Library Access to Scholarship
PRISM: Enough Rope?
PRISM: Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine. What a noble name! How could such a partnership be anything but desirable?
Here’s the group’s August 23 press release, offered without interstitial commentary:
The formation of a coalition of scholarly societies and publishers was announced today in an effort 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.
The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine is a coalition launched with developmental support from the Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) to alert Congress to the unintended consequences of government interference in scientific and scholarly publishing.
The group has launched a website at http://www. prismcoalition.org, where it articulates the PRISM Principles, an affirmation of publishers' contribution to science, research, and peer review, and an expression of support for continued private sector efforts to expand access to scientific information. (http://www. prismcoalition.org/prism/about.htm)
"We are enthusiastic about this initiative and the potential of our new website to educate policy makers and citizens about our efforts to increase access to information, to alert them to the very real threat to peer review that ill-considered government interference represents, and to explore the ways in which we can safeguard peer review as a critical component of scientific integrity," said Patricia Schroeder, president and CEO of AAP. "Only by preserving the essential integrity of the peer-review process can we ensure that scientific and medical research remains accurate, authoritative, and free from manipulation and censorship and distinguishable from junk science."
Recently, there have been legislative and regulatory efforts to compel not-for-profit and commercial journals to surrender to the Federal government a large number of published articles that scholarly journals have paid to peer review, publish, promote, archive and distribute. Mrs. Schroeder stressed that government interference in scientific publishing would force journals to give away their intellectual property and weaken the copyright protections that motivate journal publishers to make the enormous investments in content and infrastructure needed to ensure widespread access to journal articles. It would jeopardize the financial viability of the journals that conduct peer review, placing the entire scholarly communication process at risk.
"Peer review has been the global standard for validating scholarly research for more than 400 years and we want to make sure it remains free of unnecessary government interference, agenda-driven research, and bad science," said Dr. Brian Crawford, chairman of the executive council of AAP's Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division. "The free market of scholarly publishing is responsive to the needs of scholars and scientists and balances the interests of all stakeholders."
Critics argue that peer reviewed articles resulting from government funded research should be available at no cost. However, the expenses of peer review, promotion, distribution and archiving of articles are paid for by private sector publishers, and not with tax dollars. Mrs. Schroeder pointed out that these expenses amount to hundreds of millions of dollars each year for non-profit and commercial publishers. "Why would a federal agency want to duplicate such expenses instead of putting the money into more research funding?" she said.
The PRISM website includes factual information and reasoned commentary designed to educate citizens and policy makers, to dispel inaccuracies and counter the rhetorical excesses indulged in by some advocates of open access, who believe that no one should have to pay for information that is peer reviewed at the expense of non-profit and commercial publishers.
Featured on the PRISM website are backgrounders on peer review, dissemination and access, preservation of the scholarly record and new approaches publishers are taking along with discussion about the risks of government intervention to the sustainability of peer review, copyright infringement, the possibility of selective bias in the record of science, federal budget uncertainties and inefficient allocation of government funding that duplicates private sector investments. Importantly, the site has information to assist the public in making their concerns known to Congress.
"We want to share as much scientific and medical information as possible with the entire world. That's why we got into this business in the first place," Mrs. Schroeder said.
Anyone who wishes to sign on to the PRISM Principles may do so on the site.
Going to the PRISM website and searching for other members of this “coalition,” I’m forced to conclude that, at least at present, PRISM is simply another name for AAP/PSP. Peer review must be under direct attack, given the number of times it’s mentioned in the press release—and isn’t it good to hear that publishers are in business “to share as much scientific and medical information as possible with the entire world,” when some of us might have mistakenly thought that Elsevier and others had profit as a primary concern.
If you’ve been following open access issues or even the limited coverage here in Cites & Insights, you might hark back to AAP’s hiring of PR consultant Eric Dezenhall—at which point a connection becomes almost inevitable.
Since I did PRISM the courtesy of quoting its entire press release, I should do as well for Peter Suber’s same-day commentary to providing a clear picture of what’s happening here. (The first paragraph of the press release is slightly different in Suber’s version than in the version currently on the PRISM website. That version speaks of bringing together “like minded scholarly societies, publishers, researchers and others” in an effort to…then follows as here.)
