The Cost of Knowledge

The Cost of Knowledge is a protest by academics against the business practices of academic journal publisher Elsevier. Among the reasons for the protests were a call for lower prices for journals and to promote increased open access to information. The main work of the project was to ask researchers to sign a statement committing not to support Elsevier journals by publishing, performing peer review, or providing editorial services for these journals.

The Cost of Knowledge logo
Logo of the campaign


Before the advent of the Internet, it was difficult for scholars to distribute articles giving their research results.[1] Historically, publishers performed services including proofreading, typesetting, copyediting, printing, and worldwide distribution.[1] In modern times, all researchers became expected to give the publishers digital copies of their work which needed no further processing – in other words, the modern academic is expected to do, often for free, duties traditionally assigned to the publisher, and for which, traditionally, the publisher is paid in exchange.[1] For digital distribution, printing was unnecessary, copying was free, and worldwide distribution happens online instantly.[1] Internet technology, and with it the aforementioned significant decrease in overhead costs, enabled the four major scientific publishers – Elsevier, Springer, Wiley, and Informa — to cut their expenditures such that they could consistently generate gross margins on revenue of over 33%.[1]

Topology journal dispute

In 2006, the nine editorial board members of Oxford University's Elsevier-published mathematics journal Topology resigned because they agreed among themselves that Elsevier's publishing policies had "a significant and damaging effect on Topology's reputation in the mathematical research community."[2] An Elsevier spokesperson disputed this, saying that "this still constitutes a pretty rare occurrence" and that the journal "is actually available today to more people than ever before".[2] Journalists recognize this event as part of the precedent to The Cost of Knowledge campaign.[3][4] In 2008, the Journal of Topology started independently of Elsevier, and Topology ended publication in 2009.

A change from status quo

On 21 January 2012, the mathematician Timothy Gowers called for a boycott of Elsevier with a post[5] on his personal blog. This blog post attracted enough attention that other media sources commented on it as being part of the start of a movement.[6][7] The three reasons he cited for the boycott are high subscription prices for individual journals, bundling subscriptions to journals of different value and importance, and Elsevier's support for SOPA, the PROTECT IP Act, and the Research Works Act.[4][8][9] The "Statement of Purpose" on the Cost of Knowledge website explains that Elsevier was chosen as an initial focus for discontent due to a "widespread feeling among mathematicians that they are the worst offender." [10] The statement further mentions "scandals, lawsuits, lobbying, etc." as reasons for focusing on Elsevier.[10]

Elsevier disputed the claims, arguing that their prices are below the industry average, and stating that bundling is only one of several different options available to buy access to Elsevier journals.[8] The company also claimed that its considerable profit margins are "simply a consequence of the firm's efficient operation".[4] Critics of Elsevier claim that in 2010, 36% of Elsevier's reported revenues of US$3.2 billion was profit.[11] Elsevier claimed to have an operating margin of 25.7% in 2010.[12]

Impact and reception

A 2016 study evaluating the boycott has questioned its impact, stating that in the past four years 38% of signatories had abandoned their "won't publish in an Elsevier outlet" commitment and that only around 5000 researchers were still clearly boycotting Elsevier by publishing elsewhere. It concludes "Few researchers have signed the petition in recent years, thus giving the impression the boycott has run its course.".[13]

In February 2012, analysts of the Exane Paribas bank reported a financial impact on Elsevier with the company's stock prices falling due to the boycott.[14] Dennis Snower criticised the monopoly of scientific publishers, but said at the same time that he did not support the boycott even though he himself is the editor-in-chief of an open-access journal on economics. He thinks that more competition among the various journals should instead be encouraged.[15] The Senate of the Kansas University has been reported to consider joining the boycott of Elsevier.[16]

In allusion to the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily newspaper called the movement the "Academic Spring" (German: Akademischer Frühling).[17] When the British Wellcome Trust made a commitment to open up science, The Guardian similarly called this the "Academic Spring".[18] After the Wellcome Trust announcement, The Cost of Knowledge campaign was recognized by that newspaper as the start of something new.[19]


The Cost of Knowledge
The commitment which the campaign requests.

A website called "The Cost of Knowledge" appeared, inviting researchers and scholars to declare their commitment to not submit papers to Elsevier journals, not referee articles for Elsevier's journals, and not participate in the editorial boards.


