Science publishers get even stupider

The war against open access to taxpayer-funded scientific research heats up. Let the mocking begin.

Topics: Globalization, How the World Works,

For fans of increased public access to taxpayer-funded scientific research, 2007 got off to an eye-opening start when Nature broke the news in January that Eric Dezenhall, a public relations high flier, was advising a group of scientific publishers to start pushing the theme that “public access equals government censorship.”

I had some fun with that tidbit: “… any publisher of scientific research who even begins to entertain the notion that free access to scientific information can or should be equated with government censorship should be mocked mercilessly in every publication, online or off, free or subscription required, evanescent as a blog or solid as a hard-copy Encyclopedia Britannica, from now until they beg forgiveness from every human on this planet for their disingenuous mendacity.” A few days later I was similarly unkind while reviewing Dezenhall’s book “Damage Control.”

Despite my rhetoric, I can’t say I actually believed that the publishers would take Dezenhall’s advice. But that is exactly what has happened, reports Peter Suber, the author of a blog exquisitely focused on the topic of open access. On Aug. 23, the Association of American Publishers announced that it was forming a lobbying organization, the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM), to fight back against the perfidious influence of the open access revolutionaries.

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A specter is haunting commercial science publishers:

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 [AND] opening the door to scientific censorship in the form of selective additions to or omissions from the scientific record.

Peter Suber’s own demolition of PRISM’s press release is recommended as a starting point for discussion. Interested parties would also do well to review the terrific conversation that broke out in the Salon comments area when this topic came up in January, before making ill-considered assertions as to how open access will lead to the death of peer review and the end of civilization as we know it.

I stand by my original opinion. The American Association of Publishers and everyone associated with it should be ashamed of trying to protect their profit margins by slandering the open access movement as government intervention and censorship. Research paid for with government funds should be freely accessible to the general public. Peer review will survive. PRISM, however, will be doomed by its own weasel words, which represent a betrayal of everything science stands for.

A taste of Suber, responding to one of the talking points in PRISM’s press release:

3. “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.” The word “surrender” here is false and dishonest. Recent legislative and regulatory efforts have encouraged free online access to peer-reviewed manuscripts within 12 months of publication. A few efforts, which have not yet passed, would require this kind of free online access. But every one of these efforts (1) has applied to the final version of the authorb

And let us stress again. This is for research that the public paid for, not Monsanto or Merck.

Let the mocking begin.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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