Ban Elsevier

Please take the pledge not to do business with Elsevier. 404 scientists have done it so far:

The cost of knowledge.

You can separately say you

1) won’t publish with them,
2) won’t referee for them, and/or
3) won’t do editorial work for them.

At least do number 2): how often can you do something good by doing less work? When a huge corporation relies so heavily on nasty monopolistic practices and unpaid volunteer labor, they leave themselves open to this.

This pledge website is the brainchild of Tim Gowers, a Fields medalist and prominent math blogger:

• Tim Gowers, Elsevier: my part in its downfall and

In case you’re not familiar with the Elsevier problem, here’s something excerpted from my website. This does not yet mention Elsevier’s recent support of the Research Works Act, which would try to roll back the US government’s requirement that taxpayer-funded medical research be made freely available online. Nor does it mention the fake medical journals created by Elsevier, where what looked like peer-reviewed papers were secretly advertisements paid for by drug companies! Nor does it mention the Chaos, Solitons and Fractals fiasco. Indeed, it’s hard keeping up with Elsevier’s dirty deeds!

The problem and the solutions

The problem of highly priced science journals is well-known. A wave of mergers in the publishing business has created giant firms with the power to extract ever higher journal prices from university libraries. As a result, libraries are continually being forced to cough up more money or cut their journal subscriptions. It’s really become a crisis.

Luckily, there are also two counter-trends at work. In mathematics and physics, more and more papers are available from a free electronic database called the arXiv, and journals are beginning to let papers stay on this database even after they are published. In the life sciences, PubMed Central plays a similar role.

There are also a growing number of free journals. Many of these are peer-reviewed, and most are run by academics instead of large corporations.

The situation is worst in biology and medicine: the extremely profitable spinoffs of research in these subjects has made it easy for journals to charge outrageous prices and limit the free nature of discourse. A non-profit organization called the Public Library of Science was formed to fight this, and circulated an open letter calling on publishers to adopt reasonable policies. 30,000 scientists signed this and pledged to:

publish in, edit or review for, and personally subscribe to only those scholarly and scientific journals that have agreed to grant unrestricted free distribution rights to any and all original research reports that they have published, through PubMed Central and similar online public resources, within 6 months of their initial publication date.

Unsurprisingly, the response from publishers was chilly. As a result, the Public Library of Science started its own free journals in biology and medicine, with the help of a 9 million dollar grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

A number of other organizations are also pushing for free access to scholarly journals, such as Create Change, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, and the Budapest Open Access Initiative, funded by George Soros.

Editorial boards are beginning to wise up, too. On August 10, 2006, all the editors of the math journal Topology resigned to protest the outrageous prices of the publisher, Reed Elsevier. In August of this year, the editorial board of the Springer journal K-Theory followed suit. The Ecole Normale Superieure has also stopped having Elsevier publish the journal Annales Scientifiques de l’École Normale Supérieure.

So, we may just win this war! But only if we all do our part.

What we can do

What can we do to keep academic discourse freely available to all? Here are some things:

1. Don’t publish in overpriced journals.

2. Don’t do free work for overpriced journals (like refereeing and editing).

3. Put your articles on the arXiv or a similar site before publishing them.

4. Only publish in journals that let you keep your articles on the arXiv or a similar site.

5. Support free journals by publishing in them, refereeing for them, editing them… even starting your own!

6. Help make sure free journals and the arXiv stay free.

7. Help start a system of independent ‘referee boards‘ for arXiv papers. These can referee papers and help hiring, tenure and promotion committees to assess the worth of papers, eliminating the last remaining reasons for the existence of traditional for-profit journals.

The nice thing is that most of these are easy to do! Only items 5 through 7 require serious work. As for item 4, a lot of math and physics journals not only let you keep your article on the arXiv, but let you submit it by telling them its arXiv number! In math it’s easy to find these journals, because there’s a public list of them.

Of course, you should read the copyright agreement that you’ll be forced to sign before submitting to a journal or publishing a book. Check to see if you can keep your work on the arXiv, on your own website, etcetera. You can pretty much assume that any rights you don’t explicitly keep, your publisher will get. Eric Weisstein didn’t do this, and look what happened to him: he got sued and spent over a year in legal hell!

Luckily it’s not hard to read these copyright agreements: you can get them off the web. An extensive list is available from Sherpa, an organization devoted to free electronic archives.

If you think maybe you want to start your own journal, or move an existing journal to a cheaper publisher, read Joan Birman’s article about this. Go to the Create Change website and learn what other people are doing. Also check out SPARC—the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. They can help. And try the Budapest Open Access Initiative—they give out grants.

You can also support the Public Library of Science or join the Open Archives Initiative.

Also: if you like mathematics, tell your librarian about Mathematical Sciences Publishers, a nonprofit organization run by mathematicians for the purpose of publishing low-cost, high-quality math journals.

Which journals are overpriced?

In 1997 Robion Kirby urged mathematicians not to submit papers to, nor edit for, nor referee for overpriced journals. I think this suggestion is great, and it applies not just to mathematics but all disciplines. There is really no good reason for us to donate our work to profit-making corporations who sell it back to us at exorbitant prices! Indeed in climate science this has a terrible effect: crackpot bloggers distribute their misinformation free of charge, while lots of important serious climate science papers are hidden, available only to people who work at institutions with expensive subscriptions.

But how can you tell if a journal is overpriced? In mathematics, Up-to-date information on the rise of journal prices is available from the American Mathematical Society. They even include an Excel spreadsheet that lets you do your own calculations with this data! Some of this information is nicely summarized on a webpage by Ulf Rehmann. Using these tools you can make up your own mind which journals are too expensive to be worth supporting with your free volunteer labor.

What about other subjects? I don’t know. Maybe you do?