On 8 February 2012, 34 prominent mathematicians who had signed The Cost of Knowledge released a joint statement of purpose explaining their reasons for supporting the protest.[20][21] In addition to Tim Gowers, Ingrid Daubechies,[22] Juan J. Manfredi,[23] Terence Tao,[20] Wendelin Werner,[20] Scott Aaronson, László Lovász, and John Baez are among the signatories. Many signatories are researchers in the fields of mathematics, computer science, and biology.[24] On 1 February 2012, the declaration had a thousand signatories.[25] By November 2018, over 17000 researchers had signed the petition.[26] The success of the petition has been debated.[27]

Reaction from Elsevier

On 27 February 2012, Elsevier issued a statement on its website that declared that it has withdrawn support from the Research Works Act.[28] Although the Cost of Knowledge movement was not mentioned, the statement indicated the hope that the move would "help create a less heated and more productive climate" for ongoing discussions with research funders. Hours after Elsevier's statement, Representatives Darrell Issa and Carolyn Maloney, who were sponsors of the bill, issued a joint statement saying that they would not push the bill in Congress.[29][30] Earlier, Mike Taylor of the University of Bristol accused Issa and Maloney of being motivated by large donations that they received from Elsevier in 2011.[31]

While participants in the boycott celebrated the dropping of support for the Research Works Act, Elsevier denied that their action was a result of the boycott and stated that they took this action at the request of those researchers who did not participate in the boycott.[32]

On the same day, Elsevier released an open letter to the mathematics community, stating that its target is to reduce its prices to $11/article or less.[30] Elsevier also opened the archives of 14 mathematics journals back to 1995 with a four-year moving wall.[30] In late 2012, Elsevier made all of its "primary mathematics" journals open access up to 2008.[33] The boycott remains in effect.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Taylor, Mike (21 February 2012). "It's Not Academic: How Publishers Are Squelching Science Communication". Discover. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  2. ^ a b Shapiro, Gary (26 October 2006). "A Rebellion Erupts Over Journals of Academia". The New York Sun. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  3. ^ Whitfield, John (9 February 2012). "Elsevier boycott gathers pace". Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c "Scientific publishing: The price of information". The Economist. 4 February 2012. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
  5. ^ See Sir William Timothy Gowers (21 January 2012). "Gowers's Weblog / Mathematics related discussions / Elsevier — my part in its downfall /". Archived from the original on 6 October 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  6. ^ Grant, Bob (7 February 2012). "Occupy Elsevier?". The Scientist. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  7. ^ Worstall, Tim (28 January 2012). "Elsevier's Publishing Model Might be About to Go Up in Smoke". Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  8. ^ a b Flood, Alison (2 February 2012). "Scientists sign petition to boycott academic publisher Elsevier". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
  9. ^ Fischman, Josh (30 January 2012). "Elsevier Publishing Boycott Gathers Steam Among Academics". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012.
  10. ^ a b "The Cost of Knowledge" (PDF). Retrieved 7 Nov 2017.
  11. ^ Cook, Garret (12 February 2012). "Why scientists are boycotting a publisher – Opinion – The Boston Globe". Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  12. ^ "2010 highlights". 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2012. operating margin
  13. ^ "On the Cost of Knowledge: Evaluating the Boycott against Elsevier". Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  14. ^ Storbeck, Olaf (14 February 2012). "Teure Wissenschaft: Forscher boykottieren Fachverlag". Handelsblatt (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  15. ^ Storbeck, Olaf (13 February 2012). "Dennis Snower: 'Herausgeber können Gott spielen'". Handelsblatt (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  16. ^ Hyland, Andy (7 February 2012). "Heard on the Hill: University Senate considering boycotting publisher Elsevier..." Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  17. ^ Plickert, Philip (14 February 2012). "Debatte um Wissenschaftsverlag: Akademischer Frühling" (in German). Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  18. ^ Jha, Alok (9 April 2012). "Wellcome Trust joins 'academic spring' to open up science | Science | The Guardian". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  19. ^ Naughton, John (21 April 2012). "Academic publishing doesn't add up". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 22 April 2012. academic sp
  20. ^ a b c Lin, Thomas (13 February 2012). "Researchers Boycott Elsevier Journal Publisher". The New York Times. New York. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  21. ^ Tao, Terence (8 February 2012). "A statement on the cost of knowledge declaration « What's new". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  22. ^ Yeager, Ashley (14 February 2012). "Duke Scholars Join Boycott Against Elsevier". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  23. ^ Johnson, Dennis (15 February 2012). "Furor over Elsevier escalates". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  24. ^ Peek, Robin (13 February 2012). "The Cost of Knowledge Versus Elsevier: 5,600 Signatures and Growing". Information Today, Inc. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  25. ^ Slind-Flor, Victoria (28 September 2012). "Bard, Motorola, Medicaid, Bullfrog: Intellectual Property". Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  26. ^ "The Cost of Knowledge". Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  27. ^ "Elsevier leads the business the internet could not kill". Financial Times. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  28. ^ "Elsevier Backs Down as Boycott Grows". Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  29. ^ "Sponsors and Supporters Back Away from Research Works Act". Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  30. ^ a b c Aron, Jacob. "Elsevier vows to keep price of mathematics journals low". New Scientist.
  31. ^ Taylor, Mike (16 January 2012). "Academic publishers have become the enemies of science". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  32. ^ Howard, Jennifer (27 February 2012). "Legislation to Bar Public-Access Requirement on Federal Research Is Dead". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 28 February 2012.
  33. ^ "Free access to archived articles of primary mathematics journals". Retrieved 23 February 2015.

