You are Elsevier: time to overcome our fears and kill subscription journals

Having spent a decade fighting the scientific publishing establishment, the last few weeks have been kind of fun. Elsevier, the Dutch publishing conglomerate that has long served as the poster child for all that is wrong with the industry, has come under withering criticism for pushing legislation that would prevent the US government from making the results of taxpayer funded research available to the public.

Scores of scientists (myself included) have slammed the hypocrisy of the bill. Prominent publishers, fearing a backlash against Elsevier’s overreach, have come out in favor of government public access policies. Even the editors of The Lancet, one of Elsevier’s prized possessions, called the bill a “damaging threat to science“.

But amidst all this richly deserved opprobrium, we must not forget that Elsevier are in a position to behave so poorly because we let them. Publishers control the paywalls that restrict access to the scientific literature. But individual researchers control the fate of their own papers. And the only reason a paywall ever stands between anyone and a paper they want to read is because its authors chose to put it there.

The scientific community could decide tomorrow to eliminate restrictions on access to the research literature. But, because of a complex stew of narrow self-interest, vanity, laziness and tradition, the majority of scientists continue to feed the beast – unwilling to act on their own to change a system they know is wrong.

I love how Kevin Zelnio puts it:

Scientists’ idealism is honorable, and genuinely heartfelt. Few other groups of people really do want the change the world in such a positive, progressive manner. Yet, in a twist of irony, few other groups who prize evidence and free thought systematically follow dogmatic traditions that are directly in conflict with their idealistic world view. Why are some of the smartest people in the country allowing publishing companies to fleece them, their institutions and libraries, the federal government and the american taxpayers of their money?

And last week, mathematicians Tim Gowers and Tyler Neylon launched a new effort to get researchers to exercise their collective power to make scientific publishing better serve their and the public’s interest by organizing a boycott of Elsevier journals which has (at this writing) around 3,000 signatures (including mine).

The boycott isn’t perfect. I wish they hadn’t focused exclusively on Elsevier – they are hardly the only bad actors in the field. And it’s crucial that the focus be on papers. Nobody views turning town invitations to review to be a big sacrifice – and publishers will just find someone else. Same thing with editors. But papers are their lifeblood. Cut off the supply, they will have no choice but to alter their publishing practices. But even as it is written now, if this kind of collective action actually worked, it would have a huge impact. So the question is, will it?

We do have a historical precedent. In late 2000 my postdoctoral mentor Pat Brown, frustrated with the refusal of most publishers to participate in the newly launched PubMed Central, began circulating a letter in which scientists pledged to exclusively publish in, review for and serve as editors of journals that placed their contents in PMC with no more than a 6 month delay. The letter quickly received a list of prominent signatures, including many Nobel Prize winners, leading us to go public with a new site to gather public support for building an “online public library of science” (from whence the name PLoS derives).

Within a year 30,o00 people had signed the letter. But, when push came to shove, few followed through on their pledge. Publishers did not respond to the call from their constituency, leaving only a handful of journals in PMC  and the nascent open access options from BioMed Central to choose from. Pat and I and a handful of the strongest OA supporters kept our promise, but most did not.

It was very disappointing. We had the opportunity in front of us to change things for the better, and we let it slip through our fingers. Pat and I spent much of the next year attempting to cajole, guilt and embarrass our colleagues into sending their papers to OA or PMC journals. But it wasn’t working. We always got some variant on the same refrain:

I didn’t build the system, and I’d change it if I could, but if {I/my postdoc/my graduate student} want to get a {job/grant/tenure/postdoc} our papers needs to be published in {insert name of high-profile subscription journal}

Nevermind that this widely and deeply held belief – that success in science requires publishing in high impact journals – is incorrect. When push came to shove, most signers of the open letter abandoned this effort to fix a broken system, and continued sending their papers to non-OA, non-PMC journals.

But there are very good reasons to believe that things are different now, and that we can succeed with a new organized effort to deny publishers that are not serving our interests the papers on which they depend. The most obvious and important difference is that the landscape of open access publishing has changed dramatically since the original PLoS boycott. Indeed it was its failure – or more precisely the excuses colleagues gave us about why they weren’t participating – that led Pat, Harold Varmus and I to refocus PLoS as a publisher.

PLoS had many goals, but chief among them was the desire to give authors open access options where they would be confortable sending all of their papers. While PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine haven’t succeeded in displacing the glamour mags Science, Nature, The New England Journal and The Lancet, they provide viable high impact open access alternatives, our community journals have become very prominent in the communities they represent, and PLoS ONE is now the biggest biomedical research journal in the world. BioMed Central is also thriving, and a wide range of new open access publishers and journals have come online in the past few years. And eLife, a joint open access project from HHMI, Wellcome Trust and the Max Planck Society will launch later this year.

Thus, people joining in the new boycott have no excuses not to follow through. There are plenty of viable OA options and it is simply unacceptable for any scientist who decries Elsevier’s actions and believes that the subscription based model is no longer serving science to send a single additional paper to journals that do not provide full OA to every paper they publish. So, come on people! If we do this now, paywalls will crumble, and we all be better off. So, come on! Let’s do it!

[UPDATE: I changed the original title of this post from “You are Elsevier: Publisher boycotts then and now”  to more accurately reflect my point].

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  1. DrugMonkey
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    The risks are quite real for junior scientists. It is the ultimate of hard-money, tenured prof, hired in an easier era privilege to ignore this. To get buy-in, you are going to have to demonstrably change the GlamourMag culture of science. Good luck with that.

    The alternative is to go after the lesser, society level and dump journals. Encouraging people to go with a PloSONE type of option for those manuscripts is more likely to work. Here I think the action item is to beef up editorial boards in subfields- authors want to see people they know on the boards or they aren’t going to jump from their usual journals.

  2. Michael Eisen
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    DrugMonkey, I’m not ignoring it! I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to effing change it. My point is that I think people vastly overstate the importance of high impact-factor publications in grants, jobs and tenure. I may be a decade into my independent career, but I sit on tons of job, grant and tenure committees and I think I have a fairly good understanding of how these things work. Does the title of the journal in which a person has published come up in review? Yes. Often. Does it help someone who might otherwise not get noticed get noticed? Sometimes. Is it the deciding factor in whether to give someone a job, grant or tenure? Very rarely.

    I’d love to see all the people who go around saying these things matter so much offer up some data. Of course you could say the same thing about me. We’re all operating on very poorly sampled personal experience and common wisdom.

  3. DrugMonkey
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Well, that’s why there’s blogging. I do agree with you about the vast oversell. One of the things I do on the blog is to emphasize my sub area of science in which Glamour is very rare. Still, there’s PP who claims his dept doesn’t even look at apps lacking a first author C, N or S…

    Nevertheless, the aspirational value percolates *everywhere*. The logic of “IF (GlamourPub) THEN …. ” comes up all the time. Meaning it seems to everyone like the only way to guarantee outcome because there is nothing better.

  4. lightsam1
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Anecdotally, at the research institution I attend about 80% of the candidates interviewed for assistant professor positions (at least over my 4 year tenure here) have published a first author Science/Nature/Cell paper in the previous 12 months. Don’t know how representative this type of hiring practice is — but it certainly goes a far way in creating the impression that high impact-factor pubs are important for obtaining employment.

  5. allen Henderson
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Excellent post. Thanks for all the hard work to move our field in the right direction.

    I like the strategy of focusing more on creating open infrastructure than appeals. It’s something that established researchers can do more effectively and begins to change the institutions in ways that make it easy for aspiring (and anxious) young scientists to do the right thing. And that’s key: making it easier to do good things. Having said that, I really like your point that avoiding high-impact journals need not damage one’s career. (in the end it’s the science and the person who gets hired anyway, not the journals). Keep pushing this point! I will too. Also, if you can get others in positions of prominence to do the same, it might become a more accepted perspective.

  6. Michael Rosenberg
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Has anyone compiled an up-to-date list of credible OA journals? (by credible I mean ignoring the spam/scam OA journals from Bentham and others). My concern is there simply do not appear to be enough OA journals covering enough appropriate topics. Right now the OA system appears to be something along the lines of having one or two dozen high-to-medium tier journals and then just dump anything else into PLoS ONE (or a similar bucket). That doesn’t feel particularly sustainable. Beyond that, even that model currently does not provide any OA outlet for things like large-scale reviews and commentaries, since these are officially NOT acceptable for PLoS ONE. A lot of people support OA in principle, but it’s hard to tell how much OA supports us.

    I somewhat sloppily wrote these points up in more detail in a guest blog at SciAm a few weeks ago (try to ignore the errors that slipped in during my haste to write, such as Science being for-profit rather than non-profit).

  7. Gavin Sherlock
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I laud what you are doing, and you have changed the world of publishing forever for the better. However, I was specifically told by my chair that I need a Nature or Science paper to make my tenure packet bulletproof, so you shouldn’t underestimate the tenure argument. It may be false, but you ignore your chair’s specific advice at your peril. I also had an awful experience with PLoS Biology, which made me swear I wouldn’t submit there again. The editorial experience took months, and in the end the 3rd reviewer’s short lazy “do another 2 years work” review trumped the two positive ones. With editors like that, I won’t waste my time (this is not to say I’ve had better editorial experiences at Nature or Science). I do love PLoS Genetics, and always get very clear editorial advice there, so it’s my preferred publishing venue – I feel their editorial model is much better aligned with academic science, in terms of academic scientists are taking responsibility. I do feel (whether rightly or wrongly) that the volume and variation in quality at PLoS One makes me unlikely to submit there.

  8. Michael Eisen
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Gavin, I got told the same thing. I blew it off a) because I was told this by senior members of my department who got jobs at Berkeley and tenure without publishing papers in Science, Nature or Cell, so I therefore knew they were full of shit, and b) because, even if they were right, I don’t want to work in a field that is hemmed in by ridiculous and destructive traditions, so I refuse to participate in them. You can call me a fool. You can call me an idealist. But I all scientists should be foolish idealists, and it is a constant disappointment to find they are not.

    As for PLoS Biology. I feel your pain. My own experiences there have not been uniformly positive. The problem is that the model of journals whose primary role is to reject papers invariably become plodding and capricious. The model needs to be gotten rid of entirely.

  9. Posted February 3, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “You can call me a fool. You can call me an idealist. But I all scientists should be foolish idealists, and it is a constant disappointment to find they are not.”

    Thanks for putting into words what I’ve been feeling. People just need to have some integrity and do the right thing, regardless. If you’re passionate and committed you’ll find a place for yourself and focusing on the narrow careerist implications is leading people down the wrong path.

  10. David
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Michael, great post. I want to disagree with you about just a couple of things. First, it’s my hope that this boycott will gain traction precisely because it’s aimed only at Elsevier, rather than more broadly. If one aims too broadly, people have a hard time finding places to publish, they start to backtrack on their commitment, and the boycott collapses. Of course any individual can boycott as broadly as they wish. Second, I think the decision not to referee is an important one — just as important as the decision not to publish — because it makes life harder for the editors of these journals (and ultimately I would imagine that most direct progress will be undertaken by editorial boards).

  11. Posted February 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure why, but the BMJ – the original open access medical journal whose research has been online and open with full text since the 1990s and which sends OA article direct to PMC with no delay – too often gets ignored in these discussions.

    Just saying.

    Competing interest: I’ve been at the BMJ since 1989 and am deputy editor (leading on research) and editor in chief of BMJ Open

    • Michael Eisen
      Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      @Trish – Of course. As you know Richard was on our board for a long time and I admire what BMJ has done for OA over the years. I’m not a clinician, so I sometimes forget to mention it.

  12. Posted February 4, 2012 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    “The alternative is to go after the lesser, society level and dump journals. Encouraging people to go with a PloSONE type of option for those manuscripts is more likely to work.”

    I agree. OA discussions tend to focus on the < 5% of papers most scientists produce. To me it sounds like "PLoS ONE is not a prestigious as Science/Nature/Cell therefore I am sending my next manuscript to Acta xxx, like I've always done"

    A good example is "Beyond that, even that model currently does not provide any OA outlet for things like large-scale reviews and commentaries, since these are officially NOT acceptable for PLoS ONE." So what? How does that affect your next paper?

  13. Posted February 4, 2012 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    I do feel that introducing a new PLoS journal, PLoS Reviews would be a significant step forward. It’s true that there are not a lot of open-access venues available for review papers. Only this last month, a review written by some colleagues of mine appeared in a non-open journal because it had been rejected from PLoS ONE for not being researchy enough.

  14. Posted February 4, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink


    What the research community needs, urgently, is free online access (Open Access, OA) to its own peer-reviewed research output. Researchers can provide that in two ways: by publishing their articles in OA journals (Gold OA) or by continuing to publish in non-OA journals and self-archiving their final peer-reviewed drafts in their own OA Institutional Repositories (Green OA). OA self-archiving, once it is mandated by research institutions and funders, can reliably generate 100% Green OA. Gold OA requires journals to convert to OA publishing (which is not in the hands of the research community) and it also requires the funds to cover the Gold OA publication costs. With 100% Green OA, the research community’s access and impact problems are already solved. If and when 100% Green OA should cause significant cancellation pressure (no one knows whether or when that will happen, because OA Green grows anarchically, article by article, not journal by journal) then the cancellation pressure will cause cost-cutting, downsizing and eventually a leveraged transition to OA (Gold) publishing on the part of journals. As subscription revenues shrink, institutional windfall savings from cancellations grow. If and when journal subscriptions become unsustainable, per-article publishing costs will be low enough, and institutional savings will be high enough to cover them, because publishing will have downsized to just peer-review service provision alone, offloading text-generation onto authors and access-provision and archiving onto the global network of OA Institutional Repositories. Green OA will have leveraged a transition to Gold OA.

    Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age, pp. 99-105, L’Harmattan.

  15. Posted February 4, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink


    While the worldwide researcher community is again busy working itself up into an indignant lather with yet another publisher boycott threat, I am still haunted by a “keystroke koan”:

    “Why did 34,000 researchers sign a threat in 2000 to boycott their journals unless those journals agreed to provide open access to their articles – when the researchers themselves could provide open access (OA) to their own articles by self-archiving them on their own institutional websites?”

    Not only has 100% OA been reachable through author self-archiving as of at least 1994, but over 90% of all refereed journals (published by 65% of all refereed journal publishers) have already given their explicit green light to some form of author self-archiving — with over 60% of all journals, including Elsevier’s — giving their authors the green light to self-archive their refereed final drafts (“postprint”) immediately upon acceptance for publication…

    So why are researchers yet again boycotting instead of keystroking, with yet another dozen years of needlessly lost research access and impact already behind us?

    We have met the enemy, Pogo, and it’s not Elsevier.

    (And this is why keystroke mandates are necessary; just keying out boycott threats to publishers is not enough.)

  16. @briansmcgowan
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Great post Michael – this begins to answer a question I have asked repeatedly since the Gowers push began.

    If I may add two more element to the list of ‘what is different now’ I would say that:

    1) The emergence of altmetrics, while not perfect, has begun to demonstrate that we can evaluate the impact of science very differently than we have in the past. And, through this new lens closed access publishing appears to be even a greater abomination of information flow and innovation. As altmetrics evolve, more scientists will realize that access, reuse, and repurposing are much better measures of impact than the surrogate markers we rely on today.

    2) We no doubt derive some benefit from the broader social revolution that has emerged alongside the #OA efforts – and this is not just generational. No one sees the world the same way they did 12 years ago. And though not everyone’s behavior has changed, everyone (including PI’s and grant makers and tenure committees) have been affected to one degree or another.

    Thanks to your (and many other’s) efforts we have many, many more channels for #OA than we did in 2001 – just look at 7400 outlets listed at And now we have new ways of measuring impacts AND a rapidly emerging cultural revolution that will surely work its way into the scientific community. And for these three reasons I think things are much different now than they were then…

  17. Posted February 4, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Michael. Sorry I was a bit snippy!

    @trished on Twitter

  18. Posted February 4, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    People just need to have some integrity and do the right thing, regardless.

    Regardless of whether it means that they increase the likelihood of being shitcanned from their jobs as scientists?

  19. Posted February 4, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Never mind Nature or Science; the high-impact thing is a distraction. My students just need papers in any journal, and the OA fee is the problem. I just can’t afford it & to pay students at the same time. Oh, my institution covers one paper a year, and PLoS offer waivers sometimes, and even promise they’ll separate the waiver review process from the paper review process (which is nice). But waivers are not always automatic, right? So, your proposition is that I ought to apply for an exemption from the fee which is your publisher’s primary business model, so that your publisher can sit on my paper for a few weeks (months?) while it seeks (still unpaid) reviewers. That’s what you’re calling “the right thing”. My proposition, on the other hand, is that “the right thing” is that if I’ve contributed 3 good reviews of other people’s work, unpaid, I ought to have the right to get 3 peer reviews of my own work, without having to pay anything. I don’t think any publishers currently offer this. I am however looking at what’s on offer here

  20. Michael Eisen
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Ian, you’re being uncharacteristically narrowminded.

