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.