Anti-Open Access Propaganda: An Institution Under Siege

Could this be a good sign? According to an article by Jim Giles and published by Nature* a “group of big scientific publishers” (yes, you guessed it, Elsevier and Wiley are two of them) and the AAP have decided that they need to actively spread the word that open access publishing is evil. Giles says that emails provided to Nature show a consultant advising the publishers on how best to cast OA as the ultimate destruction of scholarship.

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”.

First of all, public access equals government censorship? What? I get it that traditional publishing models are the backbone of peer review. That’s historically accurate, and I can understand the easy logical sidestep that would move this from “historically accurate” to “state of being.” Latching on to that argument is tactically smart because that’s already what people worry about.

But pros and cons of the argument aside, I’m a little bit optimistic even in the face of this dirty move. If these big companies feel the need to sink money into a consulting firm to help them evade the growing threat of open access, then that means that OA is finally big enough to look like a threat.

The Nature article quotes Barbara Meredith of AAP as saying, “We’re like any firm under siege. It’s common to hire a PR firm when you’re under siege.”

Well, you can’t be sieged by a guy with a knife. It takes lots of pretty dangerous guys make and effective siege. So here’s to those dangerous guys. Siege away.

[Update: The Chronicle of Higher Education has now reported on this issue (subscriber’s link**). In this article Susan Brown reports on a statement issued by the AAP yesterday afternoon that said, “Private-sector nonprofit and commercial publishers serve researchers and scientists by managing and funding the peer-review process.” This statement also mentioned that there “are proposals under consideration” (which wasn’t named) by the government that would “mandate more government involvement” in the scholarly publishing process.

I’ve been unable to find the actual statement to which the Chronicle refers, but it looks like the AAP is doing exactly what their consultant suggested.

I agree with the quote at the end of the Chronicle piece: Heather Joseph of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition said, “To go from open accessibility to censorship requires a leap of logic.” No Kidding!]

[Update 2: You can subscribe to a feed for the library chatter about this news. Via LibWorm.]

[Yet another update: A response from AAP can be found here. But the heart of the matter is here:


Some commentators have expressed surprise that the publishing industry is making its case about an important issue that could affect the future of research and science. We believe it’s important to be clear about serious unintended consequences of government mandated open access.

Private sector non-profit and commercial publishers serve researchers and scientists by managing and funding the peer review process, disseminating authors’ work, investing in technology and preserving millions of peer-reviewed articles as part of the permanent record of science. Peer review is the complex and expensive system that provides the checks and balances necessary to ensure that what is made publicly available has been verified by experts. Peer review helps keep science independent of politics or ideology. Thanks to publishers, scientists today have more access to more peer-reviewed articles than ever before. We don’t believe there is a credible substitute that can provide the same level of contribution and support to science.

There are proposals under consideration that would mandate more government involvement and put this system at risk. Legislation that would undermine the quality, sustainability and independence of science would have consequences on all those who rely on sound science.

The AAP/PSP will continue to ensure that all sides of the debate are heard.

With that, I think I’m officially done updating this oft-updated post.]

* Giles, Jim. “PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access: Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement.” Nature. Published online January 24th, 2007. []

** Brown, Susan. “Publishers’ Group Reportedly Hires P.R. Firm to Counter Push for Free Access to Research Results.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Online. Today’s News. January 26th, 2007. [subscription required:]