    First of all, PLoS waivers are automatic. We use a small surplus from people who can afford to pay to subsidize the ~10% of authors who say they can not. The entire costs of the system of publishing, review, etc… should be treated by funding agencies as a cost of research. And these subsidies are one way of doing that.

    But the salient point is that ALL publishers employ the same business model – which is to charge granting agencies and research institutions a fee to publish papers. The difference between traditional publishers and OA publishers is how the money is delivered and what the customer gets out of the process. Traditional publishing collects subscriptions and delivers content to a narrow audience, OA publishing collects upfront fees and delivers content to the entire world. Either way the system is subsidizing your publications. What matters is the value proposition – what the scientific community and the public get in return. Focusing on details of the mechanics of how the money is transfered while ignoring this bigger picture is, quite frankly, an abdication of responsibility to the people who fund your salary, research and facilities.

  21. Michael Eisen
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    CPP. I don’t want people getting shitcanned abritrarily. But this crappy system exists because people are afraid to take it on. And I think this fear derives as much from a destructively self-fulfilling common wisdom that from hard evidence of the actual effects of shunning glamour mags.

    Of course I’d love to see this transition take place without anyone having to risk anything. If funding agencies and universities had any stones at all, they’d mandate open access, redo the way jobs, grants and tenure are reviewed, and all would be good. I don’t think this would be nearly as hard as they pretend it would be.

    But, this isn’t happening, and it needs to be catalyzed. So I DO think people need to be willing to take some risks sometimes to make things better. Do you really think people should do ANYTHING to protect their jobs, no matter how stupid and destructive to the greater good it might be?

  22. Posted February 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    But, this isn’t happening, and it needs to be catalyzed. So I DO think people need to be willing to take some risks sometimes to make things better. Do you really think people should do ANYTHING to protect their jobs, no matter how stupid and destructive to the greater good it might be?

    Of course not. My point is that those of us with tenured or otherwise secure positions are the ones who should be manning the barricades on this, not some poor fucken grad student, post-doc, or assistant professor trying to survive and make it to the next level.

    And the way that we do this is not by telling one of these poor fuckes not to send their beautiful work to a particular prominent journal for political reasons. Rather, we fight tooth and nail on hiring, tenure/promotion, and grant review committees against the abdication of responsibility for judging the importance and interest of particular lines of research to non-scientist editors at legacy “high-impact” journals.

    Do away with the stranglehold that non-OA journals have on “high impact” (other than PLoS Biology), and OA will flourish. Yes, one way to achieve this would be a widely-subscribed “boycott”, but I cannot in good conscience engage my trainees in a boycott when my colleagues down the hall and across town are not. Another way–and one that doesn’t require martyrs to the cause–is to change the metrics by which we judge the importance and interest of a scientist’s output.

  23. Posted February 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Five of the last seven people who’ve gone on to TT or equivalent jobs from my postdoctoral lab had *zero* S/N/C papers when they got their current jobs. Six of those seven had no S/N/C papers from their postdoc. My first postdoc who hit the job market got a great job and already has a well-funded lab, again with no S/N/C papers. Our institution has hired – and tenured – a bunch of people recently, without S/N/C papers, or with no recent S/N/C papers. And we’re all getting funded, training people, and publishing good science. And we’re not alone. It’s not at all difficult to list people at top-tier places like UCSF, Cal, and various Ivies, who got hired and/or promoted without assistance from Cell or Nature. Yes, those papers absolutely can help you to get a foot in the door. But the notion that there ‘s no other way is consummate bullshit.

  24. Posted February 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    If PLoS OA fee waivers are automatic (and you intend them to remain so) then your business model is the honor system. Good luck with that, but you’ll need a bit more evidence to persuade me to join your revolution & prohibit all the competition. I am not being narrowminded, I am simply pointing out that (waivers aside) I currently have two options: subsidize my readers, or don’t. You’re saying that subsidizing my readers should be mandatory, because my readers are all paid from the same source as I am, and if I don’t set a good example by subsidizing them, I’m being cowardly and narrowminded. IMO, there are *multiple* failures of logic in that chain. I’m totally in favor of NIH paying all my OA fees and not deducting them as line items from my budget, but until that utopia arrives, I am going to have to be OA only as long the waiver process at OA journals is, indeed, automatic.

