If you’ve heard about the boycott of Elsevier, you may have a few questions about why this is happening. Below is an overview, followed by a boat-load of links. Don’t hesitate to ask your librarian any questions you have about scholarly publishing. (Several JHU folks have signed the boycott. Just search the boycott page for ‘hopkins’.)

Only Elsevier?
The boycott makes three charges against Elsevier. These charges can be made against other large academic publishers. Why was Elsevier chosen? Probably because it is the largest publisher, earns the largest profits, and has a large presence in public debates about the changes in academic publishing. Just understand that Elsevier is not unique in its actions. UPDATE: Read Elsevier’s response here.

STEM academic publishing has been in a ferment for quite some time. The serials crisis, the technological changes in authoring and publishing, Open Access, Creative Commons, and more funders requiring openly accessible articles have drastically changed the landscape.

OSTP recently posted responses to a request for information about public access to scholarly publishing. They are considering applying a version of the NIH Public Access Policy to other government agencies that fund research. The NIH policy requires articles based on NIH funding to be freely and openly accessible on the Internet within 12 months of publication. Elsevier (and other publishers) are supporting an opposing bill, the Research Works Act.

The Argument
Here’s the short version of the academics’ argument. Publishers do not pay the academics to author or peer-review the articles; funders and universities pay for that. Publishers do pay for copy-editing, managing peer review, and web hosting. These are not insignificant expenses, but they shouldn’t make the journals so expensive that libraries can’t subscribe to them.

What keeps all the researchers from moving to the new Open Access publishing outlets like PLoS or BioMed Central? Among the reasons are human inertia and the reliance on journal reputation in the promotion and tenure process. Academics created the boycott webpage to start the conversation about the changes they’d like to see in the publishing world. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

(I will try to keep these links updated. Elsevier hadn’t put anything on its website when this was posted. UPDATE: Elsevier’s response here.)

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