January 29, 2007

Scientific American On Slamming Open Access [4:38 pm]

Discussing the way the debate is being “framed:” Open Access to Science Under Attack - pdf [via Salon]

The Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers hired Eric Dezenhall, head of Dezenhall Resources, a public relations firm that specializes in “high stakes communications and marketplace defense,” to address some of its members this past summer and potentially craft a media strategy. Dezenhall declined to comment for this article, citing “our longstanding policy due to strict confidentiality agreements neither to identify our clients nor comment on the work we do for them,” in an e-mail response to a request for an interview. But “nobody disagrees on the goals of high-stakes communications—sell a controversial product, win an election, defuse conflict and so forth,” Dezenhall notes in the “manifesto” on the firm’s Web site. “The life-or-death public relations struggles facing businesses today are not about information, they are about power.” In this case, the struggle is over access to scientific information.

Specifically, according to Dezenhall’s suggestions in a memo to the publishers that they should “develop simple messages (e.g., Public access equals government censorship; Scientific journals preserve the quality/pedigree of science; government seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher) for use by Coalition members.” In addition, Dezenhall suggests “bypassing mass ‘consumer’ audiences in favor of reaching a more elite group of decision makers,” including journalists and regulators. This tack is necessary, he writes, because: “it’s hard to fight an adversary that manages to be both elusive and in possession of a better message: Free information.” Finally, Dezenhall suggests joining forces with think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and National Consumers League in an attempt to persuade key players of the potential risks of unfiltered access. “Paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles,” he adds.

Of course, open access does not mean no peer review. While the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is not in the business of peer review, according to Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH’s deputy director for extramural research, the entirety of PLoS journals are peer-reviewed. “Open-access journals are peer-reviewed to the same standards,” notes Mark Patterson, PLoS’s director of publishing. “We wanted to provide an open-access alternative to the best journals to allow the very best work to be made publicly available.”

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