Thousands of scientists vow to boycott Elsevier” — article at Science Magazine. I’ve just signed on at “The Cost of Knowledgeto boycott refereeing, submitting, or editing for Elsevier journals (this unfortunately includes a journal I was otherwise going to submit to, but then again, if the boycott had no practical effect for my work, then it wouldn’t truly be a protest of any real type; Elsevier does publish a number of good journals in my field though so this may continue to be an issue–until their capitulation, at least).

I can’t improve over the words that have already been said about this; Cosma Shalizi has a nice piece on it (“Scientific Community to Elsevier: Drop Dead“), indeed, Cosma’s post was the first I’d heard about it:

I have for years been refusing to publish in or referee for journals publisher by Elsevier; pretty much all of the commercial journal publishers are bad deals1, but they are outrageously worse than most. Since learning that Elsevier had a business line in putting out publications designed to look like peer-reviewed journals, and calling themselves journals, but actually full of paid-for BS, I have had a form letter I use for declining requests to referee, letting editors know about this, and inviting them to switch to a publisher which doesn’t deliberately seek to profit by corrupting the process of scientific communication.

I am thus extremely happy to learn from Michael Nielsen that Tim Gowers is organizing a general boycott of Elsevier, asking people to pledge not to contribute to its journals, referee for them, or do editorial work for them. You can sign up here, and I strongly encourage you to do so. There are fields where Elsevier does publish the leading journals, and where this sort of boycott would be rather more personally costly than it is in statistics, but there is precedent for fixing that. Once again, I strongly encourage readers in academia to join this.

(To head off the inevitable mis-understandings, I am not, today, calling for getting rid of journals as we know them. I am saying that Elsevier is ripping us off outrageously, that conventional journals can be published without ripping us off, and so we should not help Elsevier to rip us off.)

Gowers’ post, natch, gives an excellent overview of the issue, as well.

For those of you in environmental sciences and agriculture, a partial list of Elsevier’s pertinent journals:

Advances in Water Resources
Agricultural Water Management
Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
Animal Behaviour
Applied Soil Ecology
Aquatic Botany
Aquatic Toxicology
Basic and Applied Ecology
Biological Conservation
Current Advances in Toxicology
Ecological Abstracts
Ecological Complexity
Ecological Economics
Energy Policy
Environmental Science & Policy
Environmental Science Package – Option 1
Environmental Science Package – Option 2
European Journal of Agronomy
European Journal of Soil Biology
Evolution and Human Behavior
Field Crops Research
Fisheries Research
Forest Ecology and Management
Forest Policy and Economics
Fungal Ecology
Global Environmental Change
Journal of Cleaner Production
Land Use Policy
Landscape and Urban Planning
Mammalian Biology
Marine Chemistry
Ocean & Coastal Management
Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Plant Science
Quantitative Ecology Combined Set
Remote Sensing of Environment
Resource and Energy Economics
Revista Portuguesa de Saúde Pública
Science of the Total Environment
Soil & Tillage Research
Soil Biology & Biochemistry
Systematic and Applied Microbiology
Theoretical Population Biology
Toxicology Letters
Trends in Ecology & Evolution
Urban Forestry & Urban Greening
Waste Management
Water Research

Several of these are quite prominent journals in mine and related fields. But sometimes enough is enough. It’s worth noting that eminent evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne is among the signers, as are my friends and colleagues Brenda B. Lin, George Middendorf, and Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor John Vandermeer, as well as 516+ other biologists.

In quasi-related news, if you’ve read this far, a little bit of self-promotion: as the second most-downloaded article at Agriculture and Human Values, my review paper co-authored with my then-mentee Liliana LaValle, “Food security and biodiversity: Can we have both?” is available for free download from the publisher (Springer). Not exactly “Open Access” (to have only the top articles available), but nor is it Elsevier.

Addition, 2/5/2012: The trackbacks on Gower’s post “Elsevier — my part in its downfall” are interesting and informative. Distinguished mathematician Doug Arnold explains further reasons for boycotting Elsevier here. Highlights:

[T]here is another reason for researchers to disassociate from Elsevier, which I find even more compelling: their many lapses in ethical and quality publishing practices. Here are some examples:  The Elsevier journal Chaos, Solitons and Fractals published more than 300 papers by the journal’s Editor-In-Chief (58 in a single year). That these papers were not subject to peer review was later confirmed by the EIC’s declaration that “senior people are above this childish, vain practice of peer review.” […] Elsevier journals have repeatedly published plagiarized work and duplicate publications. A search turns up over thirty papers in Elsevier mathematics journals published in the last decade which have had to be formally retracted, mostly for these reasons. On more than one occasion, the same paper has been published in two different volumes of the same Elsevier journal (presumably by accident)…  On several occasions, entire editorial boards have collectively resigned from Elsevier, usually citing discontent with their pricing [including the entire 50 person editorial board of the Journal of Logic Programming; the entire board of Journal of Algorithms… and the journal Topology’s distinguished editorial board… From 2000 to 2005 Elsevier published six phony biomedical journals, with titles such as the Australasian Journal of Cardiology, in return for an undisclosed sum from a large pharmaceutical company. The journals’ contents were provided by the pharmaceutical company and published without further review… Elsevier admitted that they had “published a series of sponsored article compilation publications, on behalf of pharmaceutical clients, that were made to look like journals and lacked the proper disclosure”… In 1998, the Elsevier journal Lancet published one of the most significant examples of fraudulent scientific research in recent times, in which evidence was fabricated to link autism to measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, thereby setting off a health scare that led to deaths and severe injuries and which continues to this day... Lancet’s retraction of the paper did not come until 2010, 12 years after the original publication and for reasons that a British Medical Journal editorial describes as “far narrower misconduct than is now apparent.”

Of course, Elsevier produces many journals. Without a doubt they publish good articles, as well as bad, and include excellent scientists in their editorial boards, as well as others. But the number and the nature of the incidents like those listed, cause me to doubt their commitment to and/or ability to achieve the quality and ethical standards that I believe crucial.

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