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My letter to an Elsevier journal

I just declined to referee a paper for an Elsevier journal. Here's the letter I sent to the editor.

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Thanks for thinking of me. I'm sorry to say that I must decline.

I have signed the "CostOfKnowledge" pledge not to referee for Elsevier.

But that statement is not as specific as I wish to be. I will not referee for Elsevier as long as it opposes the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) and university policies to assure open access to their research output.

For more details on FRPAA, see the page at the Harvard Open Access Project.

For more on Elsevier's opposition to FRPAA, see the March 5 open letter it signed with a group of other publishers.

For more on Elsevier's opposition to university OA mandates, see Elsevier's own article posting policies ("Therefore, deposit in, or posting to, subject-oriented or centralized repositories..., or institutional repositories with systematic posting mandates is permitted only under specific agreements between Elsevier and the repository, agency or institution....")

I don't want to hurt the [journal] or the authors of this submission. But I will not donate my time and labor to a publisher working against the interests of research and researchers.

Please feel free to share this email with any of your colleagues at [journal] and Elsevier.


Peter Suber
Director, Harvard Open Access Project
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Research Professor of Philosophy, Earlham College
Senior Researcher, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition

#oa #openaccess #elsevier
Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey's profile photoNorman M.'s profile photoPeter Suber's profile photoRobin Peek's profile photo
The paper was on open access and looked interesting. My advice to the authors is to submit it elsewhere. The people most qualified to referee your paper are those most likely to refuse to referee for Elsevier.
Did you give this advice directly to the authors of the paper? Might not be a bad idea in this case, despite the usual taboo about telling someone you were asked to referee a paper of theirs. I'd be interested to know other people's opinions about this.
Does Elsevier provide any material funding to research? Are there qualified researchers in that organization? They really need to contribute to our quest for Truth instead being an irritant in a already arduous process.
+Derek Wise: No, I haven't. But it's a good question and I'll have to think about the ethics of that. I do know the authors' names and I didn't referee their paper. On the other hand, I only know their names, and only know about their paper, through the semi-confidential process of being asked to serve as a referee. I was hoping that my public blog post would find its way to them, especially since they write about OA. But of course I can't count on that. I'll keep thinking about this.
+Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey: The editor was understanding and supportive, even grateful for some of the links in my message. We had a productive email exchange about OA with no friction or animosity. One lesson is that editors are not publishers. In my experience, they identify more with the interests of researchers than with the interests of publishers.
I think it is a spot-on letter. I would not be surprised at all if Elsevier is going to attempt to test the courage of conviction of the folks who signed the petition. As in, "hey look they signed it but so what they melt."
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