30 January 2012

Shoot the hostage

The movie Speed opens with this memorable dialog between two cops:

Harry Temple: All right, pop quiz. Airport, gunman with one hostage. He’s using her for cover; he’s almost to a plane. You’re a hundred feet away... Jack?

Jack: Shoot the hostage.

The strategy of some scientists to take down for profit publishers, notably Elsevier, keeps edging closer to shooting the hostage. Do anything that is bad for Elsevier, even if a few other researchers get harmed along the way.

The Cost of Knowledge website is gaining traction with its call to not “support” Elsevier journals. Jonathan Eisen went even further towards the “shooting the hostage” strategy. He suggested that scientists not “promote” any article in an Elsevier journal: no blogging, no tweeting, no journal club. He was convinced otherwise, as you’ll see by visiting the post. I complement Jonathan for considering other points of view.

You won’t find my name on that boycott list - yet. I’ve written before that I don’t think it’s fair to refuse to review a paper because I don’t like the journal. (Besides, if I put my name on the list but then reviewed for an Elsevier journals, who would know? Reviews are typically confidential.) I still think the best strategy is slow strangulation. Do not submit papers to those journals. Convince colleagues that there are better venues than those journals.

Shooting the hostage makes for great drama, but such a single-minded “get the bad guy by any means necessary” approach may not be desirable. There’s a reason cops don’t shoot hostages outside of action movies.

Update, 26 February 2016: The attention has turned to pre-prints following the ASAPBio meeting this month. I’m disappointed to see people trying to use the same lever of refusing to review manuscripts to try to change journal policy:

From Casey Greene.

Related posts

Pressuring journals you dislike


Jonathan Eisen said...

you are right - it was a "shoot the hostage" mentality ... thanks for helping clear up my thoughts/actions

Namnezia said...

So you're saying that if you had an article good enough to be published in Cell, or even Neuron, you would forgo this option?

Zen Faulkes said...

Namnezia: Not sure. As I've written elsewhere, I do not take a hard line against for-profit publishers. See, e.g.:

The journal ecosystem

Getting are article in one of the Glamour Mags is not one of my career ambitions. It really isn't, and never has been. Of course, I say that knowing I have the luxury that I do the kind of research that nobody cares much about.

Zen Faulkes said...

Update, 21 January 2013: Jonathan has apparently changed his mind on this matter again: https://plus.google.com/u/0/103101121348859087349/posts/6iTzzxmxCSe

Mike Taylor said...

I want commment on this, but discussion seems to be split between here and Jonathan Eisen's Google+ page. I commented there since the lack of moderation means we're more likely to get back-and-forth.

I tell you this only because you might want to respond to that comment.