal inherits the rating of the old immediately, some may wait and see). Some more will probably lose out by having papers in the old journals `late’ – after an editorial board resigns Elsevier is likely to try to appoint a new board, and the standard will almost surely drop in an effort to get enough submission to keep the journal going: funding bodies may well react by downgrading all `late’ papers.

      The back issues are a more serious issue – but realistically Elsevier cannot get away with trying to hold a gun to the community’s head over access. Too many libraries already have paper copies, or can get them by inter-library loan; Elsevier will either give cheap access, or sell the rights to another publisher, or wait while the community gets used to the idea of finding back issues by inter-library loan and then find that no-one wants to pay for the back issues any more.

  19. Henry Cohn Says:

    Back issues are definitely a big deal, and we’re stuck having to pay for them in some way.

    I doubt buying journals is the right approach: as long as Elsevier can successfully exploit them, they are worth much more to Elsevier than to any more responsible publisher. Furthermore, there’s no need to buy them, since the community can transition to replacement journals (with the same editorial boards and standards) if we choose, and this has happened successfully in the past.

    I wonder about buying the archives, though, for example if some wealthy benefactor wanted to help the mathematical community. This would involve all sorts of complications; for example, how would you negotiate a reasonable selling price? (Plus, if Elsevier got a favorable price, other publishers might be upset that Elsevier was being rewarded for upsetting the community.) I think this is pretty unlikely to work out, but it’s an interesting idea and it would be wonderful if these valuable archives were freely available.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      P.S. This was meant to reply to Yiftach Barnea above, but I evidently put it in the wrong place.

    • Yiftach Barnea Says:

      Henry, I think you and many others are missing the point. The big problem is old papers. Most new papers can be found on the web and as you said it is possible to replace the Journal of Algebra by say a new journal called Algebra. However, it will be very damaging not to have access to old papers. How are we going to solve this?

      With the boycott I think Elsevier is soon going to be willing to pay money to get rid of its math journals and the boycott. Because I am sure math is peanuts in terms of money. However, if the boycott will catch on in other areas, they will be in serious troubles. So this is the time to offer them an offer they cannot refuse!

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      The old papers is what I meant by the archives.

    • Alexander Woo Says:

      At least in the United States, access to old issues is not a significant problem. Many libraries have physical copies of the Journal of Algebra. If your library does not, it is easy to get it through Interlibrary Loan from some other library. Interlibrary Loan is quite cheap as libraries only charge each other either the costs for copying or the costs for shipping. In many cases, the shipping cost turns out to be close to zero because libraries shuttle books to each other on buses primarily used for other purposes. Because it is cheap enough, libraries pay for it from their own budget and don’t charge researchers for it.

      I understand this may work differently in other parts of the world.

    • Yiftach Barnea Says:

      Yes, I understood that. What I meant is that the old papers is the big problem, everything else is solvable by starting new journals (yes there are difficulties, but they are temporary). We need to work with Elsevier to solve this problem. I cannot see any way around it. So the only solution I see is buying the rights from them. The boycott could be useful in pushing them in this direction and lowering the price. However, on our side we need to give them an offer otherwise nothing will happen.

    • Yiftach Barnea Says:

      Alexander, firstly as you said, it is different in different parts of the world and I am sure there are many places where this is a problem. But more importantly, when I need a paper I need it now. Time is such a big issue these days that not having electronic access is unacceptable in my view.

    • Ben Says:

      Unless there is some legal nicety I don’t understand, many libraries will continue to pay for access to electronic archives of old papers, even if every math journal moves away from Elsevier. However, the financial burden will be much less than it is now, particularly as there is the (clearly undesirable) possibility of using the existing paper copies.
      Having open access to all new good quality papers will be a great benefit for research, completely independent of the continuing financial burden on libraries.

    • dmoskovich Says:

      Yiftach Barnea: This is an interesting idea. Combining thoughts, Springer would improve its standing among mathematicians no end if it would step in right now and but Elsevier’s math journals. Any Springer executives reading this???

    • Alexander Woo Says:

      If a library were to scan volumes of the Journal of Algebra it already held and make the copies available electronically with access restricted to campus (and to others who request them specifically through Interlibrary Loan), under United States law, that would probably be legal as ‘fair use’. (Note IANAL and the publisher may sue no matter what the merits are.)

