I know peer reviewing is done freely and voluntarily, at least I think for the most part, so I am not sure strike is the best way of calling it, but it gives the idea. With all the recent discussion about open access and overworked researchers that relate to the publishing cycle, I was wondering if there has been any protest, or strike, or talks for a strike by peer reviewers.

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    Considering how long it takes to review a paper, I believed peer reviewers were always on strike... ;-)
    – gented
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 13:53

4 Answers 4


Not en masse. If researchers refused to review en masse, the system would break down and no papers would be published (or they'd be published without review) and the impact would be very visible.

On smaller scales there has been a Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier, an individual publishing house. This was initiated by Timothy Gowers in 2012, in protest of Elsevier's perceived high prices and gross margins. The target is Elsevier because it is the "worst offender" - Elsevier's margins are very high, above 20%. The boycott allows the signatories to say if they're not willing to publish with, to do editorial work, or to referee for Elsevier. It's had minimal impact: as of time of writing, there are 16,946 signatories, a tiny fraction of the number of academics in the world (millions). It did, however, lead to Elsevier lowering its prices slightly for mathematics journals as well as making some old papers available for free.

On an even smaller scale, I've seen researchers decline to review papers because they don't review for non-OA journals, or because they don't work for free. This is a very small fraction however: I've invited hundreds of reviewers, and the number who decline for these reasons can be counted on one hand.

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    I don't think it's fair to dismiss the Cost of Knowledge boycott's impact so readily. Within the mathematics community, there have been some significant impacts. At a minimum, many Elsevier mathematics journals have improved access for non-subscribers as a direct response to the boycott.
    – Zach H
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 3:29
  • True, I'll amend the answer.
    – Allure
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 4:28
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    Elsevier is "an individual publishing house" the same way that Facebook is "an individual social network". It is a humongous publishing house, that publishes a rather significant part of scientific journals. And if 16,946 signatories is such a small number, how come it made Elsevier budge?
    – user9646
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:30
  • 1
    Facebook is an individual social network. There are other networks with hundreds of millions of users, such as Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sina Weibo and RenRen. As for why 16,946 signatories made Elsevier budge, they did it as an act of goodwill. If you think it's a significant number, check Elsevier's annual reports for how much the boycott affected their top and bottom lines.
    – Allure
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 9:30
  • @Allure Of course, these are the numbers they report. Commented May 18, 2020 at 22:19

Researchers have refused to review for Elsevier, as part of the Cost of Knowledge boycott, which

  1. Objects to exorbitantly high prices; and
  2. Objects to measures that restrict free information.

The initial success of the boycott was summarised in 2014 by Sir Timothy Gowers (Fields Medal recipient):

A little over two years ago, the Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier journals began. Initially, it seemed to be highly successful, with the number of signatories rapidly reaching 10,000 and including some very high-profile researchers, and Elsevier making a number of concessions, such as dropping support for the Research Works Act and making papers over four years old from several mathematics journals freely available online. It has also contributed to an increased awareness of the issues related to high journal prices and the locking up of articles behind paywalls.

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    Missing in your enumeration of reasons is the (highly relevant) fact that Elsevier is exploiting its de-facto cartel position. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 10:43
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    @user2768 No, that reason is from that page — it’s point 2. Compare: your list only has two points, whereas the list on the Cost of Knowledge front page has three. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 10:52
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    @user2768 Right: the “bundling” is another way of saying that they exploit a cartel position. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 11:34
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    I agree with Konrad. You've taken some pretty liberal editorial steps in whittling down a three-point manifesto down to two soundbites. You don't have to call it a 'de facto cartel' if you don't want to, but cutting the reference to the bundling deals is definitely inappropriate here. Your initial comment pretends to only list the original TCoK reasoning, but then you editorialize by deciding which issues are "right" to "pick-up on"?
    – E.P.
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 12:50
  • 1
    I don't see why you should need 'convincing' ─ if the TCoK writers had felt that the pricing and bundling were one and the same issue, they would have listed them together ─ unless, of course, you were actually editorializing. You've heard from two voices that your summary is inaccurate and incomplete, to the detriment of your (thousands of) readers, but if that's not enough to convince you to give a fair account of the boycott you're describing, then I don't think there's anything else I can say here that will change things.
    – E.P.
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 11:43

Apart from the Cost of Knowledge, which was a while ago now and had a broader scope than just reviewing, more recently there was No Deal No Review by Finnish researchers. They boycotted the task of peer reviewing for traditional publishers in order to put pressure on them while they negotiated with the Finnish universities.

Since the result of those negotiations are widely met with disappointment, it's not clear yet what will happen with the boycott.

  • @Haz That just says the negotiations have been concluded, which I mentioned already as well...
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 8, 2018 at 7:28
  • Sadly, the "No Deal No Review" initiative is no longer active, and the website no longer exists.
    – a3nm
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 18:20

We have recently launched an initiative which is very similar to what you ask about: No free view? No review!. This allows researchers to pledge that they will not do reviewing work for venues that do not put their research in open access. It is not specifically targeted to one single publisher or research field.

Disclaimer: I'm one of the people behind the initiative.

Another similar existing initiative is Research Without Walls.

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