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The Bohannon “Sting”; Can we trust AAAS/Science or is this PRISM reemerging from the grave?

I hadn’t meant to post on the Bohannon/Sciencemag/AAAS  “sting”  (where journals were spoofed into accepting junk papers). Many others have done this (summarised by Graham Steel inter alia ). But then I learnt today there was to be a live video conference with Michael Eisen, David Roos,  and Science (Jon Cohen,  and John Bohannon) [1900 UTC 2013-10-10 - so there's time to catch it]. I posted my concern – no idea whether I get picked to present it.

My concern is whether Science/AAAS can be regarded as neutral in this issue. Some years ago legacy (non-open-access) publishers hired a consultancy firm to denigrate Open Access (“Open Access is junk science”) – the activity was called PRISM (not to be confused with the current PRISM). This included the AAP and some of us asked publishers if they wished to dissociate themselves from this. I cannot remember immediately what Science’s / AAAS did. I believe there are still legacy publishers who will use lobbying and money to try to discredit OA and I would need assurances from Science/AAAS that they distance themselves from such attempts. Bohannon’s study can be seen as such an attempt.

Here’s the background. Six years ago the American Association of Publishers , of which AAAS is a member secretly hired (for about 500, 000 USD) a professional consultant to discredit Open Access. The proposal got leaked and the blogosphere reacted angrily, just as they have here. The proposal was essentially a “dirty tricks” approach to discredit OA, not in the eyes of academics, but politicians.

This is exactly what the Bohannon sting has done six years later. My concern is that Science/AAAS may have indulged in “dirty tricks” to protect closed access publishing and I am challenging them to show differently.

There was ample documentation. Here’s my blog post of that time which also references Peter Suber’s analysis. Quotes from PS about PRISM

The emails [PeterS] received show that Dezenhall advised the AAP to  focus on what seem to me to be emotive and highly misleading  messages. Publishers were told to equate traditional journals with  peer review, even though open-access publications operate peer review  in exactly the same way. US government plans to boost access to  papers, which include making all publicly funded health research  available via a dedicated archive, were to be described as  “censorship” and “copyright theft”, though it is hard to see what  possible basis these accusations can have….

I and others wrote to a number of publishers asking if they would dissociate themselves from PRISM. Some did; I cannot immediately recall whether AAAS was one (if they did dissociate my concerns may be lessened).

Do not equate non-profit with “neutral” or “fair”. One of the prime movers of PRISM was the American Chemical Society and so there is no a priori reason why we should expect AAAS to be whiter-than-white. There’s a lot of money involved and although I don’t know about AAAS, some ACS officers were paid over 1 million USD at the time of PRISM. [Read the IRS returns if you doubt this].

So if I get the chance tonight I’ll be asking at what level of AAAS this spoof was authorised (it clearly took months). Will I believe the answers? I will wait to see what they are.

One Response to “The Bohannon “Sting”; Can we trust AAAS/Science or is this PRISM reemerging from the grave?”

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