  25. Michael Eisen
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    So we’re good then. We keep the waivers, you publish in PLoS. Everything else is hypothetical.

  26. Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Thinking about it. How about a free T-shirt too?

  27. Posted February 5, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    Right, that’s it. My next paper is going to PLoS ONE. Here’s why:

  28. Posted February 5, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    I am proposing an open access publication system based on arXiv named arXiv Review:

    This could be of interest.

  29. Posted February 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I think that Michael Rosenberg made some very nice points in his post over on the Scientific American Blog, that have largely not been discussed much in the the exchanges over the past few weeks. Many of us belong to scientific societies, and our societies have journals. Often these journals have been considered the “Journal of Record” for our fields. While some people who have commented on this blog (although not necessarily on this particular post) have made disparaging remarks about society journals (i.e. When papers are not accepted in Science/Nature/Cell/PLoS Biology they are then “dumped” into the society journals) as a way to express support for the PLoS One model, I have a somewhat different perspective on the issue.

    As an Evolutionary Geneticist, the two society journals which I most consider representing my disciplinary homes are “Evolution” and “Genetics”. I think that the science that is published in both of these journals to be generally interesting (and sometimes “transformative” in how it can change my scientific worldview). Often times the studies are interesting but reflect far more incremental advances. However, I generally observe the science to be of high quality and relevant to the field, even in many cases where the work is not interesting or germane to my own interests. I tell my students to go and read articles from these journals (even articles not directly related to their own work), as it helps in their training, and to broaden their understanding of the field (with many studies being valuable even when a certain subject is no longer considered “sexy” in the field).

    It remains unclear to me how a model like PLoS One can fulfill this, given its breadth and the extremely large number of journals out there. It can be difficult for all of us (students, PostDocs and faculty) to find those articles that are important for our own work, let alone finding papers that are less relevant but will help to broaden our knowledge base.

    I also do think that (in addition to the work in setting up conferences) that the societies can really help new scientists connect, beyond the scope of the publication of the “journal of record”. So is there a model where societies (like the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Genetics Society of America) can switch to open source publishers, or do they need to re-invent themselves independent of the journal? Perhaps in a model analogous to musicians whose recorded music (where they may not be making much money these days) is used to get the audience in the door of the live performance? Maybe this represents a poor analogy.

    In any case I do hope that scientific societies can find their way to an open access publishing model. In particular (for SSE, ESA and others) it would seem to be far more consistent with the very positive policies intended to make raw data available from our scientific work (such as being posted on Of course this is just a first step towards truly open (and reproducible research), but I am optimistic.

  30. Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    A bit late to this party, and the two points which seem most important to me have already been raised. But I’d like to re-emphasize them:

    – We need “PLoS Reviews”, or whatever you want to call it. I signed the Elsevier petition, and I’ll try to avoid Trends from now on, but I’m not so sure what the kosher alternatives are. This is not a detail, as good reviews, or provocative opinion pieces, are a major part of access to scientific communication. A patient might be better off accessing a good review paper than wading through the primary literature concerning a specific health problem.

    – Scientific societies play a major role in the functioning of science, in many ways. Their journals are often managed according to healthy scientific principles, their editorial boards can be a how’s how of the field, they organize important conferences, and provide a venue for discussion. And they make their money from their journals, more often than not. That money funds travel grants, subsidized access for partners from poor countries, etc.
    So, firstly, I am not (yet) prepared to boycott journals edited by scientific societies. Although when they take a strong stand against Open Access, I will.
    And secondly, I agree with Ian Dworkin that we need a model to make scientific societies shift to Open Access. In most cases they have contracts with publishers which eventually come up for renewal. What model can we offer them for the negotiation? Which alternative if this fails? Shouldn’t we have “PLoS Societies”, offering services to all scientific societies in need of an alternative?

  31. Posted February 5, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    On a separate note, I do not think that the results of the original PLoS petition should be diminished nor overlooked.

    I signed the PLoS pledge all those years ago. No I did not switch immediately to all OA. It took a few years for me to become a PI, in a position to decide, and I am sometimes a part in collaborations where I still do not decide; but most of my papers are OA, and most of the others are stored on my university website. The world is imperfect, but we have been moving in the right direction thanks in part to the 30k signatures of this petition.

