Use PRISM To Start A Dialogue On Open Access

In a previous post I argued that developing free and open source library systems should be an ethical issue for academic librarians. Promoting open access to scholarly literature is another ethical issue we face.

PRISM, an anti-open access group of the Association of American Publishers, has launched a nasty PR campaign that attempts to demonize open access publishing by using simple slogans to equate open access with lack of peer review, government censorship, and theft of intellectual property. (I know, it’s funny, but they are actually saying this stuff. Good thing librarians know how to evaluate information, right?)

As noted in the SPARC letter to members,

the launch of this initiative provides a timely opportunity for engaging faculty members, researchers, students and administrators in dialogue on important issues in scholarly communications.

Exactly. This is the perfect time to initiate or re-initiate a campus-wide committee on scholarly communication on your campus, start a committee at your local ACRL chapter or statewide consortium, or host a lecture or forum on open access.

Most encouragingly, the Association of Research Libraries has produced an excellent issue brief with talking points that effectively counter the PRISM propaganda. ARL points out:

On peer review-

The peer review system, based almost completely on the voluntary free labor of the research community, is independent of a particular mode of publishing or business model.

On intellectual property-

Researchers themselves write and peer review the articles without receiving any payment from publishers. The federal government provides substantial public funding for scientific research. Existing and proposed policies concerning public access to federally funded research attempt to create balance between the contributions made and benefits received by publishers and allow them to continue to profit tremendously from the pool of content this funded research generates.

In addition, academic bloggers have not been shy taking on PRISM’s distortions. And if you need more ammo or a broader overview of the issue, Open Access and the Progress of Science is a well-written argument for open access to science literature in general and proposes the simple solution that scientists just deposit their papers in repositories as soon as they are peer reviewed.

Peter Suber, of course, is always a good source for debunking anti-open access arguments. One of the anti-open access claims is that open access will result in journal cancellations by libraries and collapse of the whole scholarly publishing system. (Well, how about the collapse of the exorbitant profiteering barrier access scholarly publishing system?) Suber points out, however, that open access in physics has not led to journal cancellations by libraries, and that this is in fact slowing the move from toll access to open access.

The question for librarians, higher ed administrators and scholars then, is why hasn’t open access in physics led to journal cancellations? Do we really want to set up two systems, an open access repository system while maintaining the old system with publisher embargoes so that libraries will have to maintain subscriptions? Do we really want to “partner” with the kind of companies that have launched such a deceptive and distorted PR campaign?

With PRISM, commercial publishers are acting like cornered rats. Maybe this shows that open access is at a tipping point. Let’s make sure it tips the right way.

3 thoughts on “Use PRISM To Start A Dialogue On Open Access”

  1. The AAP apparently took the advice of its “pit bull” consultant that we talked about earlier, here. For some strange reason, they expect educated people to believe them when they say that open access depends on traditional closed models of publication or that any government involvement will lead to censorship. Hello, the government FUNDS this research! That hasn’t bothered you before. And we all do peer review for free. I know there are costs involved in publishing these articles, but peer review is not one of them.

    As for the question you throw down, Marc, I don’t know the answer. We’ve canceled a lot of subscriptions over the past ten years, but not directly because of open access. We simply couldn’t justify the expense – but we are not a research institution. The irony, of course, is that it’s in the fields where grant money is most available that “page charges” are common and subscription prices are highest.

    What I’d like to know is what the university presses that are members of the AAP think of this campaign. Isn’t it embarrassing?

  2. Ah … this Chronicle article answers that final question. Yes, there are UPs that want to clarify it’s not their way of looking at things. Rochester UP in particular has asked PRISM to add a disclaimer that it does not reflect the organization as a whole.

    AAP officials report they are surprised at the reactions. Shocked, shocked!

    If so, that’s further evidence (their statements being Exhibit A) that they have no grasp of the situation. Either that, or they’re lying. Neither one is encouraging.

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