Elsevier journals

A number of scientists I know refuse to deal with journals published by the publisher Reed Elsevier, for a couple of different reasons.  First, they’re ridiculously expensive, and Elsevier sometimes adopts pricing schemes where libraries have to purchase large bundles of journals rather than just the ones they want.  As John Baez put it a while ago,

There is really no reason for us to donate our work [i.e. authorship and refereeing] to profit-making corporations who sell it back to us at exorbitant prices!

The second reason some academics were boycotting Elsevier is that the company had a sideline sponsoring international arms fairs, a business which many people find repugnant.  That’s no longer a reason to shun the company, though: they’re out of that line of work.

All of the above is at least a couple of years old.  But here’s a new reason not to like the company: for about five years, they published at least six fake journals.  These were made to look like peer-reviewed scientific journals, but they weren’t.  At least one was owned and operated by Merck, and published only articles promoting Merck’s interests.  Not surprisingly, librarians and others don’t like this.

Oh, and by the way, the company also ran New Scientist, which used to be a good pop-science magazine, into the ground.  Less important than some other considerations, but still annoying.

Should there be an organized boycott over something like this fake-journal scandal?  I don’t really know.  But I do know that I have a choice when donating my labor to journals, and I’m fully entitled to take this sort of practice into account when making that choice.  Other things being equal, I’m certainly going to steer clear of this company.  If there were an occasion in which publishing in an Elsevier journal was far better than any other option for some reason, I’d have to decide how to weigh the various factors.  Fortunately, for me that pretty much never arises: the main journals it makes sense for me to publish in are published by professional societies.  They’re reasonably priced (compared to other scientific journals) and as far as I know are free from this sort of corruption.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

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