Rewriting The Journal

Michelle Fredette | Campus Technology | August 28, 2012

With faculty balking at the high price of traditional academic journals, can other digital publishing options get traction?

This spring, more than 12,000 science, math, and humanities researchers signed an online petition against the academic publisher Elsevier, pledging not to publish in, referee for, or edit Elsevier journals. The protest, sometimes referred to as the Academic Spring, is the most public manifestation of growing unhappiness with the giant publisher over a number of issues. As the name of the petition website--The Cost of Knowledge--suggests, academics accuse Elsevier of charging exorbitant rates for individual journal subscriptions, forcing libraries to buy journals in bundles that include titles they don't even want.

On top of that, Elsevier stands accused of trying "to restrict the free exchange of information" through its support of legislation such as SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Workers Act. Introduced in December 2011, the RWA would prohibit the digital dissemination of any research funded by the federal government for which a publisher has already entered into a contract to provide editing or peer review.

The petition was launched on the heels of a blog post by Timothy Gowers, a Fields Medal-winning mathematician at the University of Cambridge (UK), who first griped publicly about Elsevier's practices. "If you publish in Elsevier journals you are making it easier for Elsevier to take action that harms academic institutions, so you shouldn't," Gowers wrote...