When I first learned how bad the situation was, I started by boycotting all journals published by Reed Elsevier. This juggernaut was formed by merger of Reed Publishing and Elsevier Scientific Press in 1993. In August 2001 it bought Harcourt Press—which in turn owned Academic Press, which ran a journal I helped edit, Advances in Mathematics. I don’t work for that journal anymore! The reason is that Reed Elsevier is a particularly bad culprit when it comes to charging high prices. You can see this from the above lists of journal prices, and you can also see it in the business news. In 2002, Forbes magazine wrote:

If you are not a scientist or a lawyer, you might never guess which company is one of the world’s biggest in online revenue. Ebay will haul in only $1 billion this year. Amazon has $3.5 billion in revenue but is still, famously, losing money. Outperforming them both is Reed Elsevier, the London-based publishing company. Of its $8 billion in likely sales this year, $1.5 billion will come from online delivery of data, and its operating margin on the internet is a fabulous 22%.

Credit this accomplishment to two things. One is that Reed primarily sells not advertising or entertainment but the dry data used by lawyers, doctors, nurses, scientists and teachers. The other is its newfound marketing hustle: Its CEO since 1999 has been Crispin Davis, formerly a soap salesman.

But Davis will have to keep hustling to stay out of trouble. Reed Elsevier has fat margins and high prices in a business based on information—a commodity, and one that is cheaper than ever in the internet era. New technologies and increasingly universal access to free information make it vulnerable to attack from below. Today pirated music downloaded from the web ravages corporate profits in the music industry. Tomorrow could be the publishing industry’s turn.

Some customers accuse Reed Elsevier of price gouging. Daniel DeVito, a patent lawyer with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, is a fan of Reed’s legal-search service, but he himself does free science searches on the Google site before paying for something like Reed’s ScienceDirect—and often finds what he’s looking for at no cost. Reed can ill afford to rest.

Why should we slave away unpaid to keep Crispin Davis and his ilk rolling in dough? There’s really no good reason.

Sneaky tricks

To fight against the free journals and the arXiv, publishing companies are playing sneaky tricks like these:

Proprietary Preprint Archives. Examples included ChemWeb and something they called "The Mathematics Preprint Server". The latter was especially devious, because mathematicians used to call the arXiv "the mathematics preprint server".

However, the Mathematics Preprint Server didn’t fool many smart people, so lots of the papers they got were crap, like a supposed proof of Goldbach’s conjecture, and a claim that the rotation of a galactic supercluster is due to a "topological defect" in spacetime. Eventually Elsevier gave up and stopped accepting new papers on their preprint server. Now it’s a laughable shadow of its former self. Similarly, ChemWeb was sold off.

Web Spamming. More recently, publishers have tried a new trick: “web spamming”, also known as “search engine spamming” or “cloaking”. The company gives search engine crawlers access to full-text articles — but when you try to read these articles, you get a "doorway page" demanding a subscription or payment. Sometimes you’ll even be taken to a page that has nothing to do with the paper you thought you were about to see!

Culprits include Springer, Reed Elsevier, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. The last one seems to have quit — but check out their powerpoint presentation on this subject, courtesy of Carl Willis.

If you see pages like this, report them to Google or your favorite search engine.

Journal Bundling. Worse still is the strategy of "bundling" subscriptions into huge all-or-nothing packages, so libraries can’t save money by ceasing to subscribe to a single journal. It’s a clever trap, especially because these bundled subscriptions look like a good deal at first. The cost becomes apparent only later. Now universities libraries are being bankrupted as the prices of these bundles keep soaring. The library of my own university, U.C. Riverside, barely has money for any books anymore!

Luckily, people are catching on. In 2003, Cornell University bravely dropped their subscription to 930 Elsevier journals. Four North Carolina universities have joined the revolt, and the University of California has also been battling Elsevier. For other actions universities have taken, read Peter Suber’s list.

Legal bullying. Large corporations like to scare people by means of threats of legal action backed up by deep pockets. A classic example is the lawsuit launched by Gordon and Breach against the American Physical Society for publishing lists of journal prices. Luckily they lost this suit.

Hiring a Dr. Evil lookalike as their PR consultant.

Click either of the pictures for an explanation.

65 Responses to Ban Elsevier

  1. John, you link to Sherpa/RoMEO for checking and comparing copyright agreements. There Elsevier is listed as a “RoMEO green publisher” meaning “author can archive pre-print and post-print”. What would you respond to somebody arguing as follows?

    “I can safely publish with Elsevier, because they allow me to have the preprint on the arXiv and on my personal homepage, i.e. people won’t be forced to buy overpriced Elsevier journals in order to access my work.”

    I’m not really inclined to actually put forward this argument, but I’d like your help in arguing against it.

    • John Baez says:

      I would be happy if all academics followed the advice given in this argument and:

      1) published with Elsevier,

      2) archived their papers in a freely available database,

      3) successfully convinced their universities to stop buying the Elsevier journal package, like Cornell University did, because it’s no longer necessary.

      If they only do 1), it’s no good at all. If they only do 1) and 2), our university libraries will still go broke. So they also need to do 3). Until this happens or Elsevier significantly lowers its prices and ends the practice of journal bundling, I’ll boycott Elsevier.

      Elsevier journals are sold in a single enormous ‘bundle’—libraries can’t choose to subscribe to just the ones they want. Then they keep raising the price, year after year. As a result of this sort of practice, when the economic crisis hit the University of California, my library at U.C. Riverside had its book budget cut by almost 90%, because journals were deemed important and it was impossible to stop buying just some of them.

      And then there are little things like this:

      • Elsevier’s recent support of the Research Works Act, which would try to roll back the US government’s requirement that taxpayer-funded medical research be made freely available online.

      • The six fake medical journals Elsevier created, which had articles that looked like peer-reviewed research, but were actually advertisements paid for by the drug company Merck.

      • The Chaos, Solitons and Fractals fiasco, in which the editor of an Elsevier journal published over 300 of his own papers until he was finally caught—not by Elsevier (thus revealing the lack of a quality control system), but by outsiders, like the journal Nature, whom the editor is now suing.

      • Elsevier’s support of arms dealers, which was eventually broken by some vigorous protests.

      • Elsevier’s support of PRISM, a publisher’s group who hired Eric Dezenhall, the ‘pit bull of PR’, to launch a deceptive campaign against open-access journals. According to an article in Nature:

      From e-mails passed to Nature, it seems Dezenhall spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). A follow-up message in which Dezenhall suggests a strategy for the publishers provides some insight into the approach they are considering taking.

