Elsevier, Wiley are getting PR advice from Eric Dezenhall

First the former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling hired him, then ExxonMobil, now ACADEMIC PUBLISHERS?

This ain't good.

From Nature News:

The consultant advised [Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society] 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.

Open access = government censorship????? Talk about idiotic.

For more on this see Omni Brain, Corie Lok's blog, Afarensis, Thoughts from Kansas, Coturnix, and Effect Measure.

Update: Coturnix points the way here, where there are plenty more reactions, and here to an article in SciAm.

A snippet from the SciAm piece:

... according to Dezenhall's suggestions in a memo, the publishers should "develop simple messages (e.g., Public access equals government censorship; Scientific journals preserve the quality/pedigree of science; government seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher) for use by Coalition members." In addition, Dezenhall suggests "bypassing mass 'consumer' audiences in favor of reaching a more elite group of decision makers," including journalists and regulators. This tack is necessary, he writes, because: "it's hard to fight an adversary that manages to be both elusive and in possession of a better message: Free information."

And the worst part is this advice he gave to the publishers:

Paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles

OK this twisted logic is too much. There is obviously an effort to confuse the whole debate. Open access has nothing to do with peer-review. And do they think that they can get away with this misinformation? Scientists, the most active participants in this debate, understand the issues ... but we also need to ensure that our elected officials understand the situation as well.

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What in the world is the difference between the American Chemical Society and the American Chemistry Council? Both use Dezenhall.

The American Chemistry Council hired Dezenhall to kill off chemical safety regulations.
http://tinyurl.com/2j82hw

Environmental Working Group released the leaked documents
http://www.ewg.org/briefings/acc/

Since I'm not a chemist, I have no clue. But if what you report is true, it is sad that a scientific organization would use his services as a PR manager or a lobbyist.

As a representative of nonprofit scientific societies - the civilian casualties of the war between the for-profits and the university libraries - I wish you all would all stop seeing this as a black-and-white issue because it isn't. The nonprofits need every dime they get from memberships (i.e., individual subscriptions) and library subscriptions. Most have little or no other sources of income. If open access erodes membership and/or subscriptions -as it likely will - some of these nonprofits will go under, taking their journals with them. That's LESS science for the public, not more, and FEWER publishing opportunities for scientists, not more.

Some of the for-profits may also find that they are no longer profitable and shut down. You can't paint them all with the big, bad, rich brush.

Further, a study by Cornell University found that what they save in library subscriptions will just end up being covered in publication charges. Just a different pocket from the same pair of jeans. The universities save virtually nothing by virtue of open access.

Finally - ask yourselves this: how many/what percentage of the public can really understand the original scientific publications? Scientists write for scientists, not for the public. No technical watering down or translation. Be honest. Do YOU understand the papers in SCIENCE outside your own field? And you are scientists! So do you think the public will really be able to find and understand the original publications? Almost certainly not.

So. Benefits are few and the cost is very high.

Even a cursory examination of the arguments for mandatory open access will show that they are specious, illogical, based on unproven assumptions. My favorite is the taxpayer argument. I paid for it so I should have free access to it. Well hell. I paid for the bloody space shuttle. I want a ride. For free. And I do not want to pay tolls on the interstate highways. I paid for those roads. And bread. My tax dollars subsidized all that wheat and transfat. I want my Wonder Bread for free. And what if tax dollars paid for only part of the research? Which half of the paper do you want to read for free?

Please. Be scientists, think like scientists. Test your assumptions. Don't just go with ideology. As I wrote in BioScience a couple of years ago: Warning. Mandatory open access may be dangerous to the health of your scientific society.

Ellen writes as if it is the lay public alone that is affected by closed journal access. It is not. It is primarily the scientific community. I'm a faculty member at one University, on sabbatical at a national lab., library privileges at both, and I still have problems getting access to the information I need to do my research. Academic publishers, Elsevier especially but also the non-profits like ACS, have in the last ten years priced themselves beyond what many University libraries can afford. To some extent, I can sympathize with Elsevier, whose mission is after all to make a profit; ACS, on the other hand, is particularly shameless, and in fact has acted consistently in the last 20 years to limit and monopolize access to scientific information. And although I am a chemist, I have decided not to renew my membership of ACS, or to publish in ACS journals, until this nonsense stops.

When will PLoS have a chemistry journal, I wonder?

One opther comment, wqith reference to this:

Further, a study by Cornell University found that what they save in library subscriptions will just end up being covered in publication charges. Just a different pocket from the same pair of jeans. The universities save virtually nothing by virtue of open access.

No, not quite.

First of all, with open access, all the mechanisms for charging and processing subscriptions, security etc. are unnecessary. Moreover, a lot of publishers have large and unnecessary overhead expenses, largely for anachronistic reasons. For example, no one I know sends out reprints anymore; if someone wants my paper, I send them a pdf. Yet we still pay some publishers for a mandatory minimum number.

But more importantly, publication charges can be budgeted and paid off research grants, which already permit charges for the dissemination of information. That's a one-time expense. In contrast, libraries usually don't have an independent source of income for purchasing subscriptions; they come directly out of the University budget, which is often squeezed. If a university adds faculty in an area, it has to go out and buy subscriptions and back-access to new journals. It has to work very hard to figure out which journals are most used, and which are largely unused. This is all time and effort that is unnecessary when there is open access.

The current system is anachronistic, illogical, and inefficient. As I wrote above, I can sympathize witha for-profit corporation like Elsevier trying to maintain its profitability. I am entirely unsympathetic to ACS, which is the classic example of a self-propagating oligarchy with no responsiveness to its membership. ACS has never even asked us if it should explore open-access publishing. It simply tells us it won't.

Ellen,

There are good arguments on both sides of this debate, however what I hate is twisted arguments ... like open access="government censorship"="end of peer-review". Sure the money to pay for the publication costs will "come out of the same pocket" if the researchers end up paying for the cost of their own publications, but the end result is not the same. In the current scenario, only a select few have access, in the latter everyone has access. Some good arguments have also been made in another thread.