This blog post is written to have a URL to send to Elsevier editors that ask me to review for their journals. I have declined to review for Elsevier journals for at least a decade, but usually haven’t given an explanation. Now I will start doing it alongside my decline.
My decision is based on a fundamental flaw in today’s commercial journal publishing ecosystem. This is effectively summarized by Scott Aaronson, in an analogy in his Review of The Access Principle by John Willinsky
I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games. But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I’ll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it. From then on, I alone will be the copyright-holder, distributor, and collector of royalties. This is not to say, however, that I’ll provide no “value-added.” My company will be the one that packages the games in 25-cent cardboard boxes, then resells the boxes for up to $300 apiece.
This is exactly how the academic publishing system currently works. We (academics) donate our work (for free) to academic publishers that charge us (costly) through our institutional budgets. We need to stop this now.