Science should be open. If you support that sentiment, this initiative is good news. It is a call for researchers to declare a boycott of Elsevier, one of the largest publishers of scientific journals in the world. Elsevier makes enormous profits off the free labor of scientists all over the world. Scientists do the research, write the papers, do the editing and peer-review, and then the paper gets published by an Elsevier journal, earning the middleman enormous profit. In order to protect its business model, which consists of adding literally nothing worthwhile to science or the general public, Elsevier forces libraries to buy bundles of their journals, rather than just the journals they want or need. At the same time, they make every effort to restrict the free flow of scientific knowledge, supporting laws like SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act, which seeks to prohibit open access mandates to publicly funded research.
The reason this works is that these are prestigious journals that everyone uses. If one researcher refuses to participate, it’s little more than a nuisance to their fellow scientists. If many people announce their unwillingness to participate in this scheme, however, maybe real progress can be made. Elsevier is only part of the problem, but it is probably wise to focus on one specific company to begin with.
Alternatives to the commercial journals—which, again, to emphasize, do not actually make any money for the benefit of scientists or science—already exist. Open access to scientific papers and data will make science more democratic, and likely more efficient as well. It will also benefit the general public. When I write about science on this blog, I try to rely on primary sources, but often, they are behind paywalls, and I can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars to purchase access to papers only to write a free blog. If science is open access, that means people like you and me don’t need to rely on people affiliated with research institutions or with sufficient economic means to interpret science for us. We can do it ourselves.