Boycotting Elsevier is not enough – time to make them invisible (UPDATED/RETRACTED)

Update: The original post here was written at midnight, with a cat on my lap.  I thought this post conveyed some tongue in cheek aspect of this idea to ignore work in Elsevier journals. (one could view it as a midnight middle finger to Elsevier over some of their policies).  But clearly, based on the responses I am seeing that did not come across.  I accept the error of my ways.  Drug Monkey is right – no work should be ignored – no matter where it is published.   I could explain in more detail what I was trying to convey – but in the end that is like explaining a bad joke.  Instead, I am therefore retracting my blog post.  That is one for Ivan Oransky I guess. Now back to your regularly scheduled programs.

There has been much written in the last few days about multiple calls to boycott journals published by Elsevier due to Elsevier’s generally problematic publishing policies and support of SOPA/ RWA, etc.  People have called for people to not only boycott publishing in Elsevier journals but to also stop reviewing for them, editing for them, and also to try to get libraries to stop subscribing to them.  Some good reading in this area includes:
I think these are good steps.  But I also think they are not enough.  I am therefore calling for people to go one step further – to stop helping promote articles published in Elsevier journals.  Don’t blog about papers in Elsevier journals.  Don’t tweet about them.  Don’t use Elsevier papers for journal clubs.  In essence, ignore them – consider them dead – make them invisible.  Not completely of course.  Any work should be considered a contribution to science or math or whatever your field is.  But there are LOTS and LOTS of things to do with your time.  And if you like to share – to communicate – to discuss – it is easy to find non Elsevier articles articles for those purposes (even better – pick open access articles ..)

This may be a minor thing in the fight for more openness in publishing, but it should help.  After all, for many scientists, the worst thing that can happen is to be ignored.
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About Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

11 thoughts on “Boycotting Elsevier is not enough – time to make them invisible (UPDATED/RETRACTED)

  1. Could you write a blogpost explaining more on why you've *fully* retracted/redacted this post.

    I actually thought much of it was okay, so I'm kind of confused. You didn't say “don't cite Elsevier journal papers” (this would indeed be unscholarly, as explained eloquently by DrugMonkey But formally citing a paper, or perniciously NOT, in one's own publications is very different to tweeting and other social media activity.

    I view tweeting about new papers as a promotional activity over-and-above that of 'everyday science'. A tweet about an Elsevier paper is something that Elsevier can use to boast about their success and popularity, in a way akin to #altmetrics. e.g. 'We had 5000 tweets about our journal content today – this shows how great our service is' [sic; imagined promo-quote] Thus tweeting Elsevier content does inadvertently help Elsevier.

    Authors have a choice of where they submit their work to, thus if they *choose* to submit to an Elsevier journal they should soon hopefully be aware that there is an ongoing, and fast-growing boycott in progress. It would be unfair to socialmedia-boycott (as oppossed to cite-boycott, which I certainly am not in favour of doing in any circumstance) articles published now and previously, but articles published in 6 months time that were submitted AFTER the boycott commenced and was widely publicised…? I'd say there's an argument that prospective authors may arguably have been forewarned before they *actively* chose to publish with Elsevier, and thus such a (non)activity may become fair tactics.

    Thus perhaps in say 6 months time, (or however long the average submission-to-publication delay is) it might be fair and just to SocialMedia-boycott Elsevier journal articles – even if the scientific content is good and citeable. Indeed, one could still cite articles – just no blog posts, tweets or other social media activity.

    Basically I think the social media boycott isn't such a bad idea, we just need to make sure academics are appropriately forewarned that it's going to happen. But perhaps you can convince me otherwise?


  2. Ross, I think the idea is to try to keep the boycott focused without causing collateral damage to researchers. Suggesting that people ignore their work might make enemies of them, whereas targeting the journals themselves by refusing to review and encouraging the editorial boards to resign is a clearer statement with less entanglement. Anyone can get behind opposition to the Research Works Act, even if they feel beholden to the journals, they can help the journal change publishers, go non-profit, or they can do simple things like highlight OA publications in a special section of their CV and include things like the number of readers their papers have on Mendeley, the number of datsets they've published, code they've released as open source, etc.

    Everyone can take part, because the only way we'll turn this huge ship of science is for everyone to take ownership, reach consensus (at least locally) and do their part in whatever way they can.


  3. ah… Okay. I see now. Aiming for 0% collateral damage, even if this means (inadvertently) helping Elsevier a little bit. Thanks for the explanation, it wasn't so immediately clear to me.


  4. Ross – the reason I backed off the post and did a mini retraction has nothing directly to do with what Mr. Gunn wrote. I could care less about making enemies of people or pissing them off. I care about doing the right thing. And so though I personally do not write much in my blog or on twitter about non open access material and I personally do not write about much of anything in Elsevier journals, there is a bigger picture point that I missed here. We should pay attention to scientific findings wherever they are presented, even if in Elsevier journals.

    I think what I could have written and what might have been reasonable would be to have said “Let us reward those who publish in an open manner by writing about their work, since then everyone can read it and everyone can have access to it. In that way we show the power of openness”. And that is in fact what I do. But specifically selecting science in Elsevier journals to be ignored (over say, science in other non Open venues) seems to be not the best move.


  5. Didn't mean to put words in your mouth, but that's what I was getting at. Ignoring the work of researchers isn't a good idea. The rest was me expanding my own thoughts and I should have made that clear.

    Giving OA publications a little “affirmative action”, though? That's a fine idea.


  6. I want to applaud everyone, but especially the pre-tenure folks, who are willing to take what is unfortunately a risk for the sake of access to knowledge. I made a private pledge to only submit to open access journals when I started advocating for open access–anything else just seemed hypocritical.



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