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.