Yes, that’s actually the argument made by the Orwellian group, PRISM (“Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine”):

Policies are being proposed that threaten to introduce undue government intervention in science and scholarly publishing, putting at risk the integrity of scientific research by:

* undermining the peer review process by compromising the viability of non-profit and commercial journals that manage and fund it;

* opening the door to scientific censorship in the form of selective additions to or omissions from the scientific record;

* subjecting the scientific record to the uncertainty that comes with changing federal budget priorities and bureaucratic meddling with definitive versions; and

* introducing duplication and inefficiencies that will divert resources that would otherwise be dedicated to research.

What is this policy being proposed that’s so horrible, you ask? It’s the NIH’s public access policy: the requirement that all research funded by federal grants be available freely to the public. The group behind PRISM (the Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers [AAP]), however, thinks this means the end of peer review, apparently:

Recently, there have been legislative and regulatory efforts to compel not-for-profit and commercial journals to surrender to the Federal government a large number of published articles that scholarly journals have paid to peer review, publish, promote, archive and distribute. Mrs. Schroeder stressed that government interference in scientific publishing would force journals to give away their intellectual property and weaken the copyright protections that motivate journal publishers to make the enormous investments in content and infrastructure needed to ensure widespread access to journal articles. It would jeopardize the financial viability of the journals that conduct peer review, placing the entire scholarly communication process at risk.

“Peer review has been the global standard for validating scholarly research for more than 400 years and we want to make sure it remains free of unnecessary government interference, agenda-driven research, and bad science,” said Dr. Brian Crawford, chairman of the executive council of AAP’s Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division. “The free market of scholarly publishing is responsive to the needs of scholars and scientists and balances the interests of all stakeholders.”

Where would they get such twisted logic from? Turns out they hired a guy named Eric Dezenhall to help them plan a strategy:

Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud.

For a mere half million (give or take a few hundred thousand), Dezenhall provided AAP several nuggets of advice:

The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship”. He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”.

Dezenhall also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists. One suggestion was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington DC, which has used oil-industry money to promote sceptical views on climate change.

The publishers claim they need someone like Dezenhall because they are “under attack” by the government and PubMed Central, and therefore are attacking back to put their opponents on the defensive:

In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley’s director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: “Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate”.

It’s depressing that *everything* must be politicized and spun in such a manner, but I suppose it’s a sign of the times that even publishers are taking these tactics.

Comments

  1. #1 factician
    August 27, 2007

    This is going to come back and bite publisher’s butts. I can think of *no* scientists that I know that don’t support open access. If for-profit publishers demonize the open access movement, they’re going to get abandoned.

    The only reason people haven’t completely abandoned the old-style journals at this point is due to inertia (publishing in Nature and Cell are still huge career boosts). But if shoved often enough, I think scientists will give up their addiction to for-profit publishing…

  2. #2 Tara C. Smith
    August 27, 2007

    The only reason people haven’t completely abandoned the old-style journals at this point is due to inertia (publishing in Nature and Cell are still huge career boosts). But if shoved often enough, I think scientists will give up their addiction to for-profit publishing…

    Well, and I honestly didn’t know until Bora mentioned it that there were so many open-access journals, but still, the number where my research would fit is small. I’m aiming my next paper for another open access journal, but if it doesn’t make the cut there, the next step will probably be one of the older traditional journals.

  3. #3 factician
    August 27, 2007

    Try the BMC collection of journals. Many of them are low-impact, but there are a few that have medium impact (I’ve published in one of them).

    I think another thing that will change in the next 10 years is how academic administrators measure the success of their scientists. Rather than measuring the impact factors of the journals where they publish, why not measure the number of citations that their papers are getting (regardless of where they are published). The highest cited paper ever in biology is Burt Vogelstein’s nick translation paper in Nucleic Acids Research, of all places. Seems like measuring the impact of a paper would be more important than measuring the impact of the journal (often, but not always related). I think that will take a certain amount of pressure off of publishing in high tier journals, and take some of the power away from for-profit publishers.

    It’s funny, my best and most important paper of my career is published in a low-impact, open-access journal. (Much more important than my PNAS and Molecular Cell papers).

    Go figure…

  4. #4 Thomas Robey
    August 27, 2007

    Is there a central list of all open-access journals? Is it just PLoS and BMC?

  5. #5 factician
    August 27, 2007

    Thomas,

    Check out: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/ for a list.

  6. #6 Jerry D. Harris
    August 27, 2007

    PRISM (“Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine”)

    Since when did medicine cease to be science and become something separate? Not that I’d expect publishers to grasp that…they were probably looking for attractive, pronounceable acronyms. Still, in a world where pet shops routinely claim to sell “birds and animals”…

  7. #8 factician
    August 27, 2007

    Jerry,

    I dunno. As a Ph.D. molecular biologist at a medical school, I think science and medicine are fairly clearly separate. Most M.D.s I’ve met (not all, but most) make lousy scientists. (Just read a paper in New England Journal of Medicine some time, if you don’t believe me).

  8. #9 Thomas Robey
    August 28, 2007

    Thanks for the directory!

