I didn’t have the nerve for a full-scale boycott but my applause for the organizer, Elsevier, was muted. Like a polite laugh but then in the form of clapping.
Not that the publisher had organized the conference badly. On the contrary: everything ran as smoothly as could be. I just don’t like Elsevier. I think they have lined their pockets with public money.
WUR pays a whole 2.9 million euros to publishers for access to academic literature. In the corridors I hear that Elsevier is the worst. I can’t check that: the results of negotiations are secret. Yes, secret. In the Netherlands virtually every penny spent has to be made public. Exactly how much money is spent on my research can be found on the internet. Behind the scenes I recently had to specify exactly what I needed a roll of tape for, but the outcome of these negotiations over millions stay secret. The only thing I can say is that RELX, Elsevier’s parent company, made a net profit of nearly 1.4 billion last year. Meanwhile, publishers’ policies bring out the worst in scientists (publication bias, significance hunting etc.) because their careers depend on publications on top journals.
After a hypocritical promotional talk on the conference I couldn’t stand it any longer. In the plenary I asked a cynical question: why do you have to pay Elsevier to reuse images? For just a moment they were silent, those Elsevier people. Then everything carried on as if nothing had happened.
I’m going to try to get my own next manuscript published in an Elsevier journal. Well, I do need publications for my thesis. Elsevier’s business model is safe for now.
Stijn van Gils (29) is doing doctoral research on ecosystem services in agriculture. Every month he describes his struggles with the scientific system.