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January 26, 2012

Banning Elsevier

Posted by John Baez

Please take the pledge not to do business with Elsevier. 402 scientists have done it so far:

You can separately say you 1) won’t publish with them, 2) won’t referee for them, and/or 3) won’t do editorial work. At least do number 2): activism is rarely so little work, but when a huge corporation relies so heavily on nasty monopolistic practices and unpaid volunteer labor, they leave themselves open to this.

This pledge website got started thanks to Tim Gowers:

For more, see:

… and the many links therein!

Posted at January 26, 2012 4:14 AM UTC

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13 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: Banning Elsevier

The polymath page, by the way, is a public wiki, so if you have any additional relevant links to contribute to that site, please feel free to do so.

Posted by: Terry on January 26, 2012 6:00 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

Here are some outrageous ideas I posted to the categories mailing list and on Google+. I have no idea if any of these are practical, but they sort of tickle my fancy. Apologies for multiple postings.

One thing that people can do is be creatively subversive. For example, when publishing in a journal owned by someone you would rather boycott, but can’t for various reasons, place the paper on the arXiv in a generic style (e.g. amsart.sty instead of elsevier_generic.sty if such a thing exists), as you are allowed to do (yes, you are), and then put in a sentence “A[n essentially identical] copy of this paper is available [for free] from” at the end of your abstract.

Or perhaps one can thank, in the acknowledgements, “Tim Gowers [1] and Terry Tao [2] for their interesting remarks”, and reference their recent blog posts:



This might need to be followed up with a sentence expressing agreement with their views, but the impracticality of following through on their suggestions at present. Nice, neutral sentences: if one doesn’t look at the actual blog posts.

If one wanted to try something really interesting, how about this for a thought experiment (assuming the paper is accepted):

* Place paper on arXiv and on own web page

* Submit paper to Journal of A, owned by a big commercial publisher.

* Receive referee reports. If allowed, post these on your web page, removing trivial stuff like “page 3, line 24, missing ‘an’, insert comma” (or not!)

* Make changes (if needed)

* Receive acceptance email/letter from Journal and place on website

* Receive contract

* Decline to sign contract and withdraw paper, with explanatory letter about publisher’s practices (make this nice to the handling editor, they have done some work for you after all)

* Update arXiv version with note ‘accepted by Journal of A, but withdrawn by author for [personal reasons here], referee reports, acceptance letter and withdrawal letter available from [website]’

* (Optional) - resubmit to an open access journal, together with supporting material (acceptance letter, referee reports, withdrawal letter)

Now one has simultaneously: a paper accepted to the journal one ‘must’ publish in, and a letter to prove it, referee reports stating the quality of the work and a commitment to not use Journal of A.

Now this is a perhaps a complete fantasy, and may not work in real life, and someone who needs publications to get a job, and timely ones at that, is not going to do this. Or perhaps one can use the scholastica platform or similar ( ) to set up something similar to Rejecta Mathematica, but only accepting papers that have been accepted in other journals - Accepta Mathematica? - and then withdrawn by authors because of “moral outrage at publishers”, “dislike of anti-open source journals” or such like. (The reasons are complete hyperbole: I just mean that the paper is not withdrawn for reasons of errors). Papers would need to be supplied along with acceptance letters and referee reports, along with original submission and final accepted copy.

In any case, those with established careers with ‘nothing to fear’ should stop publishing in the journals in question so that their quality drops, and publish in other venues (open source/society- or university-published journals) so that their quality rises, and more junior mathematicians can safely jump ship.

Posted by: David Roberts on January 30, 2012 1:45 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

Or you could do the following:

submit a paper to Advances ;

wait 1.8 years for a referee report;

wait another half a year for a recommendation to publish to be accepted by an editor;

get an angry email saying “we are proceeding in good faith to publish your article, why didn’t you transfer the copyright?”

politely reply that you’re keeping the copyright but are willing to grant a license to publish;

get an email saying that the legal department of Elsevier will be in touch;

and then nothing.

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on January 31, 2012 3:18 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

So Eugene, did they publish it? If not, should they have done by now? What does the editor think about all this?

Posted by: Tom Leinster on January 31, 2012 3:39 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

They published it. I presume they published it without a license, since no contract was ever signed by anyone.

“What does the editor think about all this?”

I am not sure who the editor was. I never heard anything from him/her.

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on January 31, 2012 12:08 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

In other news, not all eminent British mathematicians are quite as admirable as Tim Gowers. Guess what this refers to?

“When it comes to the population of Great Britain being invited by a multinational to wipe their bottoms on what appears to be a work of a knight of the realm without his permission, then a last stand must be made.”

Answer here.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on January 30, 2012 2:55 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

What kinds of mathematical diagram are you allowed to copyright? Perhaps it’s time to copyright string diagrams for monoidal categories.

Posted by: David Corfield on January 30, 2012 8:34 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

An individual string diagram would automatically be copyright to its author, assuming there was original content in it. There’s no copyright in generic concepts like “string diagram” per se. You could patent the concept of a string diagram, I suppose, except that it’s now widely used and known, so actually you couldn’t, because of “prior art”.

Posted by: Tim Silverman on January 30, 2012 8:57 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

Oh, I just noticed that that story is dated 1997. For some reason, it was doing the rounds on the internet recently.

I discovered this because I was just talking to a colleague who, back in the 1990s, was asked by Kleenex to be an expert witness. He declined.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on March 4, 2012 4:24 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

I did wonder about that, when I followed the link.
Do you know how the story ended? Is it still in courts 15 years later?

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on March 4, 2012 8:26 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

Does anyone know what’s happened to the Banff Protocol? My immediate thought on reading about the Elsevier petition was that everything in it was already covered by the Banff Protocol, but I wanted to check as it’s been a while since I read it. However, I can’t find it! Top search hit is John’s post here a few years back, but the link that it links to is dead.

Posted by: Andrew Stacey on January 30, 2012 9:20 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Banning Elsevier

One way to erode the predatory journal strangle hold is to move more and more science (pre) publishing to open source. I just saw this discussion: An arXiv for all of science? F1000 launches new immediate publication journal. Contra the title, the target appears to be mainly bio-medicine. Doing this for bio-medicine is quite important because research there is the most richly funded and bio-medicine journals are the cash cows for publishers.

Posted by: RodMcGuire on January 30, 2012 10:52 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Plain TeX + DVI + Public domain

I prefer, Plain TeX, with DVI output format, and public domain. I don’t want Elsevier.
Posted by: Anonymous on February 5, 2012 11:29 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
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