When three separate people send you an article in Nature it gets your attention. Since I have a paid subscription to Nature, my attention was ready to be grabbed anyway, but I hadn’t yet read this story so a tip of the hat to my informants. I also have paid personal subscriptions to Science and a number of other journals. I am not opposed to subscriptions for journals. But the story is about how some big scientific publishing houses have gotten together and hired a notorious PR hit man to battle Open Access publishing, apparently by any means necessary, whether intellectually honest or not. I am a strong proponent of Open Access publishing, and in the the interests of full disclosure must tell you I am co-founder and co-Editor-in-Chief of a peer reviewed Open Access scientific journal, now in its fourth year and flourishing. I receive no salary or any perks. All my considerable labor as editor is donated. So I am not a strong proponent of Open Access because I edit the journal. I edit the journal because I am a strong proponent of Open Access. What does Open Access mean?
This blog is published under an Open Access license. Click on the Creative Commons button in the left sidebar if you want to know the terms. Here is what Open Access means for one of the leading OA publishers, BioMed Central:
Articles with [the Open Access] logo are immediately and permanently available online. Unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium is permitted, provided the article is properly cited. See our open access charter.
Anyone is free:
- to copy, distribute, and display the work;
- to make derivative works;
- to make commercial use of the work;
Under the following conditions: Attribution
- the original author must be given credit;
- for any reuse or distribution, it must be made clear to others what the license terms of this work are;
- any of these conditions can be waived if the authors gives permission.
Statutory fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above.
The NIH has a policy that scientific papers written with their monetary (grant) support should be Open Access no later than 6 months after publication. The US taxpayer has already paid for it once and shouldn’t pay again to a rapacious publisher like Wiley or Elsevier or a scientific society like the American Chemical Society. Unfortunately the NIH’s wise policy is honored more in the breech than in fact. Open Access is good for every scientist, every reader of this blog and especially for our colleagues in the developing world who have access to scientific work they would not have otherwise.
The for-profit publishers don’t like BMC or Public Library of Science (PLoS) or any of the other open access publishers and are determined to crush them. So they hired the PR firm of Eric Dezenhall, who also worked for convicted Enron execs and others of that ilk, to do “media messaging.” We know this because someone on the inside squealed and provided emails and memos to Nature who spilled the beans in this news article.
Here are some choice bits:
“He’s the pit bull of public relations,” says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O’Dwyer’s PR Report.
Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods.
From e-mails passed to Nature, it seems Dezenhall spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). A follow-up message in which Dezenhall suggests a strategy for the publishers provides some insight into the approach they are considering taking.
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. Dezenhall estimated his fee for the campaign at $300,000?500,000. (Jim Giles, Nature)
What is so galling about this is the intellectual dishonesty from publishers whose whole business depends on intellectual honesty. They are also willing to get in bed with some of the fiercest enemies of science.
On the censorship message, [Brian Crawford, a senior vice-president at the American Chemical Society and a member of the AAP executive chair] adds: “When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity’s interests.”
What a steaming pile of horseshit. Better we should have a handful of big publishers who have bought up most of the independent scientific journals control things?
If I thought the American Chemical Society and their cronies Wiley and Elsevier had any shame I’d say, “Shame on you.” As it is, the best I can do is, “Go screw yourself” (instead of screwing the rest of us).