      The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship”. He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”.

      Dezenhall also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists. One suggestion was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington DC, which has used oil-industry money to promote sceptical views on climate change. Dezenhall estimated his fee for the campaign at $300,000-$500,000.

      In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley’s director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: “Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate”.

      All this sort of thing has made me come to dislike Elsevier. However, the decisive factor is that their prices and journal bundling are making my university’s library unable to buy books. The fact that they let people put their papers on websites does not help solve this problem.

      • Curtis Faith says:

        Nice, I was hoping you’d get behind this.

        It kills me that I can never ever read papers because the abstracts are never complete enough and $15 to $35 bucks a paper is an outrage for research that was largely funded by taxpayers.

        I’d love to strategize on replacements for these journals. I’m working on tech architecture and systems for open science and collaboration, i.e. Azimuth Infrastructure 2.0 :-)

        Hope you have some time around your Google Talk where we could have a beer or glass of wine and discuss this and ways to save the planet.

        This issues is a very big deal for global poor autodidacts who want to keep up with the latest science but can’t afford the fees.

      • John Baez says:

        Curtis wrote:

        Nice, I was hoping you’d get behind this.

        I’ve been thinking about replacements for the journal system for over a decade… so when Tim Gowers cleverly decided to start this ‘Cost of Knowledge’ website, I realized it was a great time to remind people of the problems and the solutions.

        I’d love to strategize on replacements for these journals.

        In math and physics the time is ripe to try this: it’s incredibly easy from a technical standpoint; it just requires some energetic people to do it.

        In other fields a bit more groundwork is needed.

        Hope you have some time around your Google Talk where we could have a beer or glass of wine and discuss this and ways to save the planet.

        Are you talking about the talk when I’ll be sitting at my computer in my apartment in Singapore at 8 am? I could drink some beer after that but it doesn’t make sense. We could do a Skype chat someday though—that would be good.

      • Thanks, John. Signed.

  2. tomate says:

    I just started refereeing for a Phys. Lett. A article and, although I would like to refuse now that I read this, since I already accepted it would not be fair to the author to withdraw, making refereeing time even longer. It’s the first time I referee, one of my articles was refused by PLA although I thought (and I still think) that it was a very good piece and that the refereeing was very badly done. So in my mind I started thinking that collaborating with them will get them more confident about my work and maybe assign me better referees next time – who knows. Certainly telling them “I’m not refereeing anymore because you’re Elsevier for this and that very good reason” would cut me off as important journals as Physica A, Phys. Lett. A, Physics Reports.

    What I want to say is that for a young researcher it’s hard to take such stands. Actually, for a physicist it’s not that bad, as there are valid alternatives (I assume that APS and IOP journals are all right, is that true?). But for medicine, it’s very very hard. My girlfriend is probably going to publish on Brain soon; and this could be a turn in her career.

    So, the young are pretty much obliged to partecipate. On the other hand, for older researchers and professors it’s culturally very difficult to stop this kind of habit, because they are used to the system, maybe they are friend with people who work in it, and maybe they are part of the system already.

    • John Baez says:

      You may consider yourself obliged to publish in Elsevier-run journals, but you don’t need to do unpaid work refereeing for them!

      You are not morally obliged to do unpaid work for them just because your own papers are refereed by unpaid workers. Once this was part of a social contract. But that social contract broke down when Elsevier started driving your university’s library towards financial ruin by selling its journals in a large ‘bundle’ and then continually increasing their prices at a rapid rate.

      Peter Suber has described this business strategy as “accelerating into a brick wall”. I hope Elsevier is starting to hit the wall.

  3. Giuseppe Primiero (@gprimiero) says:

    My 2 cents: someone has still to address the issue of evaluations (pre and post tenure) in academy, which is essentially based on publication in precisely the journals that keep the whole system going. Until academics are allowed to do research and publish open, protests are doomed to fail.

    • John Baez says:

      In math and physics, or any field where there is already something like the ‘arXiv’, the time is ripe need to pursue item 7 on my list:

      Help start a system of independent ‘referee boards‘ for arXiv papers. These can referee papers and help hiring, tenure and promotion committees to assess the worth of papers, eliminating the last remaining reasons for the existence of traditional for-profit journals.

      Andrew Stacey has some good ideas on how this should work:

      My proposal would be to have “boards” that produce a list of “important papers” each time period (monthly, quarterly, annually – there’d be a place for each). The characteristics that I would consider important would be:

      1. The papers themselves reside on the arXiv. A board certifies a particular version, so the author can update their paper if they wish.

      2. A paper can be “certified” by any number of boards. This would mean that boards can have different but overlapping scopes. For example, the Edinburgh mathematical society might wish to produce a list of significant papers with Scottish authors. Some of these will be in topology, whereupon a topological journal might also wish to include them on their list.

      3. A paper can be recommended to a board in one of several ways: an author can submit their paper, the board can simply decide to list a particular paper (without the author’s permission), an “interested party” can recommend a particular paper by someone else.

      4. Refereeing can be more finely grained. The “added value” from the listing can be the amount of refereeing that happened, and (as with our nJournal) the type of refereeing can be shown. In the case of a paper that the board has decided themselves to list, the letter to the author might say, “We’d like to list your paper in our yearly summary of advances in Topology. However, our referee has said that it needs the following polishing before we do that. Would you be willing to do this so that we can list it?”

      Note that any number of boards can exist; anyone can start one! This will allow for competition, experimentation, and improvement. The best ones will become important, the bad ones will be ignored. Some boards can act like existing journals and pick papers in a specific subject; other boards can adopt new principles, like ‘what the faculty at Harvard consider the 10 most significant math papers of the year’.

      Only time will decide that principles work well: there’s no point in arguing about it now—and the great thing is, there’s no need to.

      So, some people should just start some referee boards now and see what happens! Only a few people will take them seriously at first; but in a decade lots of people will—because the traditional journals have made themselves too expensive, and they rely on unpaid labor.

  4. Peter Morgan says:

    An additional tactic might be to include ONLY the arXiv or other pre-print reference, when available and accurate enough to the published version, when citing papers from Reed Elsevier. It’s a question whether editors of individual journals would let this go through, but it can be implemented in pre-print versions. If the arXiv version has the DOI listed, the published paper would be indirectly accessible through that route.

