Many faculty members around the world — about 2900 as of this moment — have in the past few days signed a pledge to boycott Elsevier, a major commercial academic publisher. The list of signatories to date is impressive and growing quickly; you can see the current list at “The Cost of Knowledge” website, or if you wish can use that site to add your own name.
The signatories have committed not to publish, referee, or do editorial work for Elsevier journals “unless they radically change how they operate.”
Concerns with Elsevier mirror some that many UO librarians also feel — that Elsevier has been at the forefront of rapid increases in journal pricing, anti-competitive practices aimed at libraries such as “bundling,” monopolizing access to a large segment of the last 90 years of scholarly publishing, lobbying in favor of bills such as SOPA and a bill (the “Research Works Act“) that would repeal the NIH Public Access Policy, and in general a large number of small policies antithetical to author rights and to public access to research.
My own impression is that of all major academic publishers Elsevier is trying the hardest to kill disciplinary and institutional online repositories such as PubMed Central or the arXiv or our own Scholars Bank.
The new pledge, which was launched in a posting a week ago by Mathematics Fields Medalist Timothy Gower, seems to be setting a new standard for faculty revolt against publishers whose practices are seen as focused on profit to the detriment of improved public access to scientific information.
Interested in more perspective? “Elsevier Publishing Boycott Gathers Steam” and “As Journal Boycott Grows, Elsevier Defends Its Practices” in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education are quite good. Forbes also has an interesting economic analysis at “Elsevier’s Publishing Model Might be About to Go Up in Smoke.”
The UO doesn’t take a position on whether our faculty should sign this pledge. However, the UO Senate does have a formal recommendation (resolution passed in 2008) that all UO faculty authors include an author’s addendum as part of any copyright transfer. Such an addendum would let the original author retain rights that Elsevier clearly doesn’t want academic authors to keep, including the right to reuse your own work or to deposit a copy of the work in an online repository.
Director, Scholarly Communications
If you follow copyright and intellectual property legislation, you might get the impression that universities and libraries are under attack from the publishing industry. There have recently been a series of lawsuits and bills designed to strengthen content publishers at the expense of authors and universities.
One awful example is SOPA (and it’s companion bill in the Senate, PIPA), which attempts to combat online “piracy”, may pass, and if it does will have very negative consequences for the stability of the Internet since it undermines the domain name system on which the Internet depends. Many of us noted and supported the Internet blackout earlier this week, which seems to have had an effect in getting widespread attention for the problem. The UO’s congressional delegation is firmly opposed to PIPA and SOPA, but if you have colleagues at other institutions it would never hurt to alert them to the issues.
Another such bill is H.R. 3699, which would undo the progress that the National Institutes of Health have made in making taxpayer-funded research publicly available. H.R. 3699 has started to generate strong reactions from the academic community. For example, there was an excellent op ed piece in the New York Times last week by Michael Eisen — see “Research Bought, Then Paid For” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/11/opinion/research-bought-then-paid-for.html# In stark contrast, a recent OSTP request for information solicits advice that could result in extending the NIH public access mandate to more federal agencies. The UO filed a response discussing some of the benefits of improved public access. You can read it at https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/handle/1794/11810
Yet a third interesting bill is H.R. 3433 (aka the GRANT Act), which, nominally in the name of public access to information, in fact would have serious consequences for NSF funding since it would mandate public disclosure of the names of reviewers (bye bye blind peer review) and would publish all grant applications (bye bye competitive advantage as foreign countries jump on the bandwagon based on which NSF grants are funded before our researchers have a chance to do the research).
I’m happy to report that our Office of Public and Government Affairs (Betsy Boyd) is on top of all of these. She writes “There are several bills, as JQ noted, that threaten innovation and open access in the name of transparency and open access.”
We live in interesting times.