Sunday, March 4, 2012

Has the once roaring Elsevier boycott vehicle lost its engine?

The academic publisher Elsevier recently announced that they will remove their support for the controversial Research and Work Act in the U.S. and they will keep the price of their Math journals low. When the protest started the support for RWA, SOPA and the high prices of journals were some of the arguments mentioned at the protests homepage, were a mix of high ranking scientist, former scientists, undergraduate students and others signed to not publish, review or do editorial work for Elsevier. There is a real problem with the current publishing model, and the opposition to Open Access There is no question about that. Exactly why Elsevier is picked out when journals from Wiley and Springer fall in the category ludicrously expensive to is something I am not sure of, and among the worst arguments I have heard is that Elsevier is Dutch so the profits go to the Netherlands. Come on, this is not “I drive GM, because I am an American” we are talking about I hope. If that was the reason then Springer Verlag would be in trouble as well. Still the reaction against publishers overly high prices and opposition of Open Access is good, and picking a major player is good to, as long as you don´t pretend that many of the other publishers are different. So far the promise from Elsevier has been to stretch out a hand to the Mathematician, which is probably because this has mostly been a Mathematician, Computer science, Physics thing. Perhaps most biologists have the memory of Oikos, once run by scientists, and then handed over to Wiley, to fresh in memory for signing up.

I have tracked the protest for the last 36 days, and it does appear as the Boycott-Elsevier roadster has lost its momentum. If one would pick the closest logarithmic equation

R² = 0.949

and predict the future (quite risky based on this little data), then we should not expect the number of signatures to double from today’s number (7798) until 23: rd of August 2019. The black symbol in the figure below is today date (2012-03-04).

As I said, this is based on limited number of observations, and the forward prediction here is more as a fun tool. The protest may do much better or much worse.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. Pressure on publishers who charge overly high prices for journals and oppose Open Access is good. If some of the less thought through arguments are disregarded, this protest was well founded, and reached an important milestone when Elsevier met the protesters, by abandoning its support for RWA, and vowed to keep prices on Math journals low. This is unlikely to stop a protest of more than 7000 signees, which although it was started by Field Medalist Timothy Gowers, today is really led by nobody.

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