[Marxism] A SAGE publications outrage

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 3 19:25:06 MDT 2012

NY Times February 13, 2012
Mathematicians Organize Boycott of a Publisher

More than 5,700 researchers have joined a boycott of Elsevier, a leading 
publisher of science journals, in a growing furor over open access to 
the fruits of scientific research.

The protest grew out of a provocative blog post by the mathematician 
Timothy Gowers of Cambridge University, who announced on Jan. 21 that he 
would no longer publish papers in any of Elsevier’s journals or serve as 
a referee or editor for them.

Last week 34 mathematicians issued a statement denouncing “a system in 
which commercial publishers make profits based on the free labor of 
mathematicians and subscription fees from their institutions’ libraries, 
for a service that has become largely unnecessary.”

The signers included three Fields medalists — Dr. Gowers, Terence Tao 
and Wendelin Werner. The statement was also signed by Ingrid Daubechies, 
president of the International Mathematical Union, who then resigned as 
one of the unpaid editors in chief at the Elsevier journal Applied and 
Computational Harmonic Analysis.

“We feel that the social compact is broken at present by some publishing 
houses, of which we feel Elsevier is the most extreme,” Dr. Daubechies 
said. “We feel they are now making much larger profits at a time when a 
lot of the load they used to take has been taken over by us.”

While joining the boycott was her own decision, Dr. Daubechies said the 
International Mathematical Union was debating whether to take a position.

The defecting scientists represent a small fraction of the roughly 
600,000 authors Elsevier says it publishes. In an open letter responding 
to some of the grievances, Elsevier said it was “proud of the way we 
have been able to work in partnership with the research community to 
make real and sustainable contributions to science.”

Still, David Clark, the senior vice president in charge of Elsevier’s 
mathematics journals, acknowledged that the boycott had drawn attention.

“When one prominent person raises concerns, other people will raise 
concerns, too,” he said in an interview. “We certainly want to hear 
those concerns.”

For 2010, Elsevier reported a 36 percent profit on revenues of $3.2 
billion. “It’s a secure, viable business, which is a good thing,” Mr. 
Clark said.

The most recent flashpoint in the dispute was the Research Works Act, a 
bill introduced in Congress in December that would prohibit federal 
agencies from requiring open access to research, even if it is financed 
by taxpayers.

On Thursday, a competing bill, the Federal Research Public Access Act, 
first drafted in 2006, was reintroduced in Congress.

“The Research Works Act was the straw that broke the camel’s back for 
many people. Also for me,” said Dr. Daubechies (pronounced DOHB-shee), a 
Duke University mathematician known for her work on wavelets that 
improve the quality of compressed images.

Mr. Clark, of Elsevier, said: “We’ve seen a lot of pushback on this 
issue. As a publisher, we never like a government mandate that says you 
should do this in this way.” But he also acknowledged: “We left a lot of 
editors feeling annoyed and confused. And we really shouldn’t have done 

Dr. Daubechies said she was contacted by Mr. Clark and was willing to 
talk, but did not want the company to think, “now we have vented and now 
we have calmed down.”

Dr. Gowers, of Cambridge, said his original blog post was intended not 
as a way of “starting a campaign but making my own position public.” But 
he added, “It had so much momentum that it seemed wrong to squander that 

He said he hoped the boycott would lead to more alternatives to 
commercial publishers.

“You can expect movement on that within the next few months,” he said.

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