In October 2001, more than 30,000 scientists signed an open letter in which they pledged to exclusively publish in, review for and serve as editors of journals that placed their contents in the –then newly launched– PubMed Central with no more than a 6 month delay. Publishers did not respond to the call, and the campaign fizzled away as very few followed through on their pledge. Things seem to be different this time around. The Gowers initiated petition to boycott Elsevier has barely reached the 7000 signatures, yet the publisher is multiplying its efforts “to make up” with its constituency.
Is it the new power of social media? Is it because the campaign has made the pages of the NY Times, the Economist, the Guardian and most of mainstream media? Was it the brilliant move to first focus on Elsevier? All this is debatable and will have to wait until the dust settles. For now, it looks like Elsevier is taking the campaign seriously and is trying to wiggle its way out of the public relations nightmare that it is currently living. What are they doing?
First, they are using the right words by claiming that “they are really committed to the broadest possible dissemination of published research.”
Second, they are saying that they were not the only “bad guys”.
“Professor Gowers’ protest is concerned with pricing of journals, the practice of offering journals in bundles and, in particular, Elsevier’s support, along with many publishers, of a set of legislation, including the Research Works Act in the US. We have attracted criticism that seems to be directed at the industry as a whole.”
Then, the usual “But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood …” Actually, what they said is:
“We also see some arguments based on wrong or incomplete information.”
Followed by a mea culpa:
“We at Elsevier have not done a good job of communicating about what we do to meet the needs of the mathematics community and in our efforts to fully explore the possibilities and possible effects of novel publishing initiatives, we have not moved promptly and boldly enough to drive the pace of the revolution that is inevitably coming to the publishing industry.”
What had they done so far?
“On the matter of poor communication for instance, last year we introduced open archives on the Journal of Algebra and rather earlier on the journal Stochastic Processes and their Applications: all articles made freely available 4 years after publication. This is something that few mathematics publishers have been willing to undertake but we saw it as an important way both of expanding access and ensuring the widest possible dissemination of the original mathematics research.”
And according to Elsevier, who shares the blame? Those who cannot buy their bundles!
“Impatience has built up because the greater access many enjoy does not always translate to everyone having the levels of access that we all would want. For example in our discussions of the past weeks we’ve realized that some important mathematics institutes lack the access they need.”
What are their concessions for now? According to an email from Valerie Teng-Broug (Elsevier Publisher for Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science & Astronomy),
“We are therefore, and with immediate effect, expanding our open archives offering, making the archives of the following journals freely available four years after publication:
Advances in Mathematics, Journal of Combinatorial Theory A, Journal of Combinatorial Theory B, Journal of Number Theory, Annals of Pure and Applied Logic, Differential Geometry and its Applications, European Journal of Combinatorics, Finite Fields and their Applications, Journal of Algebra (already in place), Journal of Functional Analysis, Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra, Linear Algebra and its Applications, Topology and its Applications.”
Good start, as she assures us,
“We do not regard this as the end of our discussion with mathematicians but rather the continuation of our efforts to ensure the widest dissemination of the literature. We will next meet with the Editors of our journals, to address some of the issues which have arisen in this very intensive period.”
Hurry up before they all resign.