    • Bjoern Brembs Says:

      I know (at least) one library with tape access to Elsevier’s archive. No scanning necessary. Not sure about legality. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a country where it would be legal to make this (the whole) archive accessible globally…

    • Yiftach Barnea Says:

      Clearly, what ever solution we come with it cannot depend on the local law, it must be a global solution.

    • Anonymous Says:

      >Clearly, what ever solution we come with it cannot depend >on the local law, it must be a global solution.

      This solution might well be the pirate bay. A complete archive of all Elsevier journals should not be that large (rough worst case calculation: 20k Journals x 1k pages x 30 years x 30kB for scans < 20TB).

  20. Yiftach Barnea Says:

    Tim, till now, I haven’t seen any response from editorial boards of Elsevier journals or specific editors. Did anyone that signed the letter approach them? Is there any response?

  21. telescoper Says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    No time for a post of my own this morning, as I’m off to the department to help with a UCAS admissions visit day. I’ll take the opportunity, therefore, to point you towards Tim Gowers’ excellent blog for an update on the Elsevier boycott (and related issues) that I posted about a while ago.

  22. Bjoern Brembs Says:

    Elsevier has responded.
    Already their first sentence is most likely a lie:

  23. Boicote a Elsevier, Higgs e Moriond « Ars Physica Says:

    [...] científica tem sido o boicote à editora Elsevier. Ele foi iniciado pelo matemático Tim Gowers e posteriormente refinado numa declaração mais detalhada com 34 iminentes matemáticos como signatários, entre eles alguns [...]

  24. Mathblogging.org Weekly Picks « Mathblogging.org — the Blog Says:

    [...] Tim Gowers et al released a formal statement on thecostofknowledge.com signed by 34 internationally renowned researchers. [...]

  25. dusko Says:

    it seems to me that we are trying to dislodge publishers from below, but that they are controlling the process of science from above, something like this:

    -> science publishers influence thomson reuters
    -> thomson reuters provides indices to the government
    -> government requires impact driven reserch from the universities
    -> universities demand impact from their scientists
    -> scientists submit their work to the science publishers

    it may make sense to focus on elsevier and hope that springer will follow suit. but do you really think that anything can be really changed if the the impact of scientific research is determined by a commercial company?

  26. a@gmail.com Says:

    I have a hesitation to sign the boycott which is quite different from those that has been expressed and I know that many others share my hesitation although I completely support the boycott. My hesitation is that I am a graduate student right now, I have one paper published in one of top journals but when I look at the list of people who has signed to boycott Elsevier I feel that I haven’t earned the right to list my name there near famous mathematicians. Adding my name to the list feels like saying that adding my name to the list is significant. Also I feel that adding my name there might decrease the value of the list since it might give the feeling that the list is mainly made of students which might create a bad impression on mathematicians who might consider to sign it. I would hesitate less if there was a way of saying that I am student, but I don’t know if this is a good idea.

    • Mike Taylor Says:

      You shouldn’t hold back on that account. Every scientist, whether entering the game or an old hand, has a voice in these deliberations. If you don’t write, review or edit for Elsevier, then that’s forty years of your career that they’re losing. That is significant.

    • Henry Cohn Says:

      I agree with Mike. What makes a boycott effective is numbers, rather than prizes or positions, and the only special role the Fields medallists play is that their fame helps attract attention. Ultimately, the numbers will attract far more attention than that, and everyone’s support will play a crucial role. Furthermore, when a junior mathematician signs the boycott, it really means more than when a senior mathematician does. (I imagine Elsevier worries more about losing the researchers of the future than those of the past, plus junior researchers are probably more worried about their careers.) So you should feel proud if you choose to participate.

    • Colin Says:

      There are 2 ways to state you are a student, one is using the comments, the other is using affiliation. In fact just use “Ctrl F” on the costofknowledge page and see how others have done so.

  27. Franciscus Rebro Says:

    Hello all, I’m a math graduate student who’s been following this Elsevier Affair with keen interest, and I was wondering if anybody could explain to me why the journal “Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals” has a bad reputation? I’ve seen more than one mathematician bad-mouth it.

    Thanks, and long live T. Gowers!

