Women In Academia

Women in Academia: What’s up with Elsevier?

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.

9 replies on “Women in Academia: What’s up with Elsevier?”

What does the boycott involve? Not publishing through Elsevier journals… or not accessing content through Elsevier? Both?

I agree with everyone who has lamented their limited access – even as a university student who gets access through my institution I hit problems all the time. There have been many times that I’ve had to use my partner’s or my friends’ access to other schools to find a paper I need (especially a pain when a reviewer requires you to cite a paper that doesn’t seem to exist!)

In many cases, yes, the boycott means that those scientists will no longer publish their research in Elsevier journals. Now some make caveats that oh if their collaborators want to submit to such a journal, they won’t force them not to, but yeah, overall, it is generally a pledge to stay away from publishing  in those journals as much as possible, unless things change.

I’m half-lucky, in that the biggest journal in my field — that would be romance, as in romance novels — is actually free and online: IASPR, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. We’re a pretty new field and still kind of pioneering it, so we have to go open-source because the people who are interested are still scattered far and wide. And academia is still giving us kind of the side-eye, which is always fun.

But I sure do miss JSTOR, and getting to read up on any old bit of history that was interesting.

I’m a Library & Info Sci student, and one thing that has repeatedly come up in my classes is the talk about academic journals and databases. A lot of librarians are pushing for open access because of how vendors bundle up journals and make you subscribe to SO MANY even if you only want 2 or 3. But you can’t get those 3 without the package, and if it’s vital for your patrons you have to judge whether or not you can do it.

The worst part though is that there are so many legal avenues or loopholes for vendors to take advantage of the libraries and institutions. Libraries now have to get lawyers to go over the contracts (or at least be legal savvy themselves) because you have to look at 1) how many patrons can use it (some vendors have rules about distance education students or some even want you to pay per search, which can really add up) 2) how the information is stored/archive (basically if you cancel your subscription, do you still get access to the journals up to the point you canceled? If not, then that’s a point for getting them in print), and 3) How easy it to cancel or change the contract?

The last one is a BIG thing for my current university. The library signed a contract and didn’t realize until much later on that it doesn’t allow for them to cancel. So they’re paying a HUGE subscription to something that they don’t even want anymore, and it’s turning into a big legal fiasco. It might even be Elsevier, but I can’t remember off the top of my head.

I remember last year about this time (it’s always around re-subscription time for academic institutions/libraries when the publishers jack up the prices and all the academic types get up in arms), when U of Cal and some other universities did a temporary boycott from submitting/publishing/reviewing for Science because of their ridiculous cost increases.

But the OpenSource journals have their issues, too. Granted, I haven’t published in PLoSOne yet, but I know for journals like Ecology and Society, the publishing cost is $800(US). That’s insane!! I know all journals have their costs for authors, but $800? Funk that noise.

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