August 23, 2007 Open access news post “Publishers launch an anti-OA lobbying organization”:
1. Pat Schroeder and Brian Crawford defend peer review when it is not under attack, and they attack public access to publicly-funded research without showing that it would undermine peer review. As they have many times before, they cloak their concern about publisher revenue with concern about the “integrity” of scholarship and peer review. This is straight out of the playbook of the PR consultant Eric Dezenhall, who advised the AAP “to equate traditional publishing models with peer review.”
2. But asserting that traditional toll-access (TA) publishing equates with peer review, or implying that OA will undermine peer review, doesn’t make it so. I’ll have more to say about this in the September issue of SOAN, next week. [PS update, 9/2/07: My SOAN response is now online.] Meantime here are some point-by-point responses to the press release.
3. “Recently, there have been legislative and regulatory efforts to compel not-for-profit and commercial journals to surrender to the Federal government a large number of published articles that scholarly journals have paid to peer review, publish, promote, archive and distribute.” The word “surrender” here is false and dishonest. Recent legislative and regulatory efforts have encouraged free online access to peer-reviewed manuscripts within 12 months of publication. A few efforts, which have not yet passed, would require this kind of free online access. But every one of these efforts (1) has applied to the final version of the author’s peer-reviewed manuscript, not to the published edition, and (2) has been scrupulous to avoid amending copyright law or interferring with the transfer of copyright. Under these policies, researchers may still hold copyrights to their writings, may still transfer their copyrights to publishers, and publishers may still hold and exercise those copyrights. (The OA policies have not changed existing law that publications by government-employed researchers, as opposed to government-funded researchers, are uncopyrightable.) These policies don’t require publishers to surrender their articles or their copyrights. If authors transfer copyright to publishers, which is still the custom, then publishers remain the exclusive rights holders for the life of copyright. The policies only require that the version on which they may hold copyright coexist with a free online copy of an earlier version, starting 6–12 months after publication.
4. “[OA policies] would jeopardize the financial viability of the journals that conduct peer review, placing the entire scholarly communication process at risk.” As usual, this is unargued. If we look at existing evidence, as opposed to existing fear, then we have to come to the opposite conclusion. Physics is the field with the highest level and longest history of OA archiving, and in physics TA publishers have publicly acknowledged that they’ve seen no cancellations attributable to OA archiving. In fact, two publishers of TA physics journals, the American Physical Society and Institute of Physics have launched their own mirrors of arXiv, the premier OA archive in the field. Yes, it’s possible that the consequences of high-volume OA archiving in other disciplines will differ from the consequences in physics. But why not start with the evidence, or at least acknowledge the evidence, before turning to unargued fear-mongering?
5. “The free market of scholarly publishing is responsive to the needs of scholars and scientists and balances the interests of all stakeholders.” Calling the current system a “free market” is another distortion. (So is the claim that it balances the interests of all stakeholders, but I’ll leave that to one side here.) Most scientific research is funded by taxpayers. Most researcher salaries are paid by taxpayers. Most TA journal subscriptions are paid by taxpayers. And publishers receive both the articles and the referee reports as donations from authors and referees. Publishers don’t actually say that government money and policymaking should keep out of this sector, because that would really undermine their revenue. What they want is government intervention in all these areas except public access to publicly-funded research. What they want is the present arrangement of government subsidies for the work they publish, government subsidies for their own subscription fees, volunteer labor from authors and peer reviewers, double-payments from taxpayers who want access —and the label “free market” to wrap it all up in.
6. “Why would a federal agency want to duplicate such expenses instead of putting the money into more research funding?” Another distortion. Some publishers are providing OA to some content when it's sufficiently old. But this is a far cry from providing OA to virtually all publicly-funded research within 6–12 months of publication. If the AAP is saying that the voluntary efforts of publishers will approach what the proposed OA policies would mandate, then the duplication argument starts to make sense. But in that case they have to stop arguing that OA to publicly-funded research would kill their revenues, kill their journals, and kill peer review. They can't have it both ways.
