25 January 2007

Dirty tricks close in on open access

There's an interesting taster over on IWR Blog about a nice scandal uncovered by Nature. It seems that the heavyweight publishers of expensive journals have been, horror of horrors, using PR people to advise on their campaigns to fend off the rush to open access.

There probably wouldn't be much surprise at this revelation were it not for the fact that "Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons, American Chemical Society as well as the Association of American Publishers (AAP)" had signed up "a PR man whose career has been spent putting a positive spin on fraudsters like Jeffrey Skilling of Enron and denying scientific evidence of climate change".

The puzzling things is that the advice they got is so lame. As Jim Giles on Nature puts it:

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".
Other advice, that the opponents of open access should paint the move as some sort of communist plot, seems to come from someone completely out of touch with the scientific world. Scientists are notoriously non-conformist.

It would be amazing if commercial publishers, including Nature, which has done its bit to question the open access movement and is flooding the market with new paying only journals, did not indulge in some lobbying, subtle and not so subtle. But it seems counterproductive to have to sign up someone who, from these reports, makes Tony Blair's spin doctors sound like models of correctness.

There's a nice "Editor's note" at the end of Jim's story:
In the original version of this story, Susan Spilka was reported as emailing a note that said "Media massaging is not the same as intellectual debate." It should have read "Media messaging", and has been changed accordingly.
Both versions seem perfectly reasonable to me. And since when did people check their emails that carefully?

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