FAQ about the pledge
What is an "open access" venue?
The open access
publishing model aims at making the output of research publicly available on the
Internet. To qualify as open access, a venue must make its research articles
freely available, without subscription fees, under a permissive license such as Creative Commons,
without requiring the payment of extortionate article processing charges. For a
more detailed definition of open access, see the
declaration. You can also watch the introductory video from
Why does open access matter?
The current subscription-only publication model is problematic for several
- A significant amount of public money is spent to pay subscription fees
to private actors who generate high profit margins (e.g., Elsevier had a 37%
operating profit margin in 2018), even though they have no
involvement in the research they publish. Moreover, there is no
competition on this market: publishers possess the journals, the
irreplaceable research that they contain, and the prestige attached to their
- Some universities cannot afford the high subscription rates and cannot give
their researchers access to the articles. This is especially problematic in
developing countries, as it hinders scientific progress and enhances existing socio-economical
- Non-academics cannot access articles. This includes researchers in
the private sector, teachers and students outside universities (e.g., high-school),
hobbyists, policymakers, patients and their families (for medical research),
- General members of the public cannot have access to research, which is
unethical and undemocratic given that this research has been funded by public money (the
main source of funding for academia in many countries).
- Even for researchers in institutions that can afford subscriptions, it is difficult to access
articles off-site, e.g., at home. As a result, open-access works tend to receive
than close-access ones.
- The contents of scientific articles cannot easily be indexed by search
engines, making them invisible outside academia.
Care to remind me about what peer review is, and how it works?
Sure. Peer review is
the evaluation of academic research papers by other researchers, and nowadays it
is the crucial way in which new knowledge is validated by research communities.
In the communities that we know, here is the workflow:
- Scientists work together to do research and write up their result in a
- They choose a conference or journal (called a venue) to which
they submit their work.
- The venue is run by an editor, which is another scientist who isn't
generally paid by the venue. The editor chooses peer reviewers and sends them the
paper for review.
- The peer reviewers read the article and submit their comments and
evaluation of the work to the editor. The peer reviewers are again
scientists who are not paid by the venue for this work.
- Based on the evaluations, the editor notifies the authors about whether or
not their work is accepted for publication at the venue.
- If the work is accepted, the authors prepare the final version of their
work, incorporating the reviewers' feedback, and send it to the editor.
- Now the venue steps in, takes the final version of the work, changes the
formatting a bit to add the official logo and sometimes make some
- The resulting version of the work is now officially "published". If the
venue is open access, the work can be downloaded for free on the Web. If it
is not, then the work is only available to readers who are subscribed to the
venue (often via their university or research institution), or to readers
Note that the publisher who owns the venue is essentially only involved in
the last two steps: the authors of the article are not paid by the venue, and
the reviewers who evaluate the article are not paid either by the venue. These
researchers are instead paid through their salaries, which in many cases come
from public funds: this raises a question of why it would be legitimate for them to
spend their time working for the private benefit of for-profit publishers.
What about journals that pay reviewers or editors?
In some scientific communities, some scientists who serve as editors of
journals or as sufficiently senior reviewers can be paid by publishers. However,
we do not feel that the right model would be for publishers to pay reviewers
more. Indeed, these payments will always be less than the profit margins of
these journals, and they will not address the problem that the journals restrict
access to the published research and own the journal's name and the copyright on
articles. What is more, for researchers whose salary is paid by public funds,
accepting payment from journals for work performed instead of their main job
could be considered a conflict of interest.
Do you also boycott closed-access venues as authors?
Many of us also avoid submitting articles to closed-access venues.
The reasons why this pledge focuses on reviewing are as follows:
- Declining an invitation to review is a great opportunity to raise
the issue with the editorial board of a venue: in comparison, boycotting
a venue as an author is invisible to the editors, as they are not
notified when authors decide to choose an open-access venue instead.
- Research is often the result of collaborations and co-authors need to
agree collectively on the venue. By contrast, the choice of where to review
is individual, so committing to a review boycott is easier.
- Publishing in a reputable venue brings valuable recognition
which is vital to sustain an academic career, especially because securing a
permanent position is more and more challenging. Reviews however are
generally kept private and not acknowledged publicly, so the reviewing effort
is rewarded very poorly, and we hope that more researchers are in a position to
make their own choices for this task.
If I decline to review for a venue, will it prevent me from publishing
For almost all venues that we know about, there is no formal requirement that
authors who submit to the venue will also perform reviews for the venue.
However, some communities feel an obligation of reciprocity, where by submitting
to a venue, you undertake a moral commitment to help run the venue by performing
reviews of your own.
This moral commitment is often unclear,
and it is debatable. Ultimately, how you feel about
this is a personal matter that depends on your community and preferences.
Of course, if you are uncomfortable declining review requests from venues where you have
published or intend to continue publishing, you are always free to make
exceptions, in particular by providing reviews in compensation for the reviews that
you have received.