7. And what about government spending money on OA archives instead of research? It’s true that government OA policies have costs, and at research funding agencies these costs may reduce the overall research budget. But put the costs in perspective. The US spends about $55 billion of public money every year on unclassified research without the tiny investment needed to make the results available to all who could use, apply, build on, or benefit from them. How tiny? The cost of implementing the NIH's policy is $2-4 million/year, or about 0.01% of its $28 billion/year budget. It’s a bargain, and the alternative is to undermine our investment by locking away expensive research where few can use it. Studies by John Houghton and Peter Sheehan have shown that diverting a bit from the research budget in order to make all funded research OA hugely amplifies the return on investment: Quoting Houghton and Sheehan: “With the United Kingdom's GERD [Gross Expenditure on Research and Development] at USD 33.7 billion and assuming social returns to R&D of 50%, a 5% increase in access and efficiency [their conservative estimate] would have been worth USD 1.7 billion; and...With the United State's GERD at USD 312.5 billion and assuming social returns to R&D of 50%, a 5% increase in access and efficiency would have been worth USD 16 billion.”
8. “We want to share as much scientific and medical information as possible with the entire world.” This is clearly not true. They want to sell as much as they can and only permit sharing that does not jeopardize sales.
9. “[T]he expenses of peer review, promotion, distribution and archiving of articles are paid for by private sector publishers, and not with tax dollars.” This is almost true. The costs of facilitating peer review by unpaid volunteers are paid by the journals. But (as noted) public subisidies for research, researchers, and subscriptions all benefit journals and help pay these costs. Moreover, the NIH pays $30 million/year directly to TA journals in the form of page and color charges —about 10 times the amount needed to provide OA to the agency’s entire research output. But like the publishers, let’s suppose that these subsidies didn’t exist. The OA policies are still a good balance of public and private interests. Publishers provide the costs of peer review and taxpayers provide the costs of research, which are often thousands of times greater than the costs of peer review. Here’s how I finished the argument in an article earlier this month:
“But if publishers and taxpayers both make a contribution to the value of peer-reviewed articles arising from publicly-funded research, then the right question is not which side to favor, without compromise, but which compromise to favor. So far I haven't heard a better solution than a period of exclusivity for the publisher followed by free online access for the public. This compromise-by-time is buttressed by a second compromise-by-version: publishers retain control over the published edition for the life of copyright while the public receives OA to the peer-reviewed but unedited author manuscript. Publishers who want to block OA mandates per se, rather than just negotiate the embargo period, are saying that there should be no compromise, that the public should get nothing for its investment, and that publishers should control access to research conducted by others, written up by others, and funded by taxpayers.”
Update. I was so busy responding to the press release that I failed to point out that the PRISM home page makes another Dezenhall argument:
“What’s at risk: Policies are being proposed that threaten to introduce undue government intervention in science and scholarly publishing, putting at risk the integrity of scientific research by: ...opening the door to scientific censorship in the form of selective additions to or omissions from the scientific record; ...”
(According to Nature, Dezenhall also advised the AAP “to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship’”.)
The Orwellian censorship argument doesn’t need or deserve an answer. But if you want one, here’s how I answered it in SOAN for February 2007:
“[FRPAA, like other OA mandates,] only applies to articles that have already been published in peer-reviewed journals....[I]t's about archiving copies, not manipulating originals. Hence, the possibility of censorship doesn't come up. The originals will be in libraries and independent web sites around the world, wherever the publisher's market reach, distribution system, and preservation back-ups have managed to place them. If some of the published originals are not in fact copied for OA archiving, or if some copies are removed after deposit, that would be regrettable (and violate the policy). But it would not affect the originals at all. It would not delete them from libraries and independent web sites around the world, shrink the range of their distribution, change their access policies, or reduce their visibility. To use the word "censorship" to describe the incomplete copying of literature already published, distributed, stored, curated, and preserved in independent locations is incoherent newspeak. Or (to play along), if occasional non-archiving really is a kind of censorship, then publishers who want to defeat an OA archiving mandate like FRPAA want systematic non-archiving and mass censorship.”
Odd as it is to devote the first 2,600 words of a C&I essay to quotes from other sources, it seems necessary to frame this situation and discussion. And, of course, Peter Suber thinks about these things much more deeply and knowledgeably than I ever will. (As usual, it’s tempting to just say “Go read Suber,” but I know Open access news has a lot of copy and some people who read C&I aren’t going to follow Suber directly.)
Before noting some of the other commentary on PRISM, it really is worth noting something about PRISM’s site. As of September 15, 2007, the “Correspondence” section includes only items appearing prior to the formation of PRISM—it’s as though there’s been no correspondence of any sort since then. Similarly “In the news”—everything except the PRISM press release precedes August 23, 2007, although I’m checking this 20 days later after scores of items have appeared. And one item under “Forum” is testament to the fratricidal instincts of some OA leaders, unfortunately but also unsurprisingly. (There’s a breathtaking essay on “Myth vs. Fact” elsewhere on the PRISM site—but you can peruse that on your own.)
Here are the PRISM Principles:
Society benefits from the creative output of researchers, clinicians, academics, scholarly publishers and others engaged in the pursuit of scientific discovery and the distribution of accumulated knowledge.
Scientific knowledge is sharpened and refined by the system of quality control known as peer review-a process that has stood the test of time as the best means by which the public's investment and trust in science are assured through demonstrated academic excellence and scientific integrity.
Scientific knowledge should incorporate new research as part of the scholarly record based on merit alone-not tradition, ideology, or political expediency. Society is best served when the pursuit of scientific knowledge takes place in an environment of intellectual freedom-where objectivity and independence are guaranteed, and where published expression is protected from governmental or other controls, and is free of censorship or bias.
Scientific knowledge must be documented and preserved in perpetuity, free of alteration, political or ideological pressures, or the threat of uncertain funding.
Research funding is best spent on new and important research studies, and should leverage rather than duplicate the valuable publishing infrastructure built over decades by private sector publishers working in partnership with the research community.
Research results should be disseminated as broadly as possible, accomplished in a way that safeguards scientific integrity and the sustainability of investments in peer review, dissemination, archiving, and knowledge preservation. Raw research data should be made freely available to other researchers and those who funded the original research.
Society is best served by sustainable business models and reasonable copyright protections that provide positive incentives for publishers to continue innovating in their distribution of scientific knowledge, investment in peer review, and exploration of preservation technologies.
The free market of scholarly publishing is dynamic and competitive, responsive to the needs of scholars and scientists, and balances the interests of all stakeholders in making research widely available. It encourages publishing innovation and diversity, and should remain free from government mandates that favor particular business models.
It’s hard to object to the first three principles. The fourth one is interesting, given that “preserved in perpetuity” has never been part of the role of publishers and is far more likely via a combination of OA, projects like LOCKSS and multiple repositories.
The fifth principle would be interesting if it made any sense, but Suber’s addressed that one already. The sixth principle is tricky: “the sustainability of investments in…dissemination” is the only real issue here, since neither scientific integrity nor peer review are at all under attack and since publishers historically do not handle archiving or knowledge preservation.
What can you say about the last two principles? That we haven’t had “reasonable copyright protections” since at least 1976—and that copyright protections are supposed to encourage new creation, not protect publisher profits? That the “free market” of scholarly publishing is no such thing? That “investment in peer review” is mostly nonsense? Go back to Suber’s commentary; it covers the Principles pretty well.
What’s going on here? Nothing terribly surprising, if a touch disappointing. AAP hired a bulldog PR person whose advice was to keep hammering on simple points even if they were known to be deceptive. AAP created a new “coalition” that appears to be carrying out the bulldog’s advice. If you pay good money for advice, you’re inclined to take that advice.
Nonsense like this couldn’t happen at all except for one unfortunate truism of open access, both within the academy and (I’m afraid) within librarianship. That truism: Most people just don’t care. But that’s a separate essay…maybe next time around.
So is PRISM just the AAP/PSP Lobby, and will it succeed in preventing effective steps toward OA? Maybe not. Consider a few of the reactions—ignoring most of those who amplified Peter Suber’s crisp responses. You might also look up the lyrics for Randy Newman’s “Big Hat, No Cattle” (readily available on the web, last time I checked); for some reason, PRISM strongly reminds me of the protagonist of that song.
Tom Wilson commented at his Information research weblog, saying, “The commercial journal publishers are really in a state of panic” but feeling that “it isn’t going to fool many on this side of the Atlantic.” A little more of Wilson’s optimistic commentary:
…Free OA, scholarly journals operate the same peer review process as do commercial journals: if they didn't scholars wouldn't publish in them, but free, collaboratively supported journals are growing in number and take away submissions from the commercial journals, which will find it harder and harder to maintain quality. So - in panic - they are lying to you, because, rather like the neo-con supporters that the same lobbyists worked for, the big lie is the only strategy. Perhaps Karl Rove has gone straight from the White House to PRISM?...
