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News from the open access movement

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cognitive dissonance at the AAP

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) is criticizing the Bush administration for censoring government science about global warming.  For the OA connection, see my comments below; but first an excerpt from the AAP's February 7 press release:

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has joined with six prominent First Amendment groups in issuing a statement condemning the suppression and distortion of information and research results of government climate scientists, and warning of the dire consequences of tampering with sound scientific method.

The statement was prompted by hearings held January 30 by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which heard testimony regarding the suppression of government scientists’ speech and writings, the suppression and distortion of research findings, and retaliatory action taken against those who protested.

The statement, which was organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship, warns that censorship of science “affronts the fundamental premises of the scientific method....Without the free exchange of ideas, science as we understand it cannot exist and progress.” In addition, “The reported acts of suppression and distortion of scientific findings violate the compact between the government and the governed that the Constitution was designed to protect. In chilling the free speech of the scientists on critical policy questions that profoundly affect the public interest and well-being, whether it is climate change or AIDS prevention, these actions hurt the people who have a right to receive accurate, reliable and valid information about critical policy decisions.” ...

The Association of American Publishers...represents an industry whose very existence depends upon the free exercise of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.


  1. First, I applaud the AAP for taking this position.  We disagree about OA, but we agree about many other things.  For example, I supported the AAP's lawsuit to overturn the US Treasury Department's use of trade embargoes to block US journals from editing manuscripts from scientists in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, or the Sudan.  And now I support its position on the political manipulation of science.  If we cannot do enough fast enough to slow global warming, the Bush administration will have to answer to hundreds of millions of displaced people.  The delays caused by his administration's deliberate, political interference with government scientists may already have done incalculable harm.
  2. But it is inconsistent for the AAP to protest the government's deliberate "distortion of information" while the AAP itself deliberately distorts the debate over open access with newspeak slogans like "Public access equals government censorship".  Why call this deliberate distortion rather than deep confusion?  Because the AAP's new PR advisor reportedly gave the tactical advice that "if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements" (according to Nature for January 24, 2007).
  3. It's also inconsistent for the AAP to protest the government's "suppression...of research findings" when an open access mandate for publicly-funded research would have prevented precisely this problem.  There are careful ways to protest suppression without endorsing OA.  But instead of taking that route, the AAP took a very different one by its apparent willingness to construe public access itself as a kind of censorship.
  4. The AAP has said that "some" of the PR proposals it received from its new PR advisor "were not adopted", but it has not said which ones those are.  Now would be a good time for the AAP to clear the air and say in public that open access to publicly-funded research is not censorship but a remedy to censorship.  It may be a remedy it cannot support for other reasons.  But by leaving the impression that it regards public access itself as censorship, it leaves the impression that its disapproval of deliberate distortion is merely selective.