As reported widely this week, including The Chronicle Elsevier Publishing Boycott Gathers Steam Among Academics and The Economist The Price of Information a series of posts by Professor Timothy Gowers of Cambridge University has prompted a huge debate in the online community (including Twitter #RWA #openaccess ) around the current model for scholarly communication via journals, high fees from publishers, and alternative models which could be much less costly.
Professor Gowers has organized a boycott of Elsevier because, he says, its pricing and policies restrict access to work that should be much more easily available. Since the boycott website opened on January 21 http://thecostofknowledge.com/ over 3,000 researchers have signed, pledging not to publish, referee, or do editorial work for any Elsevier journal.
Elsevier and other publishers exist to make a profit, they can’t be criticised for that, but is this how public-funded research should be disseminated? We pay for the research, then we pay again (if we can afford it) to have access to research papers.
The technology exists to use alternative models, and although can’t happen overnight – it will need a significant change of culture, if there is a will amongst the academic community then this could represent a tremendous step forward for ‘open research’ and save a large amount of public funds along the way.
As the Economist article notes “publishers need academics more than academics need publishers”.
Update: March 12 2012
Elsevier announced on their website on 27th February that they had withdrawn their support of the Research Works Act. Further comment on this action can be found in the Chronicle article “Legislation to Bar Public-Access Requirement on Federal Research Is Dead“.