An anonymous Email that was circulated on October 10 calls into question the practices of the non-profit publishing giant, the American Chemical Society (ACS), which has long been under scrutiny.
The Email, signed only by "ACS insider," was sent to college librarians, ACS administrators, and a science writing listserv. It said that the ACS is growing more corporate in structure and described how it manages the 36 chemical journals under its purview. Among other criticisms, the anonymous Emailer wrote that the bonuses given to ACS executives are tied to the profits of the publishing division, and such bonuses explain why the society has had such a strong stance against open-access publishing.
The anonymous author responded to requests from The Scientist for more information about his or her identity only with "I just have to remain anonymous." He or she did not provide any confirmable evidence that bonuses to executives in the society were linked to profits in the publishing division.
The Email is believable, Christopher Reed, distinguished professor of chemistry at the University of California, Riverside, and outspoken critic of the ACS, told The Scientist in an Email. "Staff are intimidated about speaking out, they must do so anonymously. The profit motive has distracted ACS management from its constitutional purpose."
A statement sent to The Scientist from Judith Benham, chair of the ACS board of directors, said: "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."
According the tax information submitted to the IRS for fiscal year 2005, three top executives, including Bob Massie, president of Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) -- one of ACS's most successful publications -- make more than $750,000 a year, including bonuses. Benham added that compensation for executive employees is meant to be competitive, but not higher than other publishers in the market place, and that "no ACS employee's compensation is linked to the society's positions on open access."
Baum declined to say whether his bonuses were linked to publishing profits, but only that the anonymous letter had more incorrect information in it than correct information. "When anonymous material comes into the office I throw it out right away," he told The Scientist.
Several former ACS employees contacted by The Scientist, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while they were employees at the ACS, it was well known that upper level managers got bonuses that were linked to publishing profits. Sylvia Ware, former director of the ACS education division, declined to comment about bonus practice at the society....
For background, see Paul Thacker's article in SEJournal, alleging that ACS executives earn bonuses based on the profits of its publications, and the ACS Insider memo, repeating the allegation. Also see the comments to the Gawrylewski story, at the bottom of the page.
Parse the ACS statements carefully. Thacker and "ACS Insider" charged that bonuses were tied to publication profits, not to the society position on OA. If bonuses are tied to publication profits, then you can draw your own conclusion about the personal interest of ACS executives in opposing government OA mandates. When ACS executives frame the question their own way, it becomes whether bonuses are tied to the ACS position on OA, and they readily tell the press that the answer is no. But when asked directly whether bonuses are tied to publication profits, they decline to answer.
But as I commented on the Thacker article, there's a larger issue here than what might or might not be happening at the ACS: If your professional society has opposed government OA policies, try to find out whether its executives earn bonuses based on the revenues or profits of its publications. If they do, ask in a public meeting whether they believe this is a conflict of interest.
Peter Suber at 10/22/2007 04:33:00 PM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.