What this recent initiative by the publishers points to is that the only sure way for the scholarly communities to take charge of the scholarly communication process is to rid themselves of their commercial exploiters and promote the publication of free, collaboratively produced and subsidised journals. Forget the Green and Gold routes insofar as they depend upon the acquiescence of the business world and go for the Platinum Route - it is the only way to take charge, and you have been exploited long enough.
Perhaps 'PRISM' really means, 'Publishers Resisting Intellectual Solidarity in the Market'!
A few days later, Wilson resigned from the editorial boards of two journals published by supporters of PRISM—including one that he founded.
Mike Simpson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) had interesting “translations” of the fifth and seventh Principles (among others) at a splash quite unnoticed (www.ice-nine.net/~mgsimpson/asqu/):
#5: Translation: “Please don’t devote any of the incredibly scarce resources that you have left over after you finish paying our protection money to attempt to escape the less-than-zero-sum game that we’ve constructed for you.”
#7: Translation: “Look, our lobbyists are already doing a bang-up job getting us the laws we want, the ones that help us collude with the bought-and-paid-for representatives that you so helpfully democratically elected, to sustain the magnificent cash-flow from you to us that is the hallmark of any successful business enterprise. Don’t muck about with anything different — leave it to us, we’ll take care of the innovation in this system, thank you very much.”
Bill Hooker at Open reading frame (www.sennoma.net) had another suggestion for the real meaning of PRISM: “Publishers Relying on Insidious Subversion Methods.” A bit of his August 24, 2007 post: “This is disgusting. This runs counter to everything that science, academia, scholarship (and scholarly publishing!) stand for.”
On August 26, the online community manager of PLoS-ONE put together a nice compilation of extracts from more than two dozen early commentaries under the title “This PRISM does not turn white light into the beautiful colors of the rainbow” at A blog around the clock (scienceblogs.com/clock/). It’s quite an array. Jonathan Eisen thought “this must be a spoof” but recognizes that’s not true: “PRISM is for real. It is the last gasp of a dying breed—publishers who refuse to do what is the right thing for science and society… I think this is a sad day for [AAP].” Peter Murray-Rust is especially disappointed because “a few of the conventional publishers have taken a positive view about the future.” Dorothea Salo of Caveat lector had a calm, measured response, saying (in part): “I think it’s the action of a terrified group of amoral scumbags completely bankrupt of actual insight or innovation and utterly desperate to keep their current unjustifiable profit margins… If I were a scholarly publisher, I would distance myself from this fiasco far, fast, and publicly… and if my rep on the AAP had been involved in any way other than “vigorous opposition,” that rep would be fired immediately—not just from representing the publisher to the AAP, but altogether. Elsevier, Wiley, ACS, and (it would appear) others have a lot of explaining to do.” There’s lots more.
John Dupuis commented on PRISM in an August 27, 2007 Confessions of a science librarian post (jdupuis.blogspot.com), starting with this comment: “Oh, this is a sad, pathetic story.” Dupuis quotes some of PRISM’s material and calls it “the actions of the representatives of an industry that’s scared of the future, that can’t come to grips with the sea changes happening in the world around us, that can’t adjust to how those changes will affect their businesses. And they definitely want what they perceive to be the status quo: big revenues, huge profits and a near monopoly on scholarly publishing.” After noting sources of refutation, Dupuis talks about the makeup of AAP/PSP’s executive council—the usual suspects (Elsevier, Wiley, Kluwer, McGraw-Hill, Springer, Thomson)—but also IEEE, ACS, MIT Press and others. He offers some specific advice for librarians:
So, what can we librarians do to make ourselves heard? First of all, I'm not going to waste much breath on trying to persuade the Elsevier's of the world to get on board. They'll be the last to convert. What I think is the best plan is to work on the societies.
* If you're on a library advisory group for a society, use that forum to explain the benefits of OA to society members and to explore with the society the kinds of business models that can work
* At conferences, talk to the society reps and explain your displeasure with PRISM and how you think they're playing the game of the commercials
* Advocate with your faculty, explain the controversy to them and get them to advocate for OA with their societies
* Money talks. If at all possible, don't subscribe to journals just because they are from societies, even if they don't make sense
Within a couple of days of the PRISM news release, at least one AAP/PSP member had opted out. Mike Rossner of Rockefeller University Press sent an open letter to AAP that begins:
I am writing to request that a disclaimer be placed on the PRISM website (http://www.prismcoalition.org/) indicating that the views presented on the site do not necessarily reflect those of all members of the AAP. We at the Rockefeller University Press strongly disagree with the spin that has been placed on the issue of open access by PRISM.
