The protest movement was initiated by the mathematician Timothy Gowers, who received the Fields medal in 1998. In January 2012, he launched a boycott against Elsevier by refusing to work with this scientific publishing company, which publishes approximately 2,000 scientific journals annually. Why? The boycott is mainly due to the constant rise in the cost of subscriptions to scientific journals. Elsevier is currently being accused of charging exorbitant prices for individual subscriptions, forcing readers to subscribe to multiple journals – often considered to be of poor quality or far removed from the researchers’ field of interest. [Details in french.]
An additional argument concerns Elsevier’s support for the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (ProtectIP Act) laws, as well as the Research Works Act, specific to scientific publishing, which contained provisions to prohibit open access to scientific texts. However, the bill itself was in fact backed financially by Elsevier. [Details in french.]
Since the boycott was launched by Timothy Gowers, the movement has grown and a petition, signed to date by more than 11,800 researchers, is available on the COK (Cost of Knowledge) website [Access]. Harvard University has decided to join the protest movement by encouraging its 2,100 lecturers and researchers to make their research freely available online. Other universities are following the same logic by demanding that their researchers make their work freely available online and refrain from having it published in these journals. David Willets, the British Minister of State for Universities and Science, suggested the creation of an online platform enabling everyone to have free, unreserved access to publicly-funded publications in order for taxpayers to have access to research work. [Details in french.]
Faced with these protests, Elsevier has started to back down. In particular, the publisher withdrew its support for the Research Works Act. Furthermore, Elsevier announced that it would reduce the price of access to articles in its math journals and enable free access to the archives of 14 mathematics journals. The problem of multiple subscriptions has not yet been resolved, although Elsevier claims to have commenced negotiations with Harvard, stating the following: “We have a good relationship with the Harvard libraries and have recently concluded an agreement we believe works for them as it gives them the flexibility to choose the titles they want”. [Details in french.]
Meanwhile, the protest movement is still on the increase. To be continued.