Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, February 08, 2007

AAP's letter to Nature

Kristen Philipkoski, with Randy Dotinga and Scott Carney, Open-Access Debate: Wiley's View, Wired News, February 8, 2007.  

While researching a story about open access, I've been in touch with the publishing firms that reportedly hired a p.r. firm to help them create a message in opposition to pending legislation regarding open access.

A spokeswoman for Wiley declined to comment and referred me to a letter to the editor that publishers spokesperson Brian Crawford (see more about him in a previous post) sent to Nature after it broke the story of the hiring of the publicists:

To the Editor:

The premise of the Jan. 24 article by Jim Giles raises disturbing questions, and was extremely misleading by its omissions and errors. In an attempt to portray in a negative manner the intentions of our Association (of which Nature’s parent firm is itself a member, a fact Mr. Giles chose not to report), the article used innuendo and ad hominem attacks rather than facts in an attempt to smear a group of fine organizations and individuals who are working in the interests of science and the public good.

The genesis of Mr. Giles’ report should also prompt concern. Why are some people more interested in PR firms than real issues? Are they afraid of other voices entering the debate? Why is there no reporting on the millions of dollars spent by open access advocates to promote their perspective?

What these parties don't want others to know is that Association of American Publishers partners with the World Health Organization to provide free access to thousands of medical journals in developing countries; how AAP publishers are helping the National Institutes of Health to archive and link articles for public access; how AAP publishers were instrumental in conceiving with top health organizations to provide free medical research information to patients and their caregivers, and how millions of research articles are freely available by publishers’ independent actions.

Non-profit and commercial publishers today give scientists, doctors and the public more access to more information than ever before. It is publishers who invest in peer-review, print and online dissemination, and archiving, not taxpayers. All this debate boils down to is some people wanting something for nothing.

The unintended consequences of government mandated open access are real and potentially damaging, and we will fulfill our responsibility to communicate those risks because doing so is in the best interest of science and society.

Brian D. Crawford, Ph.D.
Chairman, Executive Council
Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division
Association of American Publishers

Also see a follow-up conversation with Brian Crawford (same authors, same source, same day).


  1. This is the second public response from the AAP asserting that the Nature article is inaccurate but declining to point out specific inaccuracies.  (See my comment on the first.)
  2. The Nature article has generated a wave of criticism of the AAP, Elsevier, Wiley, and the ACS.  But in this letter, Crawford chooses to ignore the actual criticism and respond to non-existent criticism.  I haven't seen anyone say or imply that they are afraid of other voices entering the debate or that the public should not know about the AAP's commitment to HINARI and patientINFORM.  Of course the AAP should honestly communicate any risks it sees in OA policy proposals.  The real criticism that Crawford doesn't address in this letter, or his previous letter, is that the AAP appears willing to subordinate that honest job to a campaign of disinformation ("Public access equals government censorship") and diversion ("[I]f the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements").  If the Nature version of the facts that gave rise to this criticism is inaccurate, Crawford could do everyone a favor by showing it.
  3. Do supporters of national OA mandates like FRPAA want something for nothing?  No.  We want something for something.  Crawford is forgetting that taxpayers have already paid for the underlying research and that publishers pay nothing to receive the written results.  Yes, publishers add value to those results.  But if publishers and taxpayers both make a contribution to the value of peer-reviewed articles arising from publicly-funded research, then what's the best way to split this baby?  The FRPAA solution is a reasonable compromise:  a period of exclusivity for the publisher followed by free online access for the public.  If the AAP wants to block OA mandates per se, rather than just negotiate the embargo period, then it's saying that it wants no compromise, that the public should get nothing for its investment, and that publishers should control access to research conducted by others, written up by others, and funded by taxpayers.  I'd call that getting something for nothing.