The Cost of Knowledge – Boycotting Elsevier

A growing set of researchers are boycotting Elsevier, a major academic publisher, details at: The Cost of Knowledge. From that website:

“Academics have protested against Elsevier’s business practices for years with little effect. The main objections are these:

  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for their journals.
  2. They sell journals in very large “bundles,” so libraries must buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting their essential titles, at the expense of other journals.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.”

The long review process is another complaint, but this is journal or editor specific, rather than Elsevier as an organization.
For those in the field of transportation research, Elsevier is an oligopolist and the dominant player at that, it publishes the well-known Transportation Research parts A – F and other journals in the transportation field (Research in Transportation Economics, Transport Geography, Accident Analysis and Prevention, Transport Policy, and Journal of Air Transport Management, as well as the new Economics of Transportation: Journal of ITEA)

Basically this is a collective action / coordination problem, someone has to coordinate academic publishing. Some money needs to be collected somewhere. Papers don’t typeset themselves. The problem is the charge for this service is outrageous, allowing Elsevier in particular to collect excess rents (monopoly profits).

I have not yet joined the boycott, I am still debating internally. Words are cheap, actions have consequences. While undoubtedly I could get by, my students careers may be hurt if they were unable to publish in some of the highly ranked Elsevier journals. I count 7 papers currently under review in Elsevier journals and I don’t want to restart the process on all of them. I have published other papers in Elsevier journals. And of course, all this may flop.

In transportation we need more alternatives. There are not enough open content journals, and only a few other serious non-Elsevier choices. We have the following significant English-language non-Elsevier journals I am familiar with, (this list seems like a lot, but few have the reach or the legacy of the TR journals, and many are specialized):

* indicates open access.

[Did I miss any (I intentionally excluded journals from Bentham and SCIRP)?, a more comprehensive list is maintained by Robert Bertini here, a list of Open Access journals in Transport is here and Transportation is here ]

There are also lots of journals in adjacent fields (Safety, OR, Planning, Regional Science, Geography, Civil Engineering, etc.)

I have done what I can with JTLU, but I can’t operate 15 open access journals, other people need to step up. We need new models.

The whole publication field is in flux, Public Library of Science and arXiv have been around a while in the sciences, and a new initiative called Faculty of 1000 is promoting “post-publication” peer review in biology and medicine.

Previous posts on Elsevier:

One thought on “The Cost of Knowledge – Boycotting Elsevier

  1. I’d like to contribute to this boycott, specially for the SOPA and PIPA law, what is the best I can do it? Thanks.


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