Why are scientists like me getting so worked up over Elsevier and other journal publishers? It must seem strange from the outside. This cartoon explains it very clearly. It’s hilarious—except that it’s TRUE!!! This is why we need a revolution.
(It’s true except for one small thing: in math and physics, Elsevier and Springer let us put our papers on our websites and free electronic archives… though not the final version, only the near-final draft. This is a concession we had to fight for.)
What can you do? Two easy things:
• If you’re an academic, add your name to the boycott of Elsevier.
• If you’re a US citizen, sign this White House petition before March 9.
Why the problem is hard
Why is it so hard it is to solve the journal problem? Here’s a quick simplified explanation for outsiders—people who don’t live in the world of university professors.
There are lots of open-access journals that are free to read but the author needs to pay a fee. There are even lots that are free to read and free for the author. Why doesn’t everyone switch to publishing in these? Lots of us have. But most haven’t. Two reasons:
1) These journals aren’t as “prestigious” as the journals owned by the evil Big Three publishers: Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley-Blackwell. In the last 30 years the Big Three bought most of the really “prestigious” journals – and a journal can’t become “prestigious” overnight, so while things are changing, they’re changing slowly.
Publishing in a “prestigious” journal helps you get hired, promoted, and get grants. “Prestige” is not a vague thing: it’s even measured numerically using something called the Impact Factor. It may be baloney, but it is collectively agreed-upon baloney. Trying to make it go away is like trying to make money go away: people would not know what to do without it.
2) It’s not the professors who pay the outrageous subscription fees for journals – it’s the university libraries. So nothing instantly punishes the professors for publishing in “prestigious” but highly expensive journals, except the nasty rules about resharing journal articles, which however are invisible if you live in a world of professors where everyone has library access!
So, the problem is hard to solve. The fight will be hard.
But we’ll win anyway, because the current situation is just too outrageous to tolerate. We have strategies and we’re pursuing lots of them. You can help by doing those two easy things.