February 16, 2012

What’s next in the Elsevier boycott?


What’s next in the Elsevier boycott?

Well, first of all, says Neil Stewart of City University London in smart overview on the blog of the London School of Economics, “What can’t be denied is the scale of the public relations disaster for Elsevier — whether or not the boycott is itself coherent, the campaign has resulted in nothing but bad publicity for the company, much of it coming from the academic community — the very people who provide Elsevier with content.”

But Stewart thinks the fact that those academics “instigated” the campaign, “(as opposed to librarians, who have been banging on about these issues for ages, or indeed other interested parties) is in my view positive — anything that makes academics question why they are, for example, voluntarily transferring their copyright to publishers can only be a good thing.”

Meanwhile, he points to some of the speculation about what could happen now.

For “open science advocate” Cameron Neylon, it’s the beginning of the end for that particular publishing model. In a commentary on her website, Science in the Open, she gives it ten years, and says, “Several major publishers will not survive the transition. A few will and a whole set of new players will spring up to fill the spaces.”

In a commentary for The Ed Techie, Martin Weller suggests university presses may step into the breach. “I feel though that the time is now ripe for a more focused, concerted push to make the university press the home again of academic knowledge, he says.”

And then there’s the possibility that the boycott could fail. On Drug Monkey, the blog of an “NIH-funded researcher who blogs about careerism in science,” the anonymous blogger points out in a commentary on the boycott that “in certain cases, such as Cell or The Lancet, there is no way a set of authors are going to give up the cachet of a possible paper acceptance in that particular journal.”

For Neil Stewart, the “best” outcome would be …

 … to follow the “Green” road to open access, by archiving research in your university’s Institutional Repository (full disclosure: I manage City University London’s repository City Research Online). Doing so results in your articles being made openly and freely available to anyone who wishes to access them via the Web (and this really does work: over the last 3 months, City Research Online has had papers downloaded by visitors from more than 55 different countries); securely preserves your research for posterity; and (the killer argument) has been shown to increase citations to your articles when compared to research which remains “closed”. If that’s not generating “impact” for your work, I don’t know what is.

Whichever scenario comes true, none of them look particularly good for Elsevier.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.