Archive for January, 2012

What’s wrong with electronic journals?

January 29, 2012

It probably sounds disingenuous of me to say this, but when I sat down to write a post about Elsevier I wasn’t really trying to start a campaign. My intention was merely to make public, and a little more rigid, a policy that I and many others had already been applying, in my case without much difficulty, for several years. The idea of setting up a website occurred to me as I was writing the post: I considered it (and still consider it) not as a petition to Elsevier to change its ways — since I don’t believe there is any realistic chance of that — but as a simple way to bring out into the open all the private boycotts and semi-boycotts that were going on, and thereby to encourage others to do the same.

By accident, the post seems to have been quite well timed. Probably it’s not an accident at all, and that whatever atmosphere it was that prompted me to get round to writing the post (for example, certain discussions I had had with other mathematicians, some of them online) was the same as what made it a good moment. Anyhow, accident or no, the result is that some people have talked about “momentum”, and I’m starting to feel a responsibility, not particularly welcome (because it threatens to involve work), not to squander that momentum.

January 23, 2012

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.

Elsevier — my part in its downfall

January 21, 2012

The Dutch publisher Elsevier publishes many of the world’s best known mathematics journals, including Advances in Mathematics, Comptes Rendus, Discrete Mathematics, The European Journal of Combinatorics, Historia Mathematica, Journal of Algebra, Journal of Approximation Theory, Journal of Combinatorics Series A, Journal of Functional Analysis, Journal of Geometry and Physics, Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications, Journal of Number Theory, Topology, and Topology and its Applications. For many years, it has also been heavily criticized for its business practices. Let me briefly summarize these criticisms.

1. It charges very high prices — so far above the average that it seems quite extraordinary that they can get away with it.

2. One method that they have for getting away with it is a practice known as “bundling”, where instead of giving libraries the choice of which journals they want to subscribe to, they offer them the choice between a large collection of journals (chosen by them) or nothing at all. So if some Elsevier journals in the “bundle” are indispensable to a library, that library is forced to subscribe at very high subscription rates to a large number of journals, across all the sciences, many of which they do not want. (The journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals is a notorious example of a journal that is regarded as a joke by many mathematicians, but which libraries all round the world must nevertheless subscribe to.) Given that libraries have limited budgets, this often means that they cannot subscribe to journals that they would much rather subscribe to, so it is not just libraries that are harmed, but other publishers, which is of course part of the motivation for the scheme.

3. If libraries attempt to negotiate better deals, Elsevier is ruthless about cutting off access to all their journals.

4. Elsevier supports many of the measures, such as the Research Works Act, that attempt to stop the move to open access. They also supported SOPA and PIPA and lobbied strongly for them.

SOPA — my part in its downfall

January 17, 2012

If you haven’t heard, SOPA, which stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, is a US bill that was proposed in order to do what its name suggests. Although it has been defeated for now, its proponents have not given up, so many websites, notably including Wikipedia, are going on strike tomorrow (January 18th) in order to show just how potentially damaging the bill could be to the internet. I haven’t looked in much detail into what the adverse consequences of SOPA would be, but I’ve read enough, from people whose opinions I trust, to believe that I should join this strike. My technical competence is insufficient to follow the instructions that have been offered for doing this (and the same applies to any instructions that anyone reading this might feel moved to offer so I suggest not bothering). Therefore, I plan to mark this blog as private (and therefore inaccessible) for the day, an operation that I will undo on Thursday.

If you’d like more details about what’s wrong with the bill, then Google “SOPA” and you’ll find all you could possibly want.

Edit: I was about to change the blog to private when I noticed that WordPress has a Protest SOPA/PIPA setting. I’ve gone for that. It results in the ribbon you see in the top right-hand corner of this page, and a total blackout, with a page explaining why, from 8am to 8pm EST. So that will kick in properly at 1pm UK time.