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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeJun 27th 2012

    Having signed up to the Elsevier boycott many months ago, I haven’t noticed many consequences. I have a paper accepted in an Elsevier journal which I will revise and resubmit. I did have some difficulty thinking where to send a paper for which the obvious (to me) journal is Elsevier’s. However until today it hadn’t affected my refereeing activities. I received a request from an Elsevier journal well known in the area of discrete mathematics. My reply was: “I am very sorry, but cannot help, owing to having signed up to the Elsevier boycott. I would be happy to review the paper if submitted to another journal. Please explain this to the author.”

    I was a little surprised by the followup. First I received a (probably automated and standardized) email from Laura Schmidt of Elsevier, which said ” I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on initiatives we have taken to address the concerns of the mathematics community. Since the beginning of the year we have …” followed by a list of their achievements, all of which I feel they should have done much earlier, are far too little, and shouldn’t have required a boycott to get them to do. The next email was from the Associate Editor of the above journal. His comments were interesting:

    “Dear Prof. Wilson:

    I’m sorry that you won’t be able to referee this paper because it has been submitted to an Elsevier journal. I commiserate with some of the goals of the boycott; I’m happy to see that Elsevier has taken some steps to address valid concerns. You may be surprised to learn that Elsevier does compensate me fairly as an associate editor of Discrete Mathematics. Also, the tools that they have developed make it possible for me to do a much better job as an editor than I could do otherwise.

    I usually don’t respond to referees who refuse because of the boycott, but I am responding because of your note. The negative part of your boycott is that this author won’t benefit from your review. I have been encouraging Elsevier to improve their policies and I tell them about invited referees who refuse because of the boycott. However, it is totally inappropriate for you to ask me to tell the author why you won’t review his paper. “

    Two things interest me in particular: 1) I thought only editors in chief received compensation 2) I don’t see how it can be inappropriate to make a polite request. It may be inappropriate for the editor to act on that request, but that’s a different matter.

    I have an ethical question. Would it be appropriate (since I now know the author’s name) to contact the author and 1) encourage him to submit somewhere else, assuming his paper is not accepted and/or 2) explain about the boycott. The author seems to be a professor emeritus, in case that is relevant.

    For completeness, here is the list of Elsevier achievements sent by LS:

    opened our archives by introducing a 4-yr delayed access policy for 43 mathematics journals. - defined a small new core mathematics subject collection, which is now available and designed to give more flexibility to subscribing institutes with low cost. This is a collection of our 16 most desired titles and comes with discounts of about 70% (the exact price depends on e.g. size of the institute): http://www.info.sciverse.com/sciencedirect/content/journals/coremath. - launched a Mathematics Scientific Advisory Council. The first 3 members of the Scientific Council have agreed to join. We aim to have more members and a first meeting by the end of the summer. - lowered list prices for journals with high price per article. Our 2013 prices will be publicly released on June 30th. Many of our mathematics titles’ prices have been lowered significantly, including Discrete Mathematics. - given editors the option to nominate reviewers to receive full access to our online math subject collection to aid them in getting the papers they need as quickly and seamlessly as possible. We are also exploring ways to acknowledge reviewers for the work that they do. - been actively meeting with people and we’re making ourselves available for discussions by advertising what conferences we will attend at http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/P11.cws_home/main#conferences. - continued to pursue sponsorship opportunities like student awards, travel grants, prizes, etc as ways to give back to the community, and these efforts will also be overseen by the Scientific Council once instated. - engaged internally with our production, books, sales, and online platform departments to provide better services and products tailored to the mathematics field. - communicated these plans and actions via open letters to the mathematics community: http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/P11.cws_home/lettertothecommunity.

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorzskoda
    • CommentTimeJul 6th 2012
    • (edited Jul 6th 2012)

    However, it is totally inappropriate for you to ask me to tell the author why you won’t review his paper.

    Outrageously wrong. Somebody who considers appropriate to ask you to invest of the order of two days of work to referee on the basis of academic courtesy, does not find it acceptable to do the courtesy of a two line message passage requested by a person who wants to improve the academic culture. In addition he boasts that he is “compensated” for his work (in which he has no time to pass two line message) which he is doing with that much less grace, comparing to you who are not compensating and whose argument is not appreciated.

    Would it be appropriate (since I now know the author’s name) to contact the author and 1) encourage him to submit somewhere else, assuming his paper is not accepted and/or 2) explain about the boycott.

    Most people would feel a bit uneasy about that step. But thinking logically, you are not (and were not) an acting referee, and you are not disclosing the secret of refereed paper to the third person, the only two requirements which would disable you from open communication to the author. Of course, the choice of submission is the intellectual right of the author and anything like pressure may also not be welcome and courteous. However, if it is about explaining/confessing your own action, I think it is OK; and the author may or may not be inspired by this to infer his own changes.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorNoah Snyder
    • CommentTimeJul 6th 2012
    If you do not know the author personally, contacting them about the boycott strikes me as quite inappropriate. It'd be unsolicited email trying to "sell" them on something, which I think is poor behavior.

    If it was someone you knew personally then the next time you saw them casually mentioning that submitting to Elsevier may have hurt that paper because it's harder for them to find good referees seems reasonable. You don't have to be explicit about whether you were the intended referee or you heard second hand, they can read between the lines.
  1. I strongly support Noah Snyder’s comment, especially after the answer you got from the editor. I think much trouble could come to bypass the editor like this, however justified it seems, so great caution is mandatory in these matters.