Over 40 leading scientists have resigned from the prestigious journal Neuroimage last month, protesting an inequitable publishing model built on gatekeeping and false scarcity.

Academic publishing is fundamental to the advancement of modern science. It facilitates expert collaboration and testing, ideally leading to new innovation, including life-saving medical research. Too often, however, cutting edge research is trapped behind paywalls, effectively inaccessible to the people and institutions that cannot afford the fees. Many libraries, even in wealthier universities in the U.S. and United Kingdom, are drowning in constantly growing waves of subscription costs. The result is stifled progress for everyone, with the inequity most sharply felt in poorer nations.

Publishers claim that they need those high fees to keep the operation running. Government and institutions fund the actual research, unpaid volunteers review the articles and, thanks to the internet, the cost of hosting and distributing the journal articles is trivial. The result has been that traditional publishing giants, such as RELX’s subsidiary Elsevier, are extracting exorbitant profit margins—wider than tech giants such as Apple, Google and Amazon.

Academics have been pushing back on this absurd model for some time. Many institutions and researchers are boycotting these major publishers, while investing in open access alternatives. Just last August, President Biden moved the fight forward by setting a deadline of 2025 for all publicly funded research to be immediately accessible to the public

With this change in tide, publishers began to offer a so-called compromise:  an open access ransom that requires researchers to pay publishing fees to make their work accessible. In the case of Neuroimage, the fee was $3,450 and the publisher refused pleas to reduce it. The result is the academics who write the work being published must choose between covering these unreasonable profits themselves, or having their work locked behind a paywall.  

But academics refused to accept this outrageous policy. The journal's entire academic board, including esteemed professors from institutions such as Oxford University, King's College London, and Cardiff University, resigned en masse in response.

They called these charges what they are: unethical. This collective act of defiance sends a powerful message that the academic community will no longer tolerate being preyed upon by publishers that value excessive profits over the advancement of science.

EFF supports the call on scientists to to turn their back on publishing giants like Elsevier and seek publication in non-profit open access journals instead. By collectively withdrawing the work which props up these exploitative publishers, the academic community can create a seismic shift in the publishing landscape towards a long-overdue model that supports  equity and data access.

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