More generally, as with any kind of political stand, you may find that some of
your colleagues disagree with your opinions, and in unhealthy communities they
could try to make your life harder. If you are worried about this, please only take the
pledge if you are at a stage of your career when you can afford it.
When refusing a review, can I advertise the pledge?
That would be fantastic! We hope such a public pledge will make it easier
for the editor to understand your position, and to make them think about the
issues with subscription venues.
How can I determine if a venue is open-access or not?
Many conferences and journals make it difficult to determine whether their
contents can be accessed for free or not. Here are ways to find out:
- Look at the venue's call for papers for information. If it mentions
signing copyright transfer paperwork, then it is probably not open-access,
unless this refers to the licensing of contributions under a permissive
license (e.g., Creative Commons), which does not transfer exclusive rights
to the publisher. If it mentions an option for "gold open-access" with
article processing charges (APCs), it is probably a hybrid venue, i.e., not
open access by default.
- Check for yourself whether you are able to access the venue's latest published
research. Of course, do not do this from a university connection, as your
university may be subscribed to the venue. We also recommend doing so with a
clean browser profile (i.e., private browsing), as some venues set browser
cookies to remember that you have accessed the site via a subscribed
institution. Also, note that some venues may exceptionally suspend paywalls,
e.g., during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- If the venue (journal or conference proceedings) is owned and published by
a commercial for-profit publisher such as Springer or Elsevier, it is
generally not open-acccess (i.e., either closed-access or hybrid)
- You can check whether you can find the venue, e.g., in the
Directory of Open Access Journals, or in
field-specific lists (e.g.,
- You can check the venue's Wikipedia page, which may indicate whether it is
open access or not.
What is meant by "charging authors unfair prices"? Which
prices are fair?
Many publishers allow authors to publish in open access if they pay access
processing charges (the so-called "gold open access" model). In our opinion,
this is not a good model: the costs of publication (hosting and typesetting
articles) should be covered by states, universities, and research institutions,
and not by readers or authors. However, there are also some actors who end up
charging authors prices that are arguably reasonable (e.g., charging them the
cost of DOI registration or minimal editing work). In particular, it is hard to
argue against this practice when these costs are part of a conference
registration fee and are just a small part of the venue's expenses.
In our opinion, prices charged to authors are unfair when they are not
commensurate to the actual costs of publishing the work. For instance, LIPIcs
currently charges 60 EUR to publish a paper, whereas some commercial publishers
charge several hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the main prices, so
these inflated prices are definitely unfair. Charges are also unfair when they
only apply to some articles and the venue is also making money by selling
subscriptions (i.e., "hybrid" venues).
We reiterate that, in our opinion, charging authors to publish is
fundamentally unfair no matter the amount; the wording of the pledge simply
allows some wiggle room for now given that there are many publishers that charge
reasonable amounts and are otherwise ethical. Of course, each signatory to the
pledge may interpret this part of the pledge differently.
There are no reputable open-access venues in my community, what can I
If open-access venues are not common in your community yet, you can still
decline to review for closed-access venues, and help your community in different
ways. For instance, you can help by:
- Posting open
reviews of recent articles published on open repositories (e.g., using PREreview or
- More generally, summarizing the research produced by your community in open-access
media, e.g., reviews on arXiv, blog posts, Wikipedia articles, etc. This
helps your community by making its research more broadly visible, and we
would argue that it counts as community service if the research that you are
showcasing isn't your own.
- If you are sufficiently senior, you could start a new open access
journal in your area, or "flip" an existing journal, i.e., convince the
editorial board to collectively resign and restart the journal in a open
access format on a different platform. See this
guide by the university of California or this
guide by SPARC. For platforms where you can host your open access
journal, check out SciPost,
Open Library of Humanities (humanities),
EPTCS or OpenProceedings (computer science).
How will boycotting reviews make a difference?
It is true that unethical publishers will probably always be able to
find reviewers, especially for the most prestigious venues. Nevertheless, we believe
that good peer review is a vital part of the scientific process. Good peer review provides
valuable and timely feedback to authors and facilitates the publication of good research. Hence,
reducing the pool of reviewers for closed-access venues can make them less
attractive and encourage authors to switch to open-access alternatives. What is
more, by declining to perform reviews for closed-access venues, we free up time
to work on more relevant venues, and diminish our involvement with outdated
models. This also gives us an opportunity to bring up the issue to the editorial
board of the editor requesting a review, and to start a conversation about
Is open access the only problem with academia?
No, there are many
others, but you have to start somewhere to improve the system.
Are there other pledges similar to this one?
Yes, here are the ones we are aware of:
We also encourage you to support them.
Where has the pledge been covered?
If you would like to cover the initiative and need information or help from
us, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
When was the pledge released?
The pledge was officially launched on May 18th, 2020. The organization behind
it, CAPSH, exists since 2015.
Can I take my name off the pledge?
Simply contact us and we will remove it.