The pit-bull and the pendulum

Continuing the preparation of my WWW 2007 panel material blogwise (and with
apologies to those who have heard me before on this) the following epitomises the difference of interests in the Open/Closed Access/Data community. In 1994 Rudy Baum (C&EN: Editor’s Page – Socialized Science) wrote strongly against Opening chemical data:

National Institutes of Health director Elias A. Zerhouni seems hell-bent on imposing an “open access” model of publishing on researchers receiving NIH grants. His action will inflict long-term damage on the communication of scientific results and on maintenance of the archive of scientific knowledge.More important, Zerhouni’s action is the opening salvo in the open-access movement’s unstated, but clearly evident, goal of placing responsibility for the entire scientific enterprise in the federal government’s hand. Open access, in fact, equates with socialized science.Late on Friday, Sept. 3, NIH posted its proposed new policy on its website, setting in motion a 60-day public comment period (C&EN, Sept. 13, page 7). Under the policy, once manuscripts describing research supported by NIH have been peer reviewed and accepted for publication, they would have to be submitted to PubMed Central, NIH’s free archive of biomedical research. The manuscripts would be posted on the site six months after journal publication.
Many observers believe that, if the NIH policy takes effect, other funding agencies will quickly follow suit. In short order, all research supported by the federal government would be posted on government websites six months after publication. This is unlikely to satisfy open-access advocates, who will continue to push for immediate posting of the research.
I find it incredible that a Republican Administration would institute a policy that will have the long-term effect of shifting responsibility for communicating scientific research and maintaining the archive of science, technology, and medical (STM) literature from the private sector to the federal government. It’s especially hard to understand because access to the STM literature is more open today than it ever has been: Anyone can do a search of the literature and obtain papers that interest them, so long as they are willing to pay a reasonable fee for access to the material.
What is important to realize is that a subscription to an STM journal is no longer what people used to think of as a subscription; in fact, it is an access fee to a database maintained by the publisher. Sure, many libraries still receive weekly or monthly copies of journals printed on paper and bound as part of their subscription. Those paper copies of journals are becoming artifacts of a publishing world that is fast receding into the past. What matters is the database of articles in electronic form.
As I’ve written on this page in the past, one important consequence of electronic publishing is to shift primary responsibility for maintaining the archive of STM literature from libraries to publishers. I know that publishers like the American Chemical Society are committed to maintaining the archive of material they publish. Maintaining an archive, however, costs money. It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which some publishers, their revenues squeezed at least in part by loss of subscriptions as a result of open-access policies, decide to cut costs by turning off access to their archives. The material, they would rationalize, is posted on government websites.
Which is, I suspect, the outcome desired by open-access advocates. Their unspoken crusade is to socialize all aspects of science, putting the federal government in charge of funding science, communicating science, and maintaining the archive of scientific knowledge. If that sounds like a good idea to you, then NIH’s open-access policy should suit you just fine.

“put the [] government in charge of funding science, communicating science, and maintaining the archive of scientific knowledge. If that sounds like a good idea to you, then [] open-access policy should suit you just fine.
Well, I can’t see much wrong with that – it’s certainly a major theme of funding in the UK. It’s not the government alone, of course, there’s the splendid work being done by the Wellcome Trust and other funding bodies. There is the problem of cost, of course, and publishing and archiving costs money. But if a funding body funds research it has a right (and a duty IMO) to make sure that work is as widely available as possible for the longets possible time.
Of course not all publishers use words like “socialized science” – which sounds slightly strange in other countries. But, lest you think that this was a storm in a teacup 3 years ago we have (news @ – PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access – Journal )

Published online: 24 January 2007; Corrected online: 25 January 2007 | doi:10.1038/445347a

PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access

Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement.Jim Giles

The author of Nail ‘Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses is not the kind of figure normally associated with the relatively sedate world of scientific publishing. Besides writing the odd novel, Eric Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud.
Although Dezenhall declines to comment on Skilling and his other clients, his firm, Dezenhall Resources, was also reported by Business Week to have used money from oil giant ExxonMobil to criticize the environmental group Greenpeace. “He’s the pit bull of public relations,” says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O’Dwyer’s PR Report.
Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available. Some traditional journals, which depend on subscription charges, say that open-access journals and public databases of scientific papers such as the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) PubMed Central, threaten their livelihoods.

Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate.

From e-mails passed to Nature, it seems Dezenhall spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). A follow-up message in which Dezenhall suggests a strategy for the publishers provides some insight into the approach they are considering taking.
The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship”. He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”.
Dezenhall also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists. One suggestion was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington DC, which has used oil-industry money to promote sceptical views on climate change. Dezenhall estimated his fee for the campaign at $300,000–500,000.
In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley’s director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: “Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate”.
Officials at the AAP would not comment to Nature on the details of their work with Dezenhall, or the money involved, but acknowledged that they had met him and subsequently contracted his firm to work on the issue.
“We’re like any firm under siege,” says Barbara Meredith, a vice-president at the organization. “It’s common to hire a PR firm when you’re under siege.” She says the AAP needs to counter messages from groups such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS), an open-access publisher and prominent advocate of free access to information. PLoS’s publicity budget stretches to television advertisements produced by North Woods Advertising of Minneapolis, a firm best known for its role in the unexpected election of former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura to the governorship of Minnesota.
The publishers’ link with Dezenhall reflects how seriously they are taking recent developments on access to information. Minutes of a 2006 AAP meeting sent to Nature show that particular attention is being paid to PubMed Central. Since 2005, the NIH has asked all researchers that it funds to send copies of accepted papers to the archive, but only a small percentage actually do. Congress is expected to consider a bill later this year that would make submission compulsory.
Brian Crawford, a senior vice-president at the American Chemical Society and a member of the AAP executive chair, says that Dezenhall’s suggestions have been refined and that the publishers have not to his knowledge sought to work with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. On the censorship message, he adds: “When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity’s interests.”

So the pit-bull is loose – which way will the pendulum swing?

This entry was posted in open issues, www2007. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *