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Friday, October 27, 2006

More on the declaration of independence at Elsevier's Topology

Richard Monastersky, Editorial Board of Elsevier Journal Resigns in Protest Over Pricing, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 27, 2006. Excerpt:

The entire editorial board of the prestigious mathematics journal Topology has resigned to protest the pricing policies of the journal's publisher, Elsevier, a giant European editorial company.

"Topology has a very high price per page," said Marc Lackenby, a member of the editorial board and a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford. "Elsevier as a whole doesn't seem to be acting in the interest of the mathematical community."

The New York Sun published an article on Thursday describing the resignations, which were announced over the summer and take effect on December 31....

[Lackenby] and his co-editors sent a letter on August 10 to Robert Ross, the Elsevier publisher in charge of pure-mathematics journals, announcing their resignations. In the letter, the board members said, "We believe that the price, in combination with Elsevier's policies for pricing mathematical journals more generally, has had a significant and damaging effect on Topology's reputation in the mathematical-research community, and that this is likely to become increasingly serious and difficult, indeed impossible, to reverse in the future."

In a statement released by Elsevier on Thursday, the company said it "regrets the decision taken by the editorial board of Topology, but we believe it doesn't fully reflect the changes we have made over the past decade, and continue to make, which have moderated price increases and provided considerably more value for customers, in terms of both cost per article and research efficiency."

According to Mr. Lackenby, the high cost of the journal, which has an institutional price of $1,665 per year in the United States, was hurting its quality. "Many mathematicians were beginning to boycott the journal," he said. The editors had noticed a drop in the number of high-quality papers submitted for publication and also a decline in the number of mathematicians willing to serve as peer reviewers. As a result, he said, "the recent issues have been quite a bit thinner."

Mr. Lackenby said "the overwhelming response of the mathematical community has been to back our resignation." Moreover, he said, "there was an overwhelming point of view that Elsevier was exploiting the mathematical community."

When Peter Woit, a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia University, posted a note about the resignations on his blog, Not Even Wrong, it attracted 49 comments, many of which expressed displeasure with Elsevier.

This is not the first time that an editorial board has revolted at an Elsevier publication. In 1999 the 50-member board of the Journal of Logic Programming resigned and formed a new journal, according to Peter Suber, a research professor of philosophy at Earlham College and an advocate of open-access publishing.

Mr. Suber has used his blog devoted to open-access issues to list cases in which editors had left journals to start lower-cost or free alternatives. According to Mr. Suber, Elsevier faced another uprising by topologists in 2001, when some editors of Topology and Its Applications resigned and later formed Algebraic and Geometric Topology....

PS:  Minor correction:  The Chronicle cites my page of lists, not my blog.