Project of Publishers' Association Is Criticized by Some of Its Members and Open-Access Advocates
The Association of American Publishers has landed in hot water with university presses and research librarians, as well as open-access advocates, thanks to a new undertaking that is billed as an attempt to "safeguard the scientific and medical peer-review process and educate the public about the risks of proposed government interference with the scholarly communication process."
That effort, known as the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine, or PRISM, is the latest twist in a continuing public-relations war between the association and the open-access camp.
In January, the association created a ruckus by hiring Eric Dezenhall, a high-powered media consultant described by the journal Nature as a "pit bull" (The Chronicle, January 26). Mr. Dezenhall's advice to the publishers' association, says Nature, included a suggestion that it focus on messages such as "Public access equals government censorship."
That advice echoes throughout PRISM's Web site in language like this: "Policies are being proposed that threaten to introduce undue government intervention in science and scholarly publishing, putting at risk the integrity of scientific research."
The site, announced late last month, decries "bureaucratic meddling," and warns that the peer-review process will be undermined "by compromising the viability of nonprofit and commercial journals that manage and fund it."
PRISM arrives as the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a spending bill for the National Institutes of Health that would require research supported by the agency to be made publicly available, as part of the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central, no later than 12 months after its publication . The House of Representatives has already approved such a measure in its bill.
Fault Found With Message
Reactions to PRISM have been widespread and vigorous, with some commentators calling for a boycott of the association. The news provoked one university-press director, Mike Rossner of Rockefeller University Press, to make a public request that a disclaimer be placed on the PRISM Web site "indicating that the views presented on the site do not necessarily represent those of all members of the AAP." Mr. Rossner continued, "We at the Rockefeller University Press strongly disagree with the spin that has been placed on the issue of open access by PRISM."
The Association of Research Libraries sent its members a talking-points memo, dated September 4, that deals with some of the arguments made on the PRISM site. The librarians' group wrote that PRISM "repeatedly conflates policies regarding access to federally funded research with hypothesized dire consequences ultimately resulting in the loss of any effective system of scholarly publishing. Many commentators agree that inaccuracies abound in the initiative's rhetoric."
One of those commentators, Tom Wilson, took his own advice that "academics should resign from editorial boards of journals published by the supporters of PRISM": He posted an open letter on the Information Research Weblog announcing his resignation from the editorial board of the International Journal of Information Management. Mr. Wilson, a professor emeritus of information technology at the University of Sheffield, in England, was founding editor of that journal. He is also publisher and editor in chief of Information Research, an online, open-access scholarly journal.
Brian D. Crawford, chairman of the executive council of the AAP's professional and scholarly publishing division, acknowledged that the strength of the negative reaction had taken his group by surprise. "We did not expect to have encountered the sort of criticism that we have seen thus far," Mr. Crawford told The Chronicle. "We were truly hoping to establish this as a way to have a very productive dialogue on what are important and nuanced issues."
A task force composed of members of the executive council put PRISM together. It had been in the works about a year, according to Mr. Crawford. (Representatives of three academic presses -- those of the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Columbia University -- sit on the council.) The press association's general membership was not consulted during that process. "We sought the input of the executive council that's representative of our membership," Mr. Crawford said.
He added that the association was "using the announcement of the initiative itself as the initial means to engage in the outreach and recruitment of individual publishers."
It is not clear how many publishers have responded positively to that call.
Mr. Crawford also confirmed that Mr. Dezenhall, the PR maven, was still consulting for the publishers' group, although he would not say whether the consultant had been directly involved in formulating PRISM.
Mr. Crawford defended his group against charges that it is anti-open access. "We're definitely not saying that open access equals faulty science," he said. "What we're saying is, It's important for publishers to have the flexibility to introduce and experiment with whatever business model they wish to, without government intervention."
Because of the criticisms, however, the publishers' group is taking "under advisement" the idea of adding a disclaimer, as Mr. Rossner suggested. It's also possible that the association will decide to revise the language on the PRISM Web site in response to the concerns of university presses and libraries.
Peter Suber, a professor of philosophy at Earlham College and one of the leaders of the open-access movement, has been closely tracking responses to PRISM on his Open Access News blog. In an interview, he confirmed that the reaction to PRISM had spread beyond the open-access community.
"In the past couple of years, there have been a couple of events that have mobilized newcomers" to the open-access debate, he said. "The hiring of Eric Dezenhall in January was one such event. PRISM is another."
Asked what effect PRISM is likely to have, Mr. Suber noted that the publishers' group has the resources to back it up on Capitol Hill. "The message is no threat at all," he said. "The message is a laughingstock. But the lobbying behind the message might be effective."
Posted by Katie Newman at September 11, 2007 10:43 AM