  28. roots Says:

    Considering that Elsevier also publishes nonsense-journals like “Homeopathy” (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/14754916) makes it more than clear that they are really a big money machine

  29. Thierry Bouche Says:

    re bundling, it is very easy to express what can be demanded:

    * you can cancel subscription to one title if you consider it pollutes your library holdings (even electronically) and get a recdutino in costs accordingly
    * each title has a single subscription price (which is reasonable)
    * price of bundle is computed on some reasonable scheme linked to the delivered content (not previous budget or contract amount with the publisher, not inflation rate + xx% imposed in multiannual contracts)

    A perfect example is given by the EMS-publishing house list price: you have a list of journals to which you can subscribe individually (e-only, paper options) and a bundle *option* that represents substantial savings thus an incentive to opt for that.

    I intend to start a campaign suggesting editorial committees to resign if they do not get satisfactory tweaking of their publisher policy regarding three major topics:

    * no imposed bundling (as above)
    * cooperation with the construction of the Digital mathematics library as a general commons: agree on some moving wall and partner with some not-for-profit institution for independent archiving [and eventual open access]
    * allow green open access (final author version in arXiv)

    I was waiting some feedback from IMU to start the campain, but maybe people here could comment whether it would make any sense?

    • gowers Says:

      In what way does the EMS policy differ from Elsevier’s? One can buy journals individually from Elsevier too, but bundling allows you to make substantial savings.

  30. Dave Says:

    Start your own journal.
    Buy a copy of Indesign, corral a group of mathematicians to act as your editorial board, edit the submitted papers, import the papers into Indesign, add a few graphics and a nice cover design, and produce a pdf that can be freely distributed to subscribing institutions. They can print their own hard copy. Post the pdf online for all to download. Get server space from your institution, or rent it for $10/month from your favorite webhost.

  31. Thierry Bouche Says:

    I can’t speak for EMS-ph but have a look at http://www.ems-ph.org/pdf/pricelist_journals.pdf individual title prices are reasonable and bundling is a good option if you are interested in all journals. That’s the deal!

    It’s different from Elsevier in many ways:
    * the price list is public and real (you really can order one journal if that’s what you want), it’s not penalty option with crazy prices.
    * if you buy the bundle you’re not imposed a confidential clause
    * you can choose to revert at any moment to title list if you think it’s best for you.

  32. ogerard Says:

    Readers of this entry might be interested by several posts on the LSE blog Impact of Social Sciences and particularly this one from Tim Leunig, Managing Editor of an Elsevier Journal, flatly rebuking Elsevier’s Erik Engstrom now famous phrase that the protests “are based on misstatements or misunderstandings of the fact.”

  33. Stimmen zum Elsevier-Boykott | wisspub.net Says:

    [...] dazu veröffentlichte im Februar eine Gruppe von namhaften Mathematikern ein Statement (PDF), in dem das Anliegen des Boykottaufrufs erläutert wird. Auszug: „What all the signatories [...]

  34. The Gray Intellectual Says:

    The true value of knowledge lies in it being made accessible to others who need it so that it can be used to solve real world problems, especially when the development of that knowledge was funded by the public. With the exception of “proprietory” knowledge, what good is knowledge that is never “known” by others due to a high paywall? What reverberating “impact” can knowledge have when it remains unknown?

  35. Anonymous Says:

    I think the proper starting of new journals by a board of suitably placed academics is the only way forward. There is a clear list of Elsevier journals which need replacement. If at the next meeting of the IMO the different topic groups get together and each group decides on three papers – one top tier, one mid tier, and one ‘open access’ to be instituted on an open platform, then it should be relatively easy to establish those journals henceforth. If they henceforth then assigned a fixed amount of points in the impact system by decree, then this should make them instantly attractive.

  36. 學者抗議,期刊產業醞釀變天:英美的 Open Access 趨勢 | PanSci 泛科學 Says:

    [...] Elsevier。 一個月後, 34 位數學家對 Elsevier 共同發表一篇公開聲明, Elsevier 股價也應聲下跌。 到今天, 已經有 超過一萬一千位學者聯署。 詳見 Singularity Hub、 [...]

  37. Zach Says:

    I have a tangentially-related question that a lot of people are probably wondering, but I don’t think you’ve gotten around to publishing on your blog yet: Many mathematicians feel like there is a compromise between investigating important math questions in their research and getting quick, impressive-sounding publications to satisfy their employers. How do you manage that tension in this publish-or-perish world? I’d really appreciate a little exposition if you have time. Thanks,
    Zach Boyd
    Brigham Young University, student

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