Science publishers get stupid

How's this for doublespeak: "Public access equals government censorship"?

Published January 26, 2007 12:11AM (EST)

The free information movement is really coming of age, if one is to judge by the enemies it's making. Nature has a doozy of an article out this week reporting that a group of scientific publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society, have hired a notorious public relations gunslinger to fight back against those kooks who think scientific information should be freely accessible to all.

Among those kooks, by the way, is the United States government, in the form of the National Institutes of Health, which is under the odd impression that publicly funded research should be publicly accessible. But that's crazy talk to the big scientific publishers, who are seeing their profits threatened by upstarts like NIH's PubMed Central and the various journals put out by the Public Library of Science.

Nature reporter Jim Giles managed to obtain some rather diverting e-mails exchanged after Eric Dezenhall, author of "Nail 'Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses," talked to employees of the publishing companies and advised them to fine-tune their message with such slogans as "Public access equals government censorship."

Nature treats this eye-opener with the restraint appropriate to a serious journal. How the World Works is under no such obligation. Which means I'm free to point out that 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.

UPDATE: The discussion of this issue in the comments section is extraordinarily good -- much better than my own post, I have to confess -- with multiple viewspoints expressed.

By Andrew Leonard

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

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