  5. Curtis Faith says:

    It’s time for refereed and high-quality journals for the 21st century.

    ArXiv is a start but there is no curation. The loose system of bloggers and linking works decent if you already know where to find the right blogs and voices. If you are new, it’s hard to sort the BS from the nuggets.

    The era of print-based business models is over. Let’s build what we want from scratch, the time is ripe. The old publishing order is dying.

    • Eric says:

      Our friends who developed the predecessor to the Azimuth wiki, which uses the same software, has created a refereed journal:

      Publications of the nLab

      It would be simple to duplicate this for any topic you like, e.g. Azimuth. I think the format looks really good.

  6. Graham says:

    I just came across this:

    “Researchers financed by the Swedish Research Council must publish with open access, which means that anyone using the Internet can freely read and download the research results.”

    Is this a common practice among funding bodies?

    • John Baez says:

      Good question! You can see how open access mandates are spreading at the nicely named ROARMAP website. That stands for Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies.

      Apparently all seven UK Research Councils have open access mandates. But let me talk a bit more about the battle in the US, since that’s what I know best.

      In the US, the National Institute of Health led the charge with a potent Public Access Policy:

      It requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication. To help advance science and improve human health, the Policy requires that these papers are accessible to the public on PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication.

      This is a big deal, since the National Institute of Health funds a lot of research!

      Then, in 2007, the American Association of Publishers started PRISM to preempt attempts to extend this policy to other funding bodies, like the NSF. This is when they hired Eric Dezenhall, the ‘pit bull of PR’, to confuse people by spreading the myth ‘open access means no peer review’.

      Now they’re pushing the Research Works Act, which would prohibit open access mandates for federally funded research—and even overturn the National Institute of Health’s existing policy!

      Another kind of open access mandate is catching on, though. The faculty of Harvard University passed an open access policy like this:

      By means of Harvard’s Open Access Policy, faculty authors in participating schools grant the university a nonexclusive, irrevocable right to distribute their scholarly articles for any non-commercial purpose.

      Scholarly articles provided to the university are stored, preserved, and made freely accessible in digital form in DASH, Harvard University Library’s open access repository. The repository has the institution of Harvard standing behind it to ensure its availability, longevity, and functionality.

      Apparently 85 other universities worldwide have done the same, including MIT, Stanford, University College London, and the University of Edinburgh.

  7. Yrogirg says:

    Addressing “Today pirated music downloaded from the web ravages corporate profits in the music industry. Tomorrow could be the publishing industry’s turn.” I would say in Russia that kind of piracy for scientific articles is organized quite well. Since recently really well. And I guess the same is true for China.

    • John Baez says:

      I know a prominent mathematician, who will remain unnamed, who has advocated crushing the journals by copying vast numbers of math papers onto BitTorrent. I guess the Russians are taking the lead here! And yes, probably the Chinese as well.

      I haven’t actually seen pirated scientific articles from Russia—maybe because I haven’t looked. But I’ve seen extensive collections of pirated science books at Byelorussian websites. When I got the rights back to my book Introduction to Algebraic and Constructive Quantum Field Theory, I started distributing the book freely in a djvu format that I found on a Byelorussian website.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        This is something that we need to see more anecdotes about: authors who are helped by ‘pirates’.

      • Yrogirg says:

        Today I checked that pirate project, they were fundraising for a hosting and proxies unreachable for those “evil capitalists” (yep, that’s the style they used to shape the plead :D ). But the interesting part is that comrades claim there are around 50 million of paywalled articles of which they have already downloaded and stored 22 million. The project operates since 2011 and I think there are good chances in a few coming years to fill that 30 million gap. Or how they call it “liberate articles from capitalist oppression” :-) Provided, of course, the fundraising succeeds.

  8. Peter says:

    John, how would you feel about adding the following?

    4) In hiring& tenure evaluations: undervalue papers in Elsevier journals (i.e., automatically reduce impact factors and other metrics).

    I know it’s drastic and you might think it hurts the wrong people. However, I don’t think the problem is “Elsevier is evil”, but rather that it does what our community wants from it, create journals with high impact factors.

    As long as we reduce people to the impact factors of the journals they publish in, we will only replace one “tyrant” with another. (Case in point, in the link about journal pricing you provided, the AMS journals come right after all the Elsevier journals…)

    If we can’t find alternatives, i.e., other (efficient) tools to evaluate researchers activity, then we won’t break out of the monoculture that is papers-in-journals publishing. It is this monoculture that breeds monopolistic entities like Elsevier.

  9. John Baez says:

    In the day since I posted this blog entry the number of signatories has gone from 404 to 561. Look for your favorite bigshots! And sign it yourself.

  10. Walter Blackstock says:

    Often librarians are squeezed between academics who can cancel nothing and have no idea of price or practice and the publishers who long ago understood this. In defense of librarians, who should be part of the solution: “Liberating Knowledge: a Librarian’s Manifesto for Change” by Barbara Fister, is worth reading.

    There’s a different discussion to be had on text- or, for example, chemical structure-mining, or re-using supplementary data (often GBytes). I believe this is usually disallowed and the unusual access patterns risk suspension of the account for the whole institute or university until the problem is resolved to the publisher’s satisfaction.

    “Accelerating into a brick-wall” sounds apt.

  11. Susana Salamanca says:

    How about supporting the AMS publications and the like?

    • John Baez says:

      Yes, and it’s not just math: professional societies often (but not always!) have more affordable journals that are still of high quality. By the way, I’ll soon be joining a new editorial board for the AMS website, which is slated to take on a new life, more independent from that of their existing journals. I hope we can do interesting new things there!

      (Maybe I’ll try to convince the AMS to run some sort of ‘review board’ of the sort I’ve proposed. That will doubtless be an uphill battle.)

    • Blake Stacey says:

      I heard a rumour that the AMS website has blogs on it somewhere, cleverly hidden from prying eyes.

