Let's say you get an obscure and alarming disease. Let's not make this scenario too scary. Let's say that this disease turns your big toe green and emits an embarrassing odor. What's the first thing that many of us would do? We would google "alarming stinky green foot disease." You might find a wikipedia page and a few newspaper articles on the green foot disease, but you would not be able to read any academic research on the topic, because you don't have a university ID.
Why can't you read academic research? Why can't you read academic research that was conducted at public universities, which is funded by YOUR tax dollars? Let me tell you….
Not only is the research is hidden from the likes of you and me who don't have an academic ID card anymore, but also academics have to pay to read their own research. Yes, academics write research, receive no profits, and then have to pay to read it again. Oh, the insanity.
UPDATE: Thanks so much to all my off-the-record friends who helped me with this article. And thanks to the love around the blogosphere. Yesterday, my article shot to the top of the Atlanic's Most Popular list. I was thrilled.
Henry Farrell calls on all academics to boycott Elsevier.
UPDATE2: While the response to this essay was overwhelmingly popular, a couple of people have criticized it. The critics say that JSTOR is one of the good guys and I shouldn't be calling for their dismissal. The point is that we don't need ANY academic databases anymore. They cost us a lot of money. I didn't have the time to run down the exact amounts, but think hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, if not more, at the larger universities. If all journals just put their issues online, continued their usual peer review process, skipped printing the hard copy versions, then we would save money AND increase access. There's really no downside.