  9. #10 David
    August 28, 2007

    The physical sciences in particular seem to be doing a good job of stepping away from “for profit” (and restrictive) academic publications. The vast majority of useful physics and math papers today are published as pre-prints in open archives like arXiv.org long before they eventually appear (if at all) in more mainstream journals. Pre-print archives give colleagues and other researchers the opportunity to provide timely review of research work, as well as serving to disseminate the information widely and openly. Surely this is the way of the future.

    It seems to me one of the major aspects holding back a wholesale change in the way academic publications are disseminated are the impact and citation formulae employed by institutions in an (often misguided) attempt to gauge research quality. Remove the perverse incentives to publish in restrictive publications and the vast majority of quality content will soon move exclusively to open platforms.

    So really it’s a challenge to be addressed within the research community (and institutions) as a whole, not outside of it.

  10. #11 Jerry D. Harris
    August 28, 2007

    I dunno. As a Ph.D. molecular biologist at a medical school, I think science and medicine are fairly clearly separate. Most M.D.s I’ve met (not all, but most) make lousy scientists. (Just read a paper in New England Journal of Medicine some time, if you don’t believe me).

    Oh, I’ve read enough medical literature (mostly descriptive anatomy; I’m certainly no physician!) to know that a sizeable number of physicians can’t write a scientific paper very well, though I’d also suspect that a typical “scientist” couldn’t write a paper for JAMA very well, either. But I’ve always perceived physicians as essentially applying science, even if they’re not specifically investigating new scientific avenues. A huge proportion of investigative (research) science seems to be geared toward furthering medicine — pharmaceuticals, genomics (the parts targeted toward gene therapies, for example), bioengineering (for medical and agricultural purposes), etc.; certainly, these seem to be parts of science that get the majority of high-profile funding (like NSF), I suspect in large part because they have the most promise of short-term application for the world. They’re not “science” in the sense of basic research that is done to expand our understanding of the ways the universe works (which is the purview of much, though of course not all, of the physical sciences — though far from useless, they simply don’t have much short-term application, though certainly they have vast potential in the long term!), but I still perceive it as science, nonetheless. Having a physician examine you and propose a course of treatment, or having a surgeon operate, may not entail them doing any actual “science,” but they’re only able to do what they do because scientists did the work in the past to establish that what they do is a viable (and ostensibly effective) treatment.

  11. #12 James G
    August 28, 2007

    David – physics and math may be doing a good job, but it looks like chemistry is one of the worst for open access publishing, and following the articles it looks like the American Chemical Society joined with Elsevier and Wiley in pursuing the hiring of Eric Dezenhall. I only found a few chem journal on Tara’s list (the gen chem link was broken), and I haven’t heard of those journals.

  12. #13 Jenny F. Scientist
    August 28, 2007

    As the editor-in-chief of a (small) open-access journal, I’ve heard all these crackpot ideas before, and they’re all wrong.

    For one, publishers or authors may embargo work for 6 months before deposition; they are not required to supply the final (edited, ‘value-added’) product; the manuscript proof may be archived by the author.

    Part of the purpose of PubMed Central is to form a permanent archive. No more library problems with that volume getting lost.

    Also, PMC is vastly underfunded; we publish through them, and I can tell you personally, they could use twice as much staff. And the last I read, less than 10% of articles required to be deposited, i.e. NIH-funded, had in fact been deposited. In part because PMC doesn’t have the staff or mandate to enforce it, and the NIH hasn’t bothered to yet, probably partly for lack of funding they feel like devoting to it.

  13. #14 Rose
    August 28, 2007

    The part that kills me the most about this is that they try to equate “traditional publishing” with the peer-review process. Scientists don’t get paid to review articles! Anything that makes that review process more fair, accurate, and shares the burden is a fantastic idea. The fact that scientific publishers would hire a spin doctor is truly disturbing.

    On a side note, I love pubmed central, and I already have great institutional access- it’s still saved me a trip to the library quite a few times.

  14. #15 leah
    August 29, 2007

    Check out this internet comic for a joke at PRISM’s expense:
    http://www.itgumbo.com/mumbogumbo/2007/08/hypocrisy_scandals_shock_inter.php

  15. #16 Graham Steel
    September 3, 2007

    As far as I am aware, the following is the most comprehesive coverage of these issues. This went on-line yesterday:-

    http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/09-02-07.htm#peerreview

    Here in the UK, 5 of the 7 biggest funders on publicly funded research as of Oct 06, MANDATE that all such research be made Open Access in PMC UK within 6 months maximum of publication. That’s what I call progress.

  16. #17 Graham Steel
    September 3, 2007
  17. #18 e okul
    January 16, 2008

    For one, publishers or authors may embargo work for 6 months before deposition; they are not required to supply the final (edited, ‘value-added’) product; the manuscript proof may be archived by the author.

    Part of the purpose of PubMed Central is to form a permanent archive. No more library problems with that volume getting lost.

  18. #19 e kitap
    January 16, 2008

    The part that kills me the most about this is that they try to equate “traditional publishing” with the peer-review process. Scientists don’t get paid to review articles! Anything that makes that review process more fair, accurate, and shares the burden is a fantastic idea. The fact that scientific publishers would hire a spin doctor is truly disturbing.

    On a side note, I love pubmed central, and I already have great institutional access- it’s still saved me a trip to the library quite a few times.