      • John Baez says:

        I will try to unearth them. Blogs run by institutions, rather than living breathing people, often seem to do rather poorly. I think a lot of institutions say “we need a blog!” and they say, “umm, but that means we need someone to run it”, and then enlist someone to do it—someone who may not be bursting with enthusiasm.

        The International Mathematical Union (IMU) has a blog all about math journals. The latest post is called ‘Beyond journals’. In principle we should be discussing these things there! But all the posts there need to be approved, and the head blogger is not the one who has control over the technical guts of the blog, and the turnaround is slow, so the conversation seems less than lively—typical of institutional blogs.

  12. Michael Fuller says:

    While I empathize with the spirit and motivation of the proposed Elsevier ban, I wonder about it’s practicality and consequences for research. Elsevier publishes 2631 journal titles (based on my own tally from its web site), many of which are prominent in their respective fields. Before joining the ban, it seems reasonable to ask: “What does it mean to “refrain from publishing” in any Elsevier journal?” Doesn’t it imply that I refrain from collaborating with colleagues who publish in Elsevier journals? Would that not impose my ethical decision (not to publish in Elsevier) on my colleagues, who might not share my view? Would it not impose a limitation on who I work with, ultimately influencing the topics of my research? I think we need to think this through a bit more. Or at least provide some definitions of guidelines on what the ban proposes.

    • Todd Trimble says:

      Michael Fuller:

      Doesn’t it imply that I refrain from collaborating with colleagues who publish in Elsevier journals?

      No. It just means that we, as free agents in control of our individual actions, refuse to cooperate directly with Elsevier. What other people do is really up to them.

      Of course, one is free not to cooperate with people who cooperate with Elsevier, and apply as many iterations of that as one could stand, but that would be somewhat crazy IMO, as well as totally impractical as you suggest.

    • John Baez says:

      There’s the issue of coauthored papers where one author turns out to have their heart set on publishing in an Elsevier journal while another has pledged not to—but this is just a variant of the usual issue where one author has their heart set on publishing in Journal X while another wants Journal Y. And that, in turn, is just a variant of the issue where I want pepperoni on my pizza but my coauthor James Dolan is vegetarian. In life one learns to deal with these things.

  13. I think the most effective way to combat the issue of overpriced journals is the Green Open Access model. Steven Harnad is the biggest proponent of this model, and he can argue it better than I can, see

    Let me summarize the Green Open Access model.

    1. Everyone self-archives (the aim is that universities mandate staff to do this, such as Harvard, MIT, etc. already do) the final, peer-reviewed draft of their articles on their institutional repositories. Over 60% of all publishers currently allow this, and almost all of the major publishers do (including Elsevier).

    2. In the rare cases where self-archiving is not allowed, the scholar is still mandated by his / her university to upload the metadata of the article. The repository then contains an “Email me eprint” button. Upon pushing this, the author gets an email with a link in it, and one click then sends an eprint to the requester (this is completely allowed under “Fair use”).

    3. The net result is that 100% of all articles produced are available online – most immediately, and a tiny minority after a day or two (the time it takes for the author to check his/her email and click the link.)

    4. Libraries stop buying overpriced journals (why should they when it is available for free.)

    5. Publishing houses like Elsevier realize they need to change their business model: instead of being in the business of -selling journals-, they become more in the business of -managing the editorial process-. The actual journal articles themselves are available for free.

    6. These new companies / services are funded by the academic libraries (in one possible model anyway)… at a tiny fraction of the cost it used to take to buy the old overpriced journals.

    7. When the big companies like Elsevier realize there is no longer an easy buck to be made in the academic publishing business anymore, they unbundle and sell-off their journals. We “get back” famous titles like “Topology”, which then are snapped up by service-based “editorial houses” (instead of publishing houses).

    This is more of a “digging away at the foundations” of companies like Elsevier than a full frontal attack, such as the one Tim Gowers is promoting. Over time, a new journal industry organically emerges. That’s the idea, anyway. And the librarians support it, I believe. Like Ellen Tise, the past-president of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (see .

    • gowers says:

      Just to say that this method of attack sounds to me as though it has a lot to recommend it. I also think the best thing is probably to attack on as many fronts as possible, so one initiative doesn’t preclude another.

      It also occurs to me that a simple measure (but perhaps not so simple politically — I don’t know) would be for a body such as the IMU to announce that its policy is that from, say, the beginning of 2014, no library will need to subscribe to any mathematics journal, since all mathematicians will be expected to ensure that their work is freely available. If libraries are explictly told, by a reputable source, that mathematicians don’t need them in order to get hold of journal articles, then it will hugely increase their bargaining power. Of course, it helps a lot if other subjects do the same.

    • Tom Leinster says:

      A decisive statement from the IMU could have a big effect. But would the IMU do it? Who has the ear of the IMU council?

  14. […] Via John Baez, I came across a proposal for replacing academic journals with overlay boards that seems […]

  15. […] In fact, Elsevier, acknowledged by many to be the leader in the greed-pack – see how some scientists are staging their protest; also here) made US$1.1 billion in 2010! […]

  16. […] would further the cause. Such a website now exists, with hundreds of academics signing-up so far. John Baez has a nice write-up of the problem and possible […]

  17. […] John Baez, a mathematical physicist at the University of California, Riverside, has an overview post on his Azimuth blog […]

  18. John Baez says:

    The number of signatories has now hit 1361.

  19. […] Although I consider myself a strong open access advocate, I did not sign the PLoS open letter in 2001, since at the time I was a post-doc and not in a position fully to control where I published. Nevertheless, I have steadily adopted most of the policies of the open letter, especially as my group has gotten more heavily involved in text-mining research over the years. This became especially true after a nasty encounter with one publisher in 2008 […]

    • John Baez says:

      This blog entry is worth reading. It leads up to a sample response to editors of journals you don’t want to referee for:

      From: “Michael Ashburner”
      Date: 30 August 2008
      To: “Casey Bergman”
      Subject: Just say No

      Dear Editor,

      Thank you for your invitation to review for your journal. Because it is not open access and does not provide its back content to PubMed Central, or any similar resource, I regret that I am unwilling to do this.

