Boycotting Elsevier – when are politicians, grant makers and search committees speaking out?


The debate around the boycott of Elsevier that more than 8,400 scientists have signed already is an important one. But the publisher-researcher relationship and the high cost of knowledge for university libraries should only be one aspect in this debate. Don’t get me wrong: I do support most of the arguments of the petition, but I also believe that this should not be about a single company or business model. Elsevier has been cashing in on the ‘impact culture’, an academic culture that is supported by more than expensive peer-reviewed journals with impact factors. The drive to prove ‘impact’ that higher education politicians, grant-making organisations and search committees have been demanding led to a situation where journal publications have become status symbols and the publishing industry realised that they are a key player in this discourse. The ‘evaluation culture’ that has been established for the neoliberal research and teaching industry focuses on measurable products – and journal articles have become the commodity of choice. It’s a bit like complaining about high profits of oil companies: They may seem ‘wrong’, but as long as the world economy runs on fossil fuels they will be here to stay. That’s why the debate around the publishing industry could be an opportunity for other parts of the industry to take a stance and discuss the value of education spending, grant money or hiring junior faculty beyond the ‘articles in leading journals that nobody reads anyway’ argument.
I hope that those 8,400 colleagues will not only speak out against a particular publisher and business model, but lobby professional associations, foundations and senior colleagues in the administration to look beyond seemingly easily measurable ‘impact products’ in the form of journal articles.
I wrote about the
American Anthropological Association' debate on Promotion, Tenure and Publications last year
and I think the post provides an interesting overview over the debate beyond any boycott.

Update I (9 April): Wellcome Trust joins 'academic spring' to open up science
One of the world's largest funders of science is to throw its weight behind a growing campaign to break the stranglehold of academic journals and allow all research papers to be shared online. Nearly 9,000 researchers have already signed up to a boycott of journals that restrict free sharing as part of a campaign dubbed the "academic spring" by supporters due to its potential for revolutionising the spread of knowledge. But the intervention of the Wellcome Trust, the largest non-governmental funder of medical research after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is likely to galvanise the movement by forcing academics it funds to publish in open online journals.
Update II (11 April): Academic journals: an open and shut case


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