External links

Academic journal publishing reform

Academic journal publishing reform is the advocacy for changes in the way academic journals are created and distributed in the age of the Internet and the advent of electronic publishing. Since the rise of the Internet, people have organized campaigns to change the relationships among and between academic authors, their traditional distributors and their readership. Most of the discussion has centered on taking advantage of benefits offered by the Internet's capacity for widespread distribution of reading material.


Access2Research is a campaign in the United States for academic journal publishing reform led by open access advocates Michael W. Carroll, Heather Joseph, Mike Rossner, and John Wilbanks.On May 20, 2012, it launched a petition to the White House to "require free access over the Internet to journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research". The White House has committed to issue an official response to such petitions if they reach 25,000 signatures within 30 days. Access2Research reached this milestone within two weeks. On February 22, 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and announced an executive directive ordering all US Federal Agencies with research & development budgets over $100M to develop public access policies within twelve months.

The petition builds on previous campaigns asking scholars, publishers, funders, governments and the general public to remove paywalls to publicly funded scholarly research. It follows initiatives previously targeted at academics such as The Cost of Knowledge calling for lower prices for scholarly journals and to promote increased access to scientific information. The campaign refers to the NIH Public Access Policy as an example of a mandate that should be expanded to all federally funded research.

Best coding practices

Coding best practices are a set of informal rules that the software development community has learned over time which can help improve the quality of software.Many computer programs remain in use for far longer than the original authors ever envisaged (sometimes 40 years or more), so any rules need to facilitate both initial development and subsequent maintenance and enhancement by people other than the original authors.

In Ninety-ninety rule, Tom Cargill is credited with this explanation as to why programming projects often run late: "The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time." Any guidance which can redress this lack of foresight is worth considering.

The size of a project or program has a significant effect on error rates, programmer productivity, and the amount of management needed.


Elsevier (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɛlzəviːr]) is a Dutch information and analytics company and one of the world's major providers of scientific, technical, and medical information. It was established in 1880 as a publishing company. It is a part of the RELX Group, known until 2015 as Reed Elsevier. Its products include journals such as The Lancet and Cell, the ScienceDirect collection of electronic journals, the Trends and Current Opinion series of journals, the online citation database Scopus, and the ClinicalKey solution for clinicians. Elsevier's products and services include the entire academic research lifecycle, including software and data-management, instruction and assessment tools.Elsevier publishes more than 430,000 articles annually in 2,500 journals. Its archives contain over 13 million documents and 30,000 e-books. Total yearly downloads amount to more than 900 million.Elsevier's high operating profit margins (37% in 2017) and its copyright practices have subjected it to criticism by researchers.

Jiří Matoušek (mathematician)

Jiří (Jirka) Matoušek (10 March 1963 – 9 March 2015) was a Czech mathematician working in computational geometry and algebraic topology. He was a professor at Charles University in Prague and the author of several textbooks and research monographs.

Matoušek was born in Prague. In 1986, he received his Master's degree at Charles University under Miroslav Katětov. From 1986 until his death he was employed at the Department of Applied Mathematics of Charles University in Prague, holding a professor position since 2000. He was also a visiting and later full professor at ETH Zurich.In 1996, he won the European Mathematical Society prize and in 2000 he won the Scientist award of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic.