      I would urge you to seriously reconsider both policies and would ask that you send this letter to your co-editors and publisher. In the event that you do change your policy, even to the extent of providing your back content to PubMed Central, or a similar resource, then I will be happy to review for you.

      The scientific literature is at present the most significant resource available to researchers. Without access to the literature we cannot do science in any scholarly manner. Your journal refuses to embrace the idea that the purpose of the scientific literature is to communicate knowledge, not to make a profit for publishers. Without the free input of manuscripts and referees’ time your journal would not exist. By and large, the great majority of the work you publish is paid for by taxpayers. We now, either as individuals or as researchers whose grants are top-sliced, have to pay to read our own work and that of our colleagues, either personally or through our institutes’ libraries. I find that, increasingly, literature that is not available by open access is simply being ignored. Moreover, I am very aware that, increasingly, discovering information from the literature relies on some sort of computational analysis. This can only be effective if the entire content of primary research papers is freely available. Finally, by not being an open access journal you are disenfranchising both scientists who cannot afford (or whose institutions cannot afford) to pay for access and the general public.

      There are now several good models for open access publication, and I would urge your journal to adopt one of these. There is an extensive literature on open access publishing, and its economic implications. I would be pleased to send you references to this literature.

      Yours sincerely,

      Michael Ashburner

      Over on Google+, Chris Schommer-Pries and I have also publicized sample letters of this general sort, aimed at editors of Elsevier journals. A collection of them might make it easier to compose such letters.

    • Blake Stacey says:

      Might as well collect some of those example letters here. Here’s one from Christopher Schommer-Pries on Google+:

      Dear [Assistant Editor for Elsevier owned Journal]

      I regret that I must decline to referee this article. This saddens me as I am familiar with the work in question and it is a great result.

      [Elsevier owned Journal] is owned by the publishing conglomerate Elsevier and I cannot in good conscience freely donate my time and expertise to a corporation notorious for the exploitation of academia and opposed to the public dissemination of research largely sponsored and paid for by the public.

      Elsevier is well known for its overly high journal prices and seedy practice of academic journal bundling. I might be able to look past these exploitative acts if it weren’t for Elsevier’s more recent agressive activities. Elsevier supports SOPA, PIPA, and the extremely troubling Research Works Acts (RWA). Elsevier has made large contributions to the lawmakers directly responsable for introducing the RWA. I find this completely unacceptable and I will not donate my time refereeing for, nor submit my research to, any Elsevier owned journal until they publicly reverse their stance and oppose this legislation both vocally and financially.

      I implore both you and [The Handling Editor] to reconsider whether you wish to continue to support Elsevier and its activities with your time, energy, and expertise.

      Christopher Schommer-Pries

      And here’s one from our host, which was also posted on Google+.

      Dear Sir –

      I’m sorry, I don’t do free work for Elsevier. The reason is that Reed Elsevier is a particularly bad culprit when it comes to charging high journal prices – prices that are making it impossible for universities like my own to buy books! You can see this from lists of journal prices, and you can also see it here:

      I’ll quote just a little:

      “Murdoch pays his journalists and editors, and his companies generate much of the content they use. But the academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose.The returns are astronomical: in the past financial year, for example, Elsevier’s operating profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn). They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles.”

      “More importantly, universities are locked into buying their products. Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. In many cases the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all. Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.”

      I hope you reconsider working for Elsevier, especially if they’re not paying you well.


      John Baez

  20. John Baez says:

    Hey—thanks to a Slashdot comment on this blog article, the number of hits on this blog spiked from the usual 60-200 hits per hour to 1664 hits per hour!

    I hope it does some good.

  21. […] people include a few notable bloggers are saying that we should all boycott Elsevier who publish science journals and […]

  22. […] As of this minute, 1890 scholars have signed a pledge not to cooperate with the publisher Elsevier. People are starting to notice. According to this […]

  23. Punksta says:

    You have fundamentally misdiagnosed the problem and misidentified the villain here.

    The true villain is the state – by far the nastiest and biggest monopoly of all – that has forcefully extracted taxes from the public, yet will not return to the public the science it has used the money for. It has created the vacuum that Elsevier is merely filling.

  24. […] zarzutem, podnoszonym przez Johna Baeza we wpisie Ban Elsevier, jest zatrudnienie sobowtóra Doktora Zło jako konsultanta od piaru: Eric Dezenhall Doktor […]

  25. […] According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “A protest against Elsevier, the world’s largest scientific journal publisher, is rapidly gaining momentum since it began as an irate blog post at the end of January. By Tuesday evening, about 2,400 scholars had put their names to an online pledge not to publish or do any editorial work for the company’s journals, including refereeing papers.” […]

  26. […] At Azimuth, John Baez follows up on Tim Gowers’s Elsevier boycott […]

  27. Doug Arnold says:

    While Elsevier’s high prices, aggressive bundling, and advocacy against opening access are all good reasons to support a boycott, I find their many violations of ethical and quality publishing practices to be the most compelling reasons. I have summarized a number of these in a posting at the IMU journals blog.

  28. […] John Baez: Ban Elsevier […]

  29. John Baez says:

    Ingrid Daubechies, president of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), has signed the Elsevier boycott, saying she won’t referee and won’t do editorial work in Elsevier journals. She commented, “I have just resigned from my editorial roles.”

    Now we need some bigshot physicists to step up to the plate and do the same!

