Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, March 26, 2007

Brian Crawford speaks out

Brian D. Crawford, "Chairman's Corner," Professional/Scholarly Publishing Bulletin, Spring 2007, pp. 1-2.  Crawford is the Chairman of the Executive Council of the Professional/Scholarly Publishing (PSP) of the Association of American Publishers (AAP). 

This is a strongly-worded criticism of OA advocates and defense of the AAP.  I reproduce it in full so that I can answer it in full.  (I'm relying on this statement from the end of the issue:  "All material in the PSP Bulletin is protected by copyright, but may be reproduced or quoted with proper credit."  However, if the AAP would like me to reproduce only a shorter excerpt, I will.)

Much has been made by advocates of open access publishing of the decision by the AAP’s PSP Division to engage a public relations firm to assist our association in the development of better messaging and outreach needed to educate various stakeholders and policy makers about the unintended consequences of government mandates and other funding agency intervention in peer-reviewed scholarly publishing. In essence, the premise of a January 24, 2007 article in Nature was that PSP should be admonished for seeking advice and assistance from a media consulting firm known for its effectiveness in working with high-profile clients on controversial issues. But rather than rely upon actual public statements and well documented actions by PSP and its member publishers, the reporting instead resorted to the use of innuendo and ad hominem attacks, and sought to portray in a negative manner the intentions of our Association (of which Nature’s parent firm Holtzbrink is itself a member—a fact Nature chose not to disclose). Similar “copycat” reporting in the Washington Post and elsewhere jumped on the bandwagon. Sadly, open access advocates (led notably by vocal individuals supported by the Association of Research Libraries via SPARC and the Alliance for Taxpayer Access) have subsequently sought to smear AAP/PSP as an association, and also have singled out selected member publishing organizations and individuals within our organization as targets of their myth-slinging.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. The genesis of these biased attacks on our organization and its motives should prompt concern. Why would some people be more interested in PR firms than in debating real issues? Are they so afraid of other voices entering the debate about the folly of government intervention in the communication of scientific research? And why is there no reporting on the millions of dollars in philanthropy and other funding that has been used by open access advocates to promote their perspective?

What the myth-slingers don’t want the public and our policy makers to know is the truth. The truth is that many AAP/PSP publishers partner with the World Health Organization to provide free access to thousands of medical journals in developing countries through the HINARI initiative. The truth is that AAP/PSP, through its Executive Council, endorsed the call for voluntary participation in the National Institutes of Health’s public access policy upon its announcement, and AAP/PSP publishers are on record with repeated offers to help the NIH as it has struggled with its own implementation of that policy. The truth is that AAP/PSP publishers were instrumental in conceiving with top health organizations to provide free medical research information (both original research articles and informative contextual summaries) to patients and their caregivers-- even before the NIH embarked on its public access plans.  And the truth is that millions of research articles have been made freely available to the public by many publishers’ own independent actions—without recourse to government funds or mandates.

The truth is that non-profit and commercial publishers today give scientists, doctors and the public more access to more information than ever before. It is publishers, not taxpayers, who invest in peerreview, print and online dissemination, and archiving. And while many professionals indeed contribute their time as unpaid expert referees, the truth is that publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually to support the costs associated with orchestrating the iterative process of peer-review—particularly the recruitment and funding of scientific experts who handle the ultimate editorial decision-making that is essential to the vetting of scientific research claims before publication.

The myth-slingers maintain that because the taxpayer has paid for the underlying research studies, access to the publication that describes the research outcomes and conclusions (including the author’s own creative output) should be a free public good— irrespective of the private-sector publisher investments made in the process of peer review and publication. The truth is that all this debate boils down to is some people wanting something for nothing —or claiming not to need to pay the tailor for making the suit, because they provided the starting fabric.

Government and other funding agency mandates that would undermine the independence of the private-sector journal publishers who invest in and manage the independent system of peer-review must be challenged. Such mandates pose a real threat of unintended consequences that would damage the very fabric of science and compromise the public trust. As your chairman, I will be working with the Executive Council to communicate clearly the importance we attach to maintaining the integrity of the scholarly literature. Peer-reviewed science and medicine should be free of any government intervention or funding agency bias, and we will fulfill our responsibility to communicate that point of view, because doing so is in the best interest of science and society.


  1. Like both of Crawford's previous public responses to the Dezenhall controversy (first, second; also see my comments first, second), this one suggests that the Jim Giles article in Nature was inaccurate but doesn't point out specific inaccuracies.  What's new here is that he uses the term "myth-slingers" for those who rely on uncontradicted reporting from a respected journal.
  2. What the myth-slingers don't want the public and our policy makers to know is the truth [about HINARI, support for the NIH's voluntary policy, patientINFORM, and free online access from some member journals].... I've reported all of these things on this blog.
  3. Why would some people be more interested in PR firms than in debating real issues?  Crawford has it backwards.  The AAP is the one who hired a PR advisor who reportedly said that "if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements."  It's the rest of us who are interested in the real issues.  It looks like the AAP has chosen to abandon debate on the merits for manipulation and sophistry.  To coin a phrase, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. 
  4. The truth is that all this debate boils down to is some people wanting something for nothing.... Here's how I responded the last time Crawford made this claim:  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.
  5. Government and other funding agency mandates ...would undermine the independence of the private-sector journal publishers who invest in and manage the independent system of peer-review.... This is unargued and based on a misunderstanding of FRPAA.  As I put it last month, "FRPAA...does not mandate that subscription-based journals convert to OA.  It does not tell any kind of journals what their access policies or business models ought to be.  It regulates grantees, not publishers....Under FRPAA, the government will not decide what gets published or tell journals what to publish.  The government will not conduct peer review or tell journals how to conduct peer review."
  6. Peer-reviewed science and medicine should be free of any government intervention or funding agency bias.... Don't forget that the "government intervention" here is an attempt to provide public access to publicly-funded research and to maximize the return on taxpayers' considerable investment in it.  Don't forget that the NIH spends only $2-4 million/year on its public access program and about 10 times that, or $30 million/year, on page charges for subscription-based journals.  If there is a "funder bias", the OA policies are small attempts to level the playing field.  Don't forget that FRPAA only applies to articles that have been published in independent, i.e. non-governmental, peer-reviewed journals.  The peer review decisions are not made, modified, or massaged by government.  Don't forget that that the AAP's new PR firm reportedly told the AAP "that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review."
  7. I stand by this assessment I made of Crawford's previous statement:  "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 [here] 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."