He became a fellow of the Learned Society of the Czech Republic in 2005.Matoušek's paper on computational aspects of algebraic topology won the Best Paper award at the 2012 ACM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms.Aside from his own academic writing, he has translated the popularization book Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction by Timothy Gowers into Czech.He was a supporter and signatory of the Cost of Knowledge protest. He died in 2015, aged 51.

List of Elsevier periodicals

This is a list of scientific, technical and general interest periodicals published by Elsevier or one of its imprints or subsidiary companies. Both printed items and electronic publications are included in this list.


Mendeley is a desktop and web program produced by Elsevier for managing and sharing research papers, discovering research data and collaborating online. It combines Mendeley Desktop, a PDF and reference management application available for Windows, macOS (Sierra and High Sierra no longer supported) and Linux. It also provides Mendeley for Android and iOS, with Mendeley Web, an online social network for researchers.Mendeley requires the user to store all basic citation data on its servers—storing copies of documents is at the user's discretion. Upon registration, Mendeley provides the user with 2 GB of free web storage space, which is upgradeable at a cost.

Since its 1.19 release in 2018, Mendeley encrypts its local database using a proprietary algorithm. It is further no longer possible to export collections of annotated files, such as for scientific collaboration, leading to a vendor lock-in situation.

Open Data Now

Open Data Now is a 2014 book on open data by Joel Gurin.

Open science

Open science is the movement to make scientific research (including publications, data, physical samples, and software) and its dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. Open science is transparent and accessible knowledge that is shared and developed through collaborative networks. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge.

Open Science can be seen as a continuation of, rather than a revolution in, practices begun in the 17th century with the advent of the academic journal, when the societal demand for access to scientific knowledge reached a point at which it became necessary for groups of scientists to share resources with each other so that they could collectively do their work. In modern times there is debate about the extent to which scientific information should be shared. The conflict that led to the Open Science movement is between the desire of scientists to have access to shared resources versus the desire of individual entities to profit when other entities partake of their resources. Additionally, the status of open access and resources that are available for its promotion are likely to differ from one field of academic inquiry to another.

Outline of knowledge

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to knowledge:

Knowledge – familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, and/or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); and it can be more or less formal or systematic.


RELX plc (pronounced "Rel-ex") is a corporate group comprising companies that publish scientific, technical and medical material, and legal textbooks; provide decision-making tools; and organise exhibitions. It operates in 40 countries and serves customers in over 180 nations. It was previously known as Reed Elsevier, and came into being in 1992 as a result of the merger of Reed International, a British trade book and magazine publisher, and Elsevier, a Netherlands-based scientific publisher.

The company is publicly-listed, with shares traded on the London Stock Exchange, Amsterdam Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange (ticker symbols: London: REL, Amsterdam: REN, New York: RELX). About 55 per cent of the company’s revenues are generated from the US, with 23 per cent from Europe and 22 per cent from the rest of the world. The company is one of the constituents of the FTSE 100 Index, Financial Times Global 500 and Euronext 100 Index.

Research Works Act

The Research Works Act, 102 H.R. 3699, was a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives at the 112th United States Congress on December 16, 2011, by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and co-sponsored by Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY). The bill contained provisions to prohibit open-access mandates for federally funded research and effectively revert the United States' National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, which requires taxpayer-funded research to be freely accessible online. If enacted, it would have also severely restricted the sharing of scientific data. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, of which Issa is the chair. Similar bills were introduced in 2008 and 2009 but have not been enacted since.On February 27, 2012 Elsevier, a major publisher, announced that it was withdrawing support for the Act. Later that day, Issa and Maloney issued a statement saying that they would not push for legislative action on the bill.

Serials crisis

The term serials crisis has become a common shorthand to describe the chronic subscription cost increases of many serial publications such as scholarly journals. The prices of these institutional or library subscriptions have been rising much faster than the Consumer Price Index for several decades, while the funds available to the libraries have remained static or have declined in real terms. As a result, academic and research libraries have regularly canceled serial subscriptions to accommodate price increases of the remaining current subscriptions.

Timeline of the open-access movement

The following is a timeline of the international movement for open access to scholarly communication.

Timothy Gowers

Sir William Timothy Gowers, (; born 20 November 1963) is a British mathematician. He is a Royal Society Research Professor at the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics at the University of Cambridge, where he also holds the Rouse Ball chair, and is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1998, he received the Fields Medal for research connecting the fields of functional analysis and combinatorics.

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