I thought that after last week, I’d be done talking with money for a little bit, but no sooner had I hit “submit” on my last Women in Academia post than the conversation brewing around the scientific publisher Elsevier hit a boiling point. Now, nearly 4500 and counting academics, scientists, and researchers have signed a petition boycotting Elsevier. Is it finally the chance to have a real conversation about open access to academic journals? I sure hope so.
The boycott began on January 21 by Professor Tim Gowers of Cambridge University, started by a blog post in which Gowers said he would no longer have anything to do with the publisher. The blog post was the culmination of several issues Gowers had with the academic publishing giant: the high cost of journal access, coupled with the company’s efforts to stop open access measures like the Research Works Act and its practice of “bundling” many journals together when selling subscriptions to libraries, made the costs of doing business far too high. Other academics are taking notice.
I fully support open access to academic publications–the cost of accessing information is prohibitive, and the cost of people not having access to that information is just too high. In many cases, the public, which, through its tax dollars supports much of the research published in these journals, is unable to access the very journals that publish the results of that research. Science and knowledge flourish through an open exchange of ideas in a transparent system that encourages dialogue. With journal access limited to large institutions that can afford the hefty fee, this open exchange is nearly impossible.
Open access journals, such as PLoS Biology, an open access peer reviewed journal, exist, and there’s been a growing movement to make research findings more accessible. While the Elsevier boycott is mostly symbolic, it may spark a necessary conversation about the future of academic publishing.