  32. Posted February 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    With regard to helping societies get off the subscription-only bandwagon, there are some new tools like Annotum that can be used to host journals fairly easily and inexpensively. I like the idea of PLoS Review, as well.

    See here for some examples of new infrastructure to get off the traditional publishing bandwagon:

    Note that 4 of the 8 services deal directly with new ways of assessing research impact, so PP isn’t alone in thinking that metrics are the key to bootstrapping the shift to OA in hiring, funding, as well as publishing.

  33. zb
    Posted February 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the commenter above, who points out that a targeted boycott against Elsevier may help the OA movement more than a general boycott demanding the same form of OA for everyone. Elsevier’s crime, right now, as far as I’m concerned, is the attempt to undo the baby steps we’ve made towards public access to material through Pubmed. Public access to material is my goal, though Open Acess would be my preferred method, transitions that fall short of perfect are still good. I do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good (and, calls for 100% Open Access, copyright free works, individual repositories that require us to abandon the historical peer review systems in favor of new models are examples).

    Targeting Elsevier allows that pre-tenure scientist who needs to send a paper to a glamor mag to send it to Nature & Science (which do not support the RWA) instead of Cell.

    “And it’s crucial that the focus be on papers. Nobody views turning town invitations to review to be a big sacrifice – and publishers will just find someone else.”

    I don’t get this — who will they find to review the paper, if all the scientists say no? Yes, it’s the easier boycott, but ultimately, it has to have the same effect (either because they can’t find reviewers, or the ability to select the papers becomes impossible).

  34. zb
    Posted February 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    PS: What does Elsevier have to do to change my mind? Stop supporting the RWA and agree to align to the NIH mandate for NIH-funded research (i.e. make their articles public within 1 year).

  35. Martin Kulldorff
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Yesterday, at a promotion committee meeting at my university, the number of citations to the candidates articles and his h-index was mentioned and discussed much more than journal names. We are currently witnessing a gradual move away from journal names and impact factors as a surrogate for paper quality, towards the number of citations of the candidate’s published papers. Hence, junior scientists that will be up for promotion during the next few years are well advised to publish in open access journals when possible, rather than hiding their papers behind a paywall. If some scientists cannot access and read the paper, there will be less citations to it. For good scientific papers, it is not only bad for the scientific community to restrict access to it; it is my belief that it will also hamper the career of the author.

  36. Michael Brandeis
    Posted February 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    You have been doing a wonderful job in promoting open access journals and the world is a better place. On average the impact factors of Plos journal as well as BMC journals and society journal are probably considerably higher then those of Elsevier journals (at least as far as biological research goes). This is in part due to the fact they are open versus closed Elsevier et al (if you can’t access it you are not going to quote it). In my view the few glam journals are not such a major problem as they are few and most libraries could afford them. But once you go down a bit in impact there is little excuse in publishing in commercial journals. I have been mainly publishing in OA journals in recent years and it was a liberating experience.

    One other aspect has changed the world and made it much more open is the availability of pdfs. I have NEVER paid for a manuscript and NEVER had a problem getting it. All you have to do is email the author and you get it within minutes, hours and very rarely days. Compare this to the olden days of reprints that took months to get. So if libraries just quit their subscriptions the manuscript would still be available but very quickly people would stop publishing in journals nobody can access. We all want to be read (and quoted).

  37. Former patent person
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Having just read through a list of dubious claims about global warming where the poster gave hyperlinks to popular media outlets it reminded me yet again that the general public have very limited access to real scientific papers. The fact that many journals are hidden behind significant paywalls is encouraging the spread of pseudo-science and direct lying from young Earth creationists, global warming deniers and others. YouTube video maker Aronra has made a similar point in a recent address to an audience in Little Rock.

    The central problem, as I see it, is abuse of the principle of copyright. We currently have the ludicrous situation of films, music, books etc being protected for decades after the death of the author for no charge. Contrast that with patents, where 20 to 30 years is the absolute maximum and fees are payable every year. Registered designs and trademarks also require yearly fees. If a copyright production is going to make any money at all, it will do so in the first few years after publication.

    I recognise that there are costs involved in the production of quality journals, much more so than in ordinary magazines. However if these costs are not recovered within a year of publication, there is not much chance they ever will be.

    One can argue whether open access should be after 6 months or 12, or 24. I’ll leave that to the accountants. But limits on copyright there should be.

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