  30. […] January 27th was my biggest day so far. Slashdot discovered my post about the Elsevier boycott, and send 3468 readers my way. But a total 6499 people viewed that post, so a bunch must have come […]

  31. John Carlos Baez takes on the issue open access for journals in this post, with some excellent and practical recommendations. Must read for those of you interested in the […]

  32. M.E. says:
    Aaron Swartz, Coder and Activist, Dead at 26
    Kevin Poulsen
    13 Jan 2013

    > We often say, upon the passing of a friend or loved one, that the world is a poorer place for the loss. But with the untimely death of programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, this isn’t just a sentiment; it’s literally true. Worthy, important causes will surface without a champion equal to their measure. Technological problems will go unsolved, or be solved a little less brilliantly than they might have been. And that’s just what we know. The world is robbed of a half-century of all the things we can’t even imagine Aaron would have accomplished with the remainder of his life.
    The web responds to the death of hacker-activist Aaron Swartz
    Mathew Ingram
    12 Jan 2013

    > The open web and freedom of information in general lost one of their most passionate proponents yesterday, with the death of early Reddit staffer and Demand Progress founder Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide on Friday, according to a family member. He was facing federal charges for hacking into the JSTOR academic database and downloading millions of research papers, but had also reportedly suffered from depression. He was 26 years old.
    Internet pioneer and information activist takes his own life
    Timothy B. Lee
    12 Jan 2013

    > Unfortunately, Aaron’s penchant for defying social convention may have been his undoing. He was arrested in 2011 for scraping articles from the academic archive JSTOR. Facing hacking charges that could put him in prison for decades, Aaron took his own life on Friday.
    The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz
    Glenn Greenwald
    12 Jan 2013

    > he committed himself to the causes in which he so passionately believed: internet freedom, civil liberties, making information and knowledge as available as possible… Critically, Swartz didn’t commit himself to these causes merely by talking about them or advocating for them. He repeatedly sacrificed his own interests, even his liberty, in order to defend these values and challenge and subvert the most powerful factions that were their enemies. That’s what makes him, in my view, so consummately heroic… Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power…Swartz knew all of this. But he forged ahead anyway. He could have easily opted for a life of great personal wealth, status, prestige and comfort. He chose instead to fight – selflessly, with conviction and purpose, and at great risk to himself – for noble causes to which he was passionately devoted. That, to me, isn’t an example of heroism; it’s the embodiment of it, its purest expression. It’s the attribute our country has been most lacking.
    Internet activist, programmer Aaron Swartz dead at 26
    Alex Dobuzinskis and P.J. Huffstutter
    12 Jan 2013

    > JSTOR did not press charges against Swartz after the digitized copies of the articles were returned, according to media reports at the time. Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted. He was released on bond. His trial was scheduled to start later this year. In a statement released Saturday, the family and partner of Swartz praised his “brilliance” and “profound” commitment to social justice, and struck out at what they said were decisions made at MIT and by prosecutors that contributed to his death. “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement said. “The U.S. Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims,” it added.
    The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz
    Matthew Yglesias
    13 Jan 2013

    > Should people illegally duplicate academic research? I’ll just say that the other day a friend mentioned to me an academic article that he was interested in and I thought the title and abstract were interesting too. But none of us could read it. So I went on Twitter and asked if any of the academics among my followers would send me a copy. Within an hour I had a couple dozen instances of the article in question, forwarded a copy to my friend, and we both read it. That to me seemed wonderful. The public directly and indirectly subsidizes an awful lot of academic research on the theory that knowledge is an important public good. So the public should have access to it! We should be able to arrange the institutions such that this vast storehouse of human knowledge is open to the world without people breaking into closets at MIT or having a large social media presence they can take advantage of.
    Farewell to Aaron Swartz, an extraordinary hacker and activist
    Peter Eckersley
    12 Jan 2013

    > Aaron did more than almost anyone to make the Internet a thriving ecosystem for open knowledge, and to keep it that way. His contributions were numerous, and some of them were indispensable. When we asked him in late 2010 for help in stopping COICA, the predecessor to the SOPA and PIPA Internet blacklist bills, he founded an organization called Demand Progress, which mobilized over a million online activists and proved to be an invaluable ally in winning that campaign.
    Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013: a computer hacker who is now a political martyr
    Virginia Heffernan
    12 Jan 2013

    > Sample papers Swartz attempted to set free include “John Berryman: The Poetics of Martyrdom” and “Mapping the Niger, 1798-1832: Trust, Testimony and ‘Ocular Demonstration’ in the Late Enlightenment.” On its own initiative, JSTOR, which hosts the academic papers and never pressed charges against Swartz, started offering limited free access to its archive just this week.
    Aaron Swartz, Internet Pioneer, Found Dead Amid Prosecutor ‘Bullying’ In Unconventional Case
    12 Jan 2013

    > But the government pressed on, interpreting Swartz’s actions as a federal crime, alleging mass theft, damaged computers and wire fraud, and suggesting that Swartz stood to gain financially. Federal prosecutors describe Swartz’s downloading too quickly from a database to which JSTOR granted him and millions of other scholars free access as:

    > “Aaron Swartz devised a scheme to defraud JSTOR of a substantial number of journal articles which they had invested in collecting, obtaining the rights to distribute and digitizing,” the indictment reads. “He sought to defraud MIT and JSTOR of rights and property.” The prosecutors seem unaware that if an article is downloaded, the original copy remains with the owner.

    > The indictment also says that, “Swartz intended to distribute these articles through one or more file-sharing sites.” JSTOR has just released 4.5 million articles to public this week.
    RIP, Aaron Swartz
    Cory Doctorow
    12 Jan 2013

    > Aaron’s recklessness put him right in harm’s way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn’t an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn’t done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out.

    > Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. I heard lots of theories: the feds who’d tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him; the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them, and other, less credible theories. A couple of lawyers close to the case told me that they thought Aaron would go to jail.
    The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”
    Alex Stamos
    12 Jan 2013

    > I have led the investigation of dozens of computer crimes, from Latvian hackers blackmailing a stock brokerage to Chinese government-backed attacks against dozens of American enterprises. I have investigated small insider violations of corporate policy to the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have responded to break-ins at social networks, e-tailers and large banks. While we are no stranger to pro bono work, having served as experts on EFF vs Sony BMG and Sony vs Hotz, our reports have also been used in the prosecution of at least a half dozen attackers. In short, I am no long-haired-hippy-anarchist who believes that anything goes on the Internet. I am much closer to the stereotypical capitalist-white-hat sellout that the antisec people like to rant about (and steal mail spools from) in the weeks before BlackHat.

    > I know a criminal hack when I see it, and Aaron’s downloading of journal articles from an unlocked closet is not an offense worth 35 years in jail.
    Prosecutor as bully
    Larry Lessig
    12 Jan 2013

    > Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.

    > Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
    RIP Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)
    D S Wright
    12 Jan 2013

    > In a country full of stupid laws – written by corrupt politicians, refined by maniacal bureaucrats, and enforced by ruthless careerists – few are stupider than the current version of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. On the surface it seems sensible, first passed in 1986 as a basic legal protection against unauthorized access of federal or major corporate computer systems the law has since expanded (with particular help from the PATRIOT Act) into an amorphous blob of contradictions that is only temporally congealed into a semblance of rational jurisprudence to offer a pretext for selective prosecutions. In short, the law has become a favorite club of the state to beat political dissidents with and so it is that in enforcing this asinine law a luminary of the internet has been hounded into an early grave.
    My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved.
    Quinn Norton
    12 Jan 2013

    > I can only say I love him. That I will always love him, and that I known for years I would. Aaron was a boy, not big, who cast a shadow across the world.
    Family blames US attorneys for death of Aaron Swartz
    Megan Geuss
    13 Jan 2013

    > On Saturday afternoon, Swartz’s family and his partner released a statement … “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”
    MIT president calls for “thorough analysis” of school’s involvement with Swartz
    Nathan Mattise
    13 Jan 2013
    Digital Activist Aaron Swartz Dead At 26
    John Biggs
    Aaron Swartz, Internet Pioneer, Found Dead Amid Prosecutor ‘Bullying’ In Unconventional Case
    12 Jan 2013
    Aaron Swartz, internet freedom activist, dies aged 26
    13 Jan 2013
    Computer Activist Accused of Rogue Downloading Commits Suicide
    Andrew Mytelka
    12 Jan 2013
    Saying Hello and Goodbye to Aaron Swartz
    Joey deVilla
    12 Jan 2013

  33. […] Admito que há inúmeras propostas de reforma, mesmo em comunidades epistêmicamente probas, há problemas de publicação.  O ponto aqui é reconhecer algo […]

  34. Don’t get me wrong. Elsevier isn’t the only publisher infamous for publishing fake research, fake journals and generally trying to extract super-profits from academics. But today it has shot itself in the face in spectacular fashion.

    [] has removed an academic paper from its website, and actually written to the academic saying “ is committed to enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature. Elsevier takes a different view, and is currently upping the ante in its opposition to academics sharing their own papers online.”

  35. Dana Livingston says:

    A friend who is familiar with my problems with Reed Elsevier recommended this blog and blogpost to me, where I discover confirmation of broader implications of Elsevier’s abusive practices.

    Arriving a bit late to the discussion, here, I’d like to point out, nevertheless, that Elsevier’s policies affect not only scientists, universities, authors, and an interested public, but tens of thousands of sub-contractors as well.

    I work as a graphic designer / illustrator in science and medicine, in Paris, France, where Reed Elsevier muscled its way in to establish a virtual monopoly on scientific and medical publishing by roughly 2005, having bought up every last, specialized French publishing company: Vigot, Masson, EMC [Encyclopédie Médico-Chirurgicale], including various subsidiaries. Why the French government would have allowed such a takeover is an open question …

    Working for the EMC for 18 years before the company was purchased by Elsevier, I traveled all over France to meet with authors of submitted papers, to discuss and outline the best approach to depiction of their studies. That important collaboration, and much else, ended with the arrival of Elsevier.

    Remuneration for sub-contracted art work was cut in half, cession of copyright to Elsevier, for all time and all publication formats, was imposed. Illustration became factory work, handed out to young, inexperienced illustrators, the consequence of which has been the loss of important information and communication.

    I intend to take Elsevier to court for its blatant violation of copyright law and contracts, but since Elsevier deliberately blocks contact between its sub-contracted illustrators and designers, I’ll be on my own.

    If anyone has knowledge of organized actions against Elsevier on the part of sub-contractors, please post any information you may have.

    • John Baez says:

      I wish you luck!

      Would it be okay if I repost your remarks on Google+, together with your name and perhaps some way to contact you? I have lots of readers there; one of them might help you. Here’s something I posted about Elsevier yesterday over there:

      The number of people boycotting Elsevier keeps going up! Here’s the graph for 2013. See the sudden increase at the end? That’s because Elsevier forced the paper-sharing website to take down some papers.

      In retaliation, sent out emails like this:

      Unfortunately, we had to remove your paper […] due to a take-down notice from Elsevier. is committed to enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature. Elsevier takes a different view, and is currently upping the ante in its opposition to academics sharing their own papers online.

      Over the last year, more than 13,000 professors have signed a petition voicing displeasure at Elsevier’s business practices at If you have any comments or thoughts, we would be glad to hear them.

      Join in! If you haven’t signed the petition yet, now is a good time!

      And here’s a question: what made so many people sign the petition in May? The bottom of this graph is not zero, it’s 12,500 people, so the rise is not as impressive at it looks – but still, something happened in May.

      • Dana Livingston says:

        That’s an impressive, encouraging graph, compilation of a single years’ worth of data!

        Not only are you welcome to post my comment on Google+, I’d be very appreciative if you did. Though I’d prefer that you not reveal my name, which I used in a moment of enhanced fury over Elsevier’s actions. While there’s nothing I’d like more than to be associated with a broad movement, given Elsevier’s reach, associating my name with an isolated, personal intent to sue the company may not be a good idea.

        I looked for a means to establish contact with you, here, but didn’t find one.

  36. […] Y si lo de Nature y Science es un tema peludo, lo de Elsevier requiere una acción inmediata. […]

    • btrower says:

      Sorry for the ‘necropost’, but I think somebody should mention that the fundamental problem is not the particular bad actor ‘Elsevier’. Even if they are successfully challenged, the problem remains and another bad actor will simply take their place. As it becomes ever more possible to cheaply generate and store information, copyright monopolies become the chief impediment to the distribution of information. The ultimate solution is to simply outlaw copyrights and things meant to effectively replace them. Arguments that somehow this means creators won’t be paid have no merit. Scientific publishing is something of a ‘canary in a coal mine’ in that it shows the welfare of creators is largely irrelevant to the discussion. Until copyrights and patents are eliminated, the ability to use the world’s information will be ever more difficult to obtain at the same time that its cost of creation vanishes to zero.

  37. Perhaps some people here will be interested in an arXiv-overlay journal for astrophysics.

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