So far, I’ve been unable to find any such disclaimer on the PRISM site. That means the so-called coalition is explicitly failing to pay attention to its own members.
Then there’s the Partnership for Integrity in Scientific Dissemination (or Dis-semination on the site, pisdcoalition.org). It is a rather charming spoof site, “established by a concerned group of biomedical scientists to combat the steady encroachment of Open Access (OA) publishing initiatives on the profit margins of traditional publishers.” Here’s PISD’s take: “The PISD Coalition maintains that OA is not in the best interest of science. After undergoing extensive mediation and couples counseling, the PISD Coalition can confidently assert that scientific information does not want to be free. It wants to stay just where it is: safe and warm in the Reed Elsevier vaults, protected by the long arm of intellectual property law, earning massive profits for traditional publishers.”
The site has one page—an FAQ—which, if read with care, is a fairly strong commentary on PRISM. One of the most interesting responds to these questions: “Why disparage OA? Isn’t there evidence that Open Access is good for science?” The response:
Proponents of OA like to point out that most empirical studies assessing the impact of OA on scientific dissemination have found a favorable effect of OA over conventional, closed-access models. There's no question that it sounds convincing when a library scientist claims that papers that are freely available online are cited significantly more often than papers that aren't—sometimes twice as often! But there are at least two problems with such 'data' that OA advocates won't tell you about.
First, all of the studies on OA have a common problem: they make assumptions. It's important to realize that assumptions can be wrong. For example, most of the data favoring OA are based on long-term projections. OA advocates might say things like "if self-archiving online continues to increase at the current rate, 95% of scientific articles will be freely downloadable by 2021, increasing total citations by 350%." Ninety-five and three-hundred-and-fifty may sound like fancy numbers, but the reality is that to achieve the projections OA advocates make, a lot of assumptions about the future have to hold. The problem is that not only do we not know that these assumptions will hold true, we don't even know what other factors might come into play that OA advocates haven't thought to include in their models! To paraphrase a famous man, there are known unknowns—things we know that we don't know—and unknown unknowns—things we don't know we don't know. Contrast that with what we do know for sure—namely, that if OA gains substantial support from the scientific community, commercial publishers will lose hundreds of millions of dollars. Isn't it silly to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in return for a basketful of unknowns?
Second, many of the studies on OA have been conducted by scientists. It's hardly surprising that studies conducted by scientists tend to favor positions that scientists incorrectly believe to be in their best interests! To obtain a balanced viewpoint, you would have to have an equal number of studies conducted by impartial groups that have extensively consulted publishers to obtain their side of the story. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many published studies that favor a conventional publishing model over OA. That shouldn't be surprising either considering who the editors of scientific journals are: they're scientists! Isn't it ironic that scientists are conspiring to eliminate the very same publishing industry that stacks the deck in scientists' favor, and against itself?
And in response to “Don’t subscription costs present a problem for researchers and institutions that may not be able to afford access?”:
We don't think so. By way of analogy, consider the debate over medical care. Everyone agrees that the high cost of medical services in the United States renders health care prohibitively expensive for a small but lazy segment of the population that refuses to work hard enough to make a better wage. But you don't see anyone arguing that America should throw out privatized health care just because some people are lazy! Similarly, we don't think the fact that some researchers work at small universities that can't afford subscriptions to many journals is a disincentive for those researchers. If anything, it's an incentive to publish more articles and get hired by a richer institution. Thus, subscription costs provide a direct benefit to the scientific enterprise by providing a kind of quality control on scientific personnel. While we don't know exactly how important this influence is in the grand scheme of things, cursory estimates provided to us by a consulting firm suggest it's very large.
I could quote dozens, maybe scores of reactions—nearly all derisive. There was a brief brouhaha because PRISM used images licensed from Getty and initially displayed the “non-cleared” versions (with visible Getty watermarks), but that was little more than a sideshow. (Yes, pointing out copyright infringement by a group devoted to tight copyright is ironic—but still it’s a sideshow.)
