In January, an international group of mathematicians started a boycott against Dutch publishing behemoth Elsevier over high journal subscription prices as well as policies preventing free access to research. Since then, more than 7000 academics have joined the boycott, agreeing variously not to publish and/or referee and/or perform editorial work for Elsevier. Elsevier published 250,000 articles last year.

The boycott group is called The Cost of Knowledge, and its Statement of Purpose is well worth checking out. A sample:

Many mathematicians have in recent years lost patience with being involved in a system in which commercial publishers make profits based on the free labor of mathematicians and subscription fees from their institutions’ libraries, for a service that has become largely unnecessary. Among all the commercial publishers, the behavior of Elsevier seemed to many to be the most egregious, and a number of mathematicians had made personal commitments to avoid any involvement with Elsevier journals.

Yesterday, Elsevier issued a response to the boycott, “A Letter to the Mathematics Community,” that lays out promises to lower some of its prices, create open-access plans for older content, and withdraw its support for the Research Works Act (an anti-democratic proposal to prevent U.S. taxpayer-funded research from becoming open-access). Whether these intentions pan out into long-term changes in the way that research is published and disseminated remains to be seen, but at the very least Elsevier has acknowledged problems with the current model of research publishing.

Link to the boycott website.

Link to Elsevier’s response.

Link to a CBC story.

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