Friday, October 19, 2007

Opposition to open access continues, while anti-OA coalition attempt implodes


Opposition to open access continues, and so we OA advocates continue to have much work to do, to educate people about open access, and to counter misconceptions. However, in my opinion, the failure of PRISM is so complete as to suggest the possibility that the effort to build a publishing industry anti-OA coalition has imploded. If correct, this could be an important moment in the transition to open access; publishers who are no longer united in the fight against OA, are very likely to have more time and inclination to figure out how to make OA work.


Opposition to open access is not over, and we open access advocates have much work to do, to clear up misconceptions and battle the myths we have heard so many times before. Recent language in the U.S. White House' Statement of Administrative Policy (SAP), referring to the language in an Appropriations Bill which would make the NIH Public Access Policy mandatory, makes this clear: The Administration believes that any policy should balance the benefit of public access to taxpayer supported research against the possible impact that grant conditions could have on scientific research publishing, scientific peer review and on the United States’ longstanding leadership in upholding strong standards of protection for intellectual property. This language could have been written by the author(s) of PRISM, the latest anti-OA coalition effort. The NIH Public Access Policy, and indeed, full open access, is not a threat to peer review; this is part of the misinformation campaign recommended by PR pitbull Eric Dezenhall. This language does not indicate strong Presidential opposition, and is not a concern with the current NIH language. (Thanks to Peter Suber on Open Access News).

That this language came from the White House does indicate that the group behind PRISM, miserable failure as an attempt at an anti-OA coalition that it was, is still active, and has influence at the White House level.

The failure of PRISM as an attempt to build (or give the appearance of building) an anti-OA coalition of publishers is of a magnitude and type that, in the author's opinion, is best described as implosion. That is to say, not only have there been no endorsers from the publishing community, there have been many publishers who have openly and explicitly either declared non-affiliation or actively opposed PRISM. As Peter Suber comments: How many publishers have publicly disavowed PRISM or distanced themselves from it?  Nine and counting (with links to their public statements): Cambridge University Press, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Columbia University Press, MIT Press, Nature Publishing Group, Oxford University Press, Pennsylvania State University Press, Rockefeller University Press, University of Chicago Press.  How many publishers have been identified on the PRISM web site as members of the PRISM "coalition"?  Zero. From Peter's post on Open Access News. This supports my prediction in August 2007 that PRISM would be A Beautiful Backfire.

Another development since the launch of PRISM that, to the author, strongly suggests that the likelihood of a truly broad-based coalition amongst the publishing community is minimal, if not nil, is the news that industry giant Reed Elsevier is experimenting with a business model involving free access with revenue via advertising with its OncologySTAT, as reported in The New York Times. This suggests that at least some in the commercial scholarly publishing industry are far more prepared for an open access future than one might guess from PRISM-style rhetoric. This appears to be a typical commercial attempt to generate revenue; nothing wrong with this, of course, but it is not the kind of strategy one shares with competitors. In other words, while some in the publishing industry were busy trying to sign up endorsers of the anti-OA PRISM, others were forging ahead with a new, OA-friendly commercial approach, not exactly a move likely to inspire trust and help with coalition-building efforts.

If my speculations about an implosion of the attempt to form an anti-OA coalition are correct, this is nothing but good news. Publishers not united in an effort to fight OA, are in a much better position to think clearly about the possibilities for switching to open access.

We all owe a debt of thanks to Nature and Jim Giles (and to those who leaked the documents) for releasing the story on the American Association of Publishers' hiring of PR pitbull Eric Dezenhall, who recommended bizarre strategies such as linking open access with government censorship and junk science, strategies which have been reflected in OA opposition efforts, including PRISM. The latest on this can be found on Open Access News.

This post is part of the Transitioning to Open Access Series.

Added October 21, Comment by Tom Wilson on Information Research Weblog:
Heather Morrison has another thoughtful piece on open access in her Weblog, suggesting that the publishers' anti-OA consortium PRISM has imploded.
I'm not too sure about this: PRISM is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of lobbying. We can be sure that the publishing industry is lobbying away vigorously, with people, rather than a Website and it's that personal lobbying that makes the difference, rather than what is on public view. My suggestion is that fellow OA advocates in the USA need to lobby just as vigorously, writing to their senators and congressmen/women and generally countering the misinformation that the lobbyists inevitably purvey. We've seen time and again under this US administration that the truth does not necessarily prevail; the key is how much money the industry is prepared to spend to swing the votes of the legislators, whether it is to damage the Alaskan environment by oil drillling, open the virgin forests of the national parks to the logging industry, or run the worst medical care programme in the Western world for the benefit of the drug companies and the mis-named 'health care industry'.
Constant vigilence and persistence in telling the truth about the warped economics of the existing scholarly communication system is the only weapon we have.