Andrew Leonard of Salon wrote “Science publishers get even stupider” on August 28, 2007. Leonard harks back to Dezenhall:
Despite my rhetoric, I can’t say I actually believed that the publishers would take Dezenhall’s advice. But that is exactly what has happened… I stand by my original opinion. [AAP] and everyone associated with it should be ashamed of trying to protect their profit margins by slandering the open access movement as government intervention and censorship. Research paid for with government funds should be freely accessible to the general public. Peer review will survive. PRISM, however, will be doomed by its own weasel words, which represent a betrayal of everything science stands for.
I find it hard to believe Leonard is that naïve. AAP paid Dezenhall serious money for advice. It must have known what kind of advice it was paying for. Why should anyone be surprised when AAP took the advice?
Two striking reactions appeared on September 4, 2007. Dorothea Salo posted “Next time? Think.” at Caveat lector, noting that she talked to a roomful of publishers in December 2006—and warned them about the likely payback for underhanded tactics. Portions of her post, which you really should read in the original:
These were not junior editors or wet-behind-the-ears interns. These were the wheelers and dealers, the top brass, the VIPs…
A lot of my audience represented folks whose publishers are nominally (key word, that) part of the PRISM initiative. Maybe, as has been suggested, they didn’t know their employers were pulling this stunt. Me, I’m dubious; it’s the little guys who are protesting and backpedaling right now. But if they were at my talk, there is no excuse for saying they didn’t know PRISM would blow up in their face.
Because I told them.
I told them about the American Anthropological Association, which was in the middle of a messy crack-up over open access… Don’t shoot yourself in the foot, I said; lay your cards on the table and discuss, don’t be arrogant, because AAA has weakened itself with this and you’d be shocked at how easy it is for you to do the same.
Huh. Ain’t that starting to sound familiar.
When the Dezenhall thing broke, I told ’em again. Get away from this, I said, far away. I didn’t say “it will win you no friends and make you plenty of enemies” because honestly, I thought that was obvious.
Look, here’s one last free clue, big-pig publishers. We in the open-access movement are, by and large, pit bulls. We are mean. We are scrappers. We are stubborn as mules; we have to be to stick it in this business. We bite as well as bark. Most dangerously of all, we are idealists, and despite a couple of embarrassing exceptions, we keep our noses clean… And most of us, unlike you, have very little to lose…
You are not in a good place to be messing with us, okay? We won’t always win, but we always fight—and we don’t have to win every time to erode your position and bolster ours. When you make it this easy for us—not to mention fracturing your own base, you idiots, how could you think that would not happen?—you lose. Big.
I’d rather fight an honorable opponent. Truly. Next time? Think.
I wrote the draft of this Perspective on September 5, 2007. Since then, here’s some of what’s happened:
• The Oxford University Press has distanced itself from PRISM.
• Rockefeller University Press is seeing the connections and has also withdrawn its support of the DC Principles coalition.
• The Copyright Alliance, a Big Media group pushing extreme copyright, issued a misleading press release arguing against the NIH archiving provision.
• Brian Crawford ingenuously said “We did not expect to have encountered the sort of criticism we have seen thus far” and claimed that PRISM was “a way to have a very productive dialogue.”
• James D. Jordan, president and director of Columbia University Press, resigned from the AAP/PSP Executive Council after vocally opposing the PRISM launch.
• Stephen Bourne, CEO of Cambridge University Press, made it clear that Cambridge “has in no way been involved in, or consulted on, the Prism initiative” and called the PRISM message “oversimplistic and ill-judged.”
There are two long pieces you must read in the original. I can’t do justice to either one in a summary. Those two pieces will conclude this sad story as well as anything. PRISM is a stunt—an underhanded stunt that may have been predictable. I believe it’s a stunt that will backfire badly. I hope it will have the effect of alerting scholars and librarians to the sheer deviousness of some (certainly not all) scholarly publishers and to the need for reform within the scholarly communication system. Open access may not be all of that reform, but it’s a significant part of it.
That said, go read “Watch your language” by Alma Swan, posted September 4, 2007 at OptimalScholarship (optimalscholarship.blogspot.com), an impassioned commentary by one who finds herself “very sad and, secondarily, disappointed.” After that, read Issue 113 of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter (www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/09-02-07.htm). The prime essay, “Will open access undermine peer review,” runs 12 single-spaced pages and offers well-documented, detailed discussion of the strawman that PRISM and other anti-OA forces keep raising again and again and again.
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