Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, January 26, 2007

More on the AAP PR campaign

Susan Brown, Publishers' Group Reportedly Hires P.R. Firm to Counter Push for Free Access to Research Results, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 26, 2007 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

The Association of American Publishers has hired a publics-relations firm with a hard-hitting reputation to counter the open-access publishing movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available to the public, the journal Nature reported on Wednesday.

The firm, Dezenhall Resources, designs aggressive public-relations campaigns to counter activist groups, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit organization that monitors the public-relations business.

The firm's founder and head, Eric Dezenhall, apparently has suggested that traditional publishers should link their business model with peer review and "paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles," the Nature article says.

The publishers' association, whose members include scientific societies as well as for-profit publishers, made that link directly in a written statement released on Thursday afternoon. "Private-sector nonprofit and commercial publishers serve researchers and scientists by managing and funding the peer-review process," the statement said. "There are proposals under consideration that would mandate more government involvement and put this system at risk," it added. "Legislation that would undermine the quality, sustainability, and independence of science would have consequences on all those who rely on sound science."

People involved in the open-access movement say such reasoning is flawed. "That leaves out the very important point that the scientific community does the peer review itself without payment," said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an alliance of academic and research libraries that works to counter the rising costs of research journals.

Association members are not the only ones who provide peer review. Open-access publishers, such as Public Library of Science and BioMed Central, do the same for research that is published in their journals.

"We're disappointed to see that the publishers would hire someone to spin a message," Ms. Joseph said. "It's clearly an attempt to try to have us engage in defending something in a way that is just not logical."

The publishers' association has refused to respond to specific queries about the public-relations approaches Mr. Dezenhall has reportedly suggested, or to say whether those suggestions would be adopted. Barbara Meredith, vice president for professional and scholarly publishing, sent the written statement via e-mail on Thursday, but declined to answer further questions from The Chronicle....

Mr. Dezenhall also advised the publishers' association to "focus on simple messages," such as "public access equals government censorship," according to Nature's report....

Update. A slightly updated version of this article appears in the February 9 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. One new bit (my emphasis added):

In a statement that was sent to the listserv, Chemical Information Sources Discussion, Brian D. Crawford, who chairs the association's professional and scholarly publishing division, wrote that proponents of free access to scientific papers ignore "the very real risk of damage to science and the public, should peer-reviewed publishing be compromised by unnecessary government intervention ..." Mr. Crawford did not return several voice-mail messages left by The Chronicle asking him to clarify the connection.