Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 09, 2007

Publishers take the low road

Rick Weiss, Research-Result Battle Now Pits PR 'Pit Bull' Against Barbie Blenders, Washington Post, February 9, 2007.  Excerpt:

The fracas over free access to government-funded research results has come to this: a battle between a widely feared "pit bull of public relations" and an organization that made its name by celebrating the stuffing of Barbie dolls into blenders....

At issue is a movement spearheaded by patient advocates and others [PS:  researchers, universities, and libraries] who say they should not have to buy subscriptions to expensive scientific journals to read the results of research they paid for with their taxes....

Last month, leaked documents revealed that the Association of American Publishers [AAP], led by former Colorado congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, had decided to boost its firepower by hiring Eric Dezenhall, the take-no-prisoners guru of message management who has been nicknamed "the pit bull of PR."

Dezenhall told publishers to simplify their message with lines such as "the government [is] seeking to nationalize science."  Advocates for public access denounced the move as evidence that the publishers were jettisoning their scholarly principles in favor of a dirty disinformation campaign.

Now, the publishers are getting in a few jabs of their own with the news that public access proponents have linked up with, the loose-knit, guerrilla-style student organization perhaps best known for creating "National Barbie-in-a-Blender Day." ...

Now, has joined forces with the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, which supports a pending bill in Congress that would require free posting on the Internet of all published data from any federal agency with a research budget of at least $100 million.

"It is odd timing to start such a campaign," said Peter Banks of Banks Publishing, a Fairfax-based publications consulting firm. "Having howled about publishers working with a flamboyant public relations guy, open access advocates now turn around and decide to work with a group that engages in acts of political theatre." ...

"American taxpayers pay millions of dollars per year to fund this huge output of scientific knowledge," said Gavin Baker, a University of Florida student who is leading the group's public access campaign. "The question is whether we want to live in a hegemonic world where everything of value is owned by someone else, and they have extreme control over it, and they have no obligation to let you use it or see it."

Such language shows the movement's radical agenda, Schroeder said. "I'm glad they are showing their true colors," she said. 

Banks, who has called for a more reasoned debate, sees no winners.  "It goes to show that media messaging is how business gets done in Washington," he said. "It's not the power of one's argument but how simply and colorfully it is framed."


  1. Here it comes.  Barbara Meredith, VP of the AAP, said that news stories about the AAP's pitbull tactics were inaccurate and that "reporters picked up on some early proposals that were not adopted."  I thought that was a sign that the AAP might take the high road.  But Pat Schroeder and Peter Banks have decided to take the low road after all, and have adopted the tactic of "media messaging" instead of reasoned debate.  This is the script according to its new PR consultant, as reported by Nature.  Shame on the Washington Post for playing along.
  2. If anyone is paying attention, the disanalogy is clear.  FreeCulture is one of many groups that has joined the campaign for OA because it believes in the cause.  (Just ask it.)  We welcome every kind of support and in this case we specifically recognize that students have their own strong interest in OA, just like faculty, university administrators, librarians, doctors, medical patients, and taxpayers.   The OA movement isn't paying FreeCulture a dime, let alone $300,00 - $500,000 (which the AAP's PR consultant reportedly requested for six months' work).  Moreover, FreeCulture never said "if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements."  And FreeCulture isn't recommending Barbie blending as a tactic to support OA.  (For a true example of his style, see Gavin Baker's hard work in June 2006 to get the Student Senate at the University of Florida to adopt a strong resolution in support of OA.) 
  3. However, I'm glad to publicly disavow Barbie blending as a tactic to support OA.  Now will Pat Schroeder and Peter Banks publicly disavow the tactics reported by Nature, in their campaign against OA?  Will any of the publisher-members of the AAP publicly disavow those tactics?