Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, August 31, 2007

BioMed Central on PRISM

Brian Vickery, PRISM Bends the Truth, as well as Light, BioMed Central blog, August 30, 2007.  Vickery is the Deputy Publisher of BioMed Central.  Excerpt:

...Ahead of an upcoming vote in the U.S. Senate that would require open access to all National Institute of Health funded research within 12 months of original publication, lobbyists for traditional publishers fearing change are again engaging in a mudslinging campaign against advocates of all forms of open access....

The press release to launch PRISM uses emotive terms such as “safeguard peer-review,” “scientific integrity,” and “government interference”. The evidence that open access to scientific research does not harm the peer review process, compromise the integrity of research through government censorship, and certainly doesn’t only cater to “junk science,” is so well established that it merits no further defense.

Last year, however, Eric Dezenhall (“PR's pit bull”), advised the AAP “to equate traditional publishing models with peer review,” i.e. to say that peer review, the cornerstone of scientific research, is under attack or prone to deterioration by open access publishers, and that only traditional publishing models can somehow be used to preserve and defend it. It should be noted that peer review is practiced as stringently by open access publishers as it has always been throughout the history of scientific publishing. As a result, impact factors for open access journals continue to increase annually, speaking to the sound nature of the research featured in those publications. BioMed Central’s Malaria Journal, for example, was recently determined by Thomson Scientific to be the number one journal in the field of tropical medicine. This accomplishment would not have been possible without the most disciplined attention to peer review....

The real goal of PRISM seems to be protecting publishers’ perceived entitlement to copyright the research results of authors they publish (a standard practice in traditional scientific publishing) which gives the publisher the right to erect cost barriers in exchange for access to results (otherwise known as a subscription model). These subscription barriers are counter to PRISM’s desire to “share as much scientific and medical information as possible with the entire world.”

PRISM suggests that open access “would jeopardize the financial viability of the journals that conduct peer review, placing the entire scholarly communication process at risk,” because the publisher can no longer recover their costs and make large profits through subscriptions. But the viability of these journals is only possible because the market is broken, and the library community is held over a barrel and forced to funnel vast amounts of money into them through subscriptions.

Under open access, the intellectual property rights rest with the author under a Creative Commons license, the publisher provides a service (submission/tracking systems, peer-review, XML markup/PDF creation, marketing, customer service, distribution and archiving) for which the publisher is paid, and the research output is made freely available.

What PRISM truly represents is an entrenched industry still attempting to hold at bay the disruptive effect of 21st Century communications. In the same way that the music industry was forced to adapt to iTunes, and cinema and television had no choice but to use sites like YouTube to their advantage, so will the scientific publishing industry have to eventually determine a way to use today’s technology to its advantage. Anything less than a commitment to this principle is to the detriment of scientific discovery and the global public, which stands to benefit enormously from greater access to publicly-funded research.

Prisms have a wonderful ability to take in a uniform band and split it into its constituent parts. Let’s hope the increasing criticism over the launch of PRISM does a similar job of fragmenting this coalition, and exposing their true colors.