Elsevier allows free access to all articles over four years old in “primary math journals”

October 1, 2012

In a third “open letter to the mathematics community”, Elsevier have announced that, for “the primary mathematics journals”, they now offer free access to all articles over four years old. The details page shows that 53 journals are involved.

I like to give credit where it’s due, and this is a significant move. It’s much more important than the initiatives we hear of from time to time when access to various journals is offered for a limited window: it means there is a substantial body of work that will now be freely and permanently available.

In a comment on John Baez’s Google+ post, Joerg Fliege comments:

One should also mention that opening up access to a handful of older issues of math journals will not affect the bottom line of Elsevier’s revenue much. They are giving something away that, in the greater scheme of things, has essentially a business value near 0.

How kind of them.

But I think this is unnecessarily cynical and negative. A move like this should be judged not on what it costs Elsevier to do, but on the benefit that it gives the research community. If they can find things to do that cost them little or nothing but provide a real benefit, then that’s all to the good — as I argued in the How Elsevier Can Save Itself posts [part 0, part 1, part 2, part 3]. They should not be criticised for that!

That said, Baez does raise a crucial question in that Google+ post:

Why just math journals? Because we’re the ones who are making the most noise! Folks from many other sciences have joined the boycott – but you need some leaders in your field to get aggressive if you want to get Elsevier to do you a favor like this.

An important challenge for Elsevier right now is to prove that they are really making an effort to contribute to the progress of research across the board, rather then just trying to buy off the mathematical community which has caused them the most irritation up to this point.

Can they meet that challenge?

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5 Responses to “Elsevier allows free access to all articles over four years old in “primary math journals””


  1. Yep, there’s no sense blaming someone for improving!

  2. RMS Says:

    Engineering articles would be much more useful to become open access over time. Engineering distils scientific concepts and closes the gap to society needs. This is what the general public foremost needs to be reading, not math or biology (no disrespect intended to these valuable fundamental fields).

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    I agree that if we had to choose between engineering and palaeontology articles becoming freely available, then the former would be more important. But I reject the either-or.


  4. [...] been critical of Palaeontologia Electronica, PLOS and Royal Society publishing, among others; and I have praised Elsevier when they’ve done good [...]


  5. […] Elsevier have taken the gloves off. I’ve tried repeatedly to think the best of them, to interpret their actions in the most charitable light. I even wrote a four-part series on how they can regain the trust of researchers and librarians […]


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