A large majority of researchers in my field publish in Elsevier journals. However, a professor who is widely regarded as an authority in my field has, some years ago, signed The Cost of Knowledge pledge to neither publish nor review for Elsevier. I think this is sad, since someone who is highly qualified to review these papers will no longer review them and improve their quality.

This professor has published in other journals, but it does not seem that others are following suit, since these Elsevier journals seem to be highly prized. What can he do to be able to review papers that would have otherwise come to his perusal without having to recant?

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    Control? Nothing, even if he recants. Influence? He can publish in and review for journals not published by Elsevier. Obviously.
    – JeffE
    Aug 1 '14 at 14:22
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    Because no single person can control the quality of papers across an entire field. Nor should they be able to. Aug 1 '14 at 15:27
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    It's clear to those of us who responded, but it was not at all clear from your wording that you understood that, which is why we responded. Aug 1 '14 at 21:59
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    @RBarryYoung, I have now used 'review' instead. I see now the source of the problem. I didn't realise that the word 'control' could be deemed offensive. I used it with the sense 'to check' in mind.
    – adipro
    Aug 1 '14 at 22:13
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    Many of us have more review requests than we have time to review. Giving priority to journals who are acting in the line with our ethics and with the best interest of our fields (and society more generally) seems it should not need any more justification. Aug 2 '14 at 0:57

(This answer is adapted from my comment below Marc Cleason's answer)

In the spirit of the pledge, this professor could put a banner saying in substance "I do not review for Elsevier journal, so if you are an author hoping for me to review your paper, submit to other publisher's journals".

One important thing about such a pledge is that it is useless if it is silent; this is an initial observation by Tim Gowers that lead to the pledge. Now that 14000 people have signed it, each one of them is somewhat hidden in the crowd, so making this kind of statements on one's web page is a way to make one's pledge more public, and to give the movement some momentum. Here, a prominent professor has also the possibility to influence the submissions of his or her colleagues, which is a good bonus.


Sounds like he's sticking to his moral principles, which is the best anyone can do. Maybe he could evangelize his opinion more to increase the impact of his crusade, but that's about it.

I disagree with the insinuation that he may be doing his field a disservice, since moving away from the ancient publishing model is a good thing for any field in the long run. Besides, it's not like he has left the field; just a small part of its publication scene.

Just because nobody seems to be following him (yet) does not mean he failed in any way.

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    I don't believe that he is doing his field any disservice either. I think he's done the right thing.
    – adipro
    Aug 1 '14 at 18:48
  • Perhaps he could display on his website a banner saying "I do not review papers for Elsevier journals. If you'd like me to comment on your manuscript, please send me a copy."
    – adipro
    Aug 1 '14 at 21:42
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    @adipro: although that risks him commenting on a paper that was always intended for, and goes on to be, published by Elsevier. In many ways that's equivalent to the thing that he doesn't want to do (review for Elsevier). The whole point of the boycott is to avoid supplying or supporting Elsevier journals, so I don't see why he would want to do that. Aug 2 '14 at 11:55
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    @adipro: a variant that would be more in the spirit of the pledge would be to put a banner saying in substance "I do not review for Elsevier journal, so if you are an author hoping for me to review your paper, submit to other publisher's journals". Aug 3 '14 at 19:11
  • @BenoîtKloeckner, would you write your comment as an answer, please?
    – adipro
    Aug 4 '14 at 10:20

If authorities disregard a journal en masse, that journal (or series of journals) will lose any reputation for quality publication. If poor-quality papers get through to publication due to a drop off in submissions or high-quality available reviewers, that journal will lose even more reputation for quality. This sort of issue should be self-correcting if enough researchers feel strongly about it.

  • 1
    I was thinking along the same line. Unfortunately, it seems that not many researchers feel strongly about it. How can one accelerate this self-correcting mechanism?
    – adipro
    Aug 1 '14 at 21:29
  • Also, my field is just a small sub area within the scope of those Elsevier journals.
    – adipro
    Aug 1 '14 at 21:31
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    I'm not sure one can, or should, other than by taking about it with others in the community at that level.
    – sintax
    Aug 1 '14 at 22:29
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    @adipro according to their website 14725 people have boycotted Elsevier. This is a huge number! Why do you say not many people feel strongly about it?
    – user13107
    Aug 3 '14 at 1:54
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    If the journal appreciably loses quality because of lower submissions or unavailable referees, then that is exactly the point of the boycott.
    – E.P.
    Aug 4 '14 at 9:52

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