February 15, 2012

Furor over Elsevier escalates


The protest against academic journal publisher Elsevier continues to grow explosively, with another 1,000 professors joining the 5,000 we reported yesterday who have signed a petiton vowing not to peer-review or submit papers for any of the Dutch publisher’s scientific journals.

At Duke University, prominent mathematician Ingrid Daubechies and several colleagues, including fellow mathematician Mark Iwen, economist E. R. Weintraub, biologists Laryssa Baldridge and Eric Butter, and other Duke faculty members the boycott, says a report from Duke Today by Ashley Yeager. According to the report,

Daubechies, who heads the International Mathematical Union (IMU) and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, said too many mathematicians and other scientists are “utterly frustrated by the enormous prices libraries are being charged for journals, when the content, the peer review that ensures quality and the scientific part of the administration are all provided by our community itself, completely or mostly on a volunteer basis.”

In a thoughtful overview of the furor for the University Times, the University of Pittsburgh‘s school newspaper, Kimperly K. Barlow reports that mathematicians Juan Manfredi and Thomas Hales, have signed the petition. And University Library System director Rush Miller tells her, “It’s time for people to get mad about this if they care at all about the survival of scholarly communication. The system as it exists today is untenable. It’s unsustainable.” He also notes the other major publishers of academic journals who “operate under similar business practices” — he cites Wiley and Springer, in addition to Elsevier. Of Elsevier, he says, “I don’t think they’re the worst. They’re the biggest.”

At the Daily Kansan, the school newspaper for the University of Kansas, the school’s head of scholarly communications research for the University library system, Ada Emmett, says in this report by Kelsey Cipolla that someone had to do something about Elsevier because “The scholarly publishing system is in crisis.” And economics professor Mohamed El-Hodiri says of Elsevier, “I don’t think they really should exist. It’s part of a huge rip-off, basically. Elsevier is most criminal in that respect.”

An editorial at Purdue University‘s The Exponent says,

It is honorable that these professors and researchers are taking a strong stance against these companies, but they’re not the only ones that are affected. Students are also affected by the rising cost of buying and publishing academic journals.

When the price of the journals goes up, the money has to come from somewhere. With state appropriations declining nationally, it is obvious that universities like Purdue are probably using tuition dollars to fund this necessary expense.

Both professors and students should come together in protest of this ridiculous business. The knowledge of the academic world should be spread freely and without the threat of exorbitant prices.

In other developments, Elsevier released a statement in response to the growing furor, saying, in part,

“While some of the facts about Elsevier are being misrepresented, the depth of feeling among some in the research community is real and something we take very seriously. We’re listening to all the concerns expressed and redoubling our substantial efforts to make our contributions to that community better, more transparent, and more valuable to all our partners and friends in the research community.”

Meanwhile, in a New York Times report on the furor by Thomas Lin, Duke’s Ingrid Daubechies says she was contacted by an Elsevier vice president, and she has agreed to speak to them, but made clear they should not think “now we have vented and now we have calmed down.”


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.