“Socialized science”

The chemists among the readers here have probably already all heard this, but there is a bit of a flap in the American Chemical Society over Open Access publishing. It seems some within the ACS have been protesting Open Access; unsurprisingly, it seems that many of them have connections to the scientific publishing industry. I was deeply amused by the fellow who scorned open access because is it is “socialized science,” as if government support of science were bad, and as if we weren’t all dependent on the largesse of state and federal government support. Oh, if only we could return to the days when all scientists were either wealthy men of leisure who could afford to be gentlemen scholars, or they were captains of industry using the fruits of their laboratories to immediately produce commerce-generating applications!

I’ve put the full text of letters I’ve received about this below the fold. Have fun plumbing the practical sociology of science!

Dear Colleague and Friend,

Several of you contacted me about a memo from Judith L. Benham which claimed that the American Chemical Society is not protesting Open Access in order to preserve profits and bonuses for the Society’s executives. You can find that memo attached to this email. Before addressing several misleading statements in the memo that some of you already pointed out, note that this National Chemistry Week. Please celebrate accordingly.

Let me assure that I was not involved with last week’s memo which is riddled with multiple misdirections typical of a slick political commercial. The most obvious falsehood is this passage: “Our Society’s position is also represented by the Association of American Publishers, a non-profit organization whose membership encompasses the major commercial and non-profit scholarly publishers, including ourselves. ACS is not alone among scholarly publishers in reaching out to….”

The statement comes apart once you know the names of the players involved. The position of the AAP was developed by Brian Crawford, who is chairman of their scholarly division . Brian Crawford is also head of publishing at ACS. Big surprise.

So what we have are two organizations speaking from the same mouth.

This allows for clever gamesmanship by ACS executives.. Just last year, Rudy Baum wrote his second editorial in Chemical & Engineering News where he called Open Access “socialized science.”[1] To buttress his argument, Rudy cited–who would have ever guessed!?–the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers, which “has taken a strong stand” against the Open Access bill.

Rudy also wrote that the AAP’s scholarly division had written letters to senators opposing the bill.. What Rudy forgot to disclose to his readers is that the letters were signed by the chairman of the AAP’s scholarly division, who is Brian Crawford, also head of publishing at ACS.[2] Crawford is now apparently Rudy’s boss.

Yes, Baum is that ridiculous. But it must be hard for a man to fully inform readers when his wallet tugs at his conscience. Oh…it gets better.

Brian Crawford holds up his end of the bargain by penning letters against Open Access on behalf of the AAP, such as the letter last year to the Los Angeles Times. Brian wrote, “government bureaucracy continues to impede participation and undermines the successful expansion of information access.” Crawford’s byline was credited: “The writer chairs the executive council of the professional and scholarly publishing division of the Assn. of American Publishers..[3]

I guess that Brian forgot to mention to the Los Angeles Times that he is also a publishing executive at the American Chemical Society. He might also have troubled editors with the minor fact that his bonuses will plummet if ACS publishing profits drop.

So now you see how their political campaign against Open Access works. First, Crawford creates the policy position at AAP’s scholarly division; ACS executives then point to AAP policy for cover with their members. But it is all a shell game that quickly falls apart once anyone spends five minutes on Google. Links to the appropriate information can be found below. Look for yourself and have a giggle.

I hope everyone has a smashing week! Please keep sending in your emails with links and other bits of information that you find on the internet. And see the wiki for further information. It is only by demanding that ACS leadership becomes more accountable to members that we will see change.

ACS Insider


1. Rudy Baum editorial in C&EN citing the AAP

2. Brian Crawford to head ACS publishing, also Chairman of Scholarly Publishing at AAP

3. Brian Crawford letter in the Los Angeles Times

4. Wiki on the American Chemical Society

And here is the memo from Judith Benham to which the above note referred.

Dear Colleague:

Recently, a number of us received an email raising issues concerning the ACS and its position on Open Access, and singling out some of its employees by name. The anonymous author makes erroneous and misleading claims about the compensation of these employees and alleges that the compensation is somehow related to the Society’s position on open access. As Chair of the Society’s Board of Directors, I would like to share a few facts with you:

1. The ACS’s position on Open Access has been developed carefully over many years, in consultation with scientists and publishing experts from a wide range of scientific disciplines and interests. It is measured and seeks to balance the legitimate needs of all stakeholders in scientific publishing. That position has been fully reviewed and approved by the appropriate levels of ACS Governance, including Board Committees and the Board of Directors, and is not a “staff decision” alone.

The Society supports initiatives to ensure broad information access. The ACS Publications Division has, in recent years, introduced a range of offerings intended to provide flexible, sustainable approaches to information access (including most recently the ACS Author Choice option that allows authors or their funding agencies to sponsor the immediate online availability of journal articles open to all upon publication on the web; see At the same time, ACS also has been engaged in communicating to policymakers the Society’s concern that government mandates regarding information access are inappropriate interference with the independent publishing activities of the private sector.

Our Society’s position is also represented by the Association of American Publishers, a non-profit organization whose membership encompasses the major commercial and non-profit scholarly publishers, including ourselves. ACS is not alone among scholarly publishers in reaching out to legislators, librarians, editors, authors, and readers to educate and advocate about the unintended consequences of unfunded government and agency mandates, in the U.S. and abroad.

2. ACS executive compensation is based on a variety of indicators related to the health and long-term well being of the Society and its members. No ACS employee’s compensation is linked to the Society’s positions on open access.

The Society’s Board of Directors has approved a compensation policy designed to ensure that Society compensation is competitive, but not leading, in the marketplace. ACS has a Special Committee on Executive Compensation (CEC) that consults and relies on independent compensation consultants who conduct competitive reviews of all ACS executive positions every two years. The Board of Directors regularly reviews the recommendations from the CEC, to assure that ACS’ compensation is competitive with and comparable to similar organizations within the marketplace.

Our most recent IRS Form 990 is accessible to all members online at Members can log in on the home page in the upper right hand corner. Members who have never registered must first click on “new user” after logging in. Once registered, they click on the Member Information Link and click on Compensation of ACS Officers and Key Employees.

In dynamic partnership, ACS members, governance volunteers, and staff strive to create, develop, and deliver to Society members and the chemistry enterprise worldwide valuable programs, services and products that advance the ACS vision “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.”

Thank you for considering this additional perspective, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments about this message.

Judith L. Benham
Chair, ACS Board of Directors


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    October 23, 2007

    One of the principles of government funding is that if the government doesn’t like the results, the funding gets cut off.

    Governments that act according to this “principle” are rare.

    And why is it that the alternative to government that immediately comes to your mind is a system that’s exactly like government, but corporate?

    Well then, enlighten us what alternatives there are. We might learn something.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    October 23, 2007

    n the addiction field, research-based has become a euphemism for government-funded. Both government funding and corporate funding of science needs checks and balances. This is currently difficult because our government-school-educated population is not capable of discerning the difference between good science and bad science.

    Why is that latter problem so much more acute in the USA than elsewhere in the First World?

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 23, 2007

    I do know (anecdotally) that today’s masters-trained researchers often don’t seem to be able to write as well as eighth-grade graduates from about 75 years ago. I blame government schools for this.

    But my point is that “government schools” — public schools — are the norm everywhere. In many countries homeschooling is even forbidden, and private schools (religious or not) are only allowed to add something to the national education plan, not take anything away. And yet the USA are unique among halfway rich countries in having a politically relevant number of creationists, for example. Do you really have too much “government”?

    It seems to me that, while the universities (at least the bigger ones) are spectacularly well funded in the USA, the schools are not (even before the No Child’s Behind Left Act). Result: by far the longest list of Nobel laureates, but tens of % of cre_ti_nists and people who believe their country was founded on Christian values and stuff. Elsewhere it’s the other way around: university funding is rather pitiful, but the schools don’t fall apart, and the general ignorance level of the population is lower.