Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Now this really frosts my pumpkin

Owen Dyer in BMJ (subscription only but you can read the first 150 words here) writes that "A new public relations campaign to be launched by the American Association of publishers will equate open access to scientific journal articles with government censorship." This news was originally reported in Nature magazine by Jim Giles, but they give non-subscribers only about 25 words. So that's kind of ironic, now isn't it? Anyway, they don't get a link because they won't allow it, so Mr. Giles will just have to let me leech off of him, by leeching off of Owen Dyer. But that's what they want, isn't it?

Last summer the academic publishers Elsevier (which has published some of my work) and Wiley, and the American Chemical society, met with PR mad dog Eric Dezenhall, who, according to Dyer's summary of Giles's report, which I am in turn summarizing here, "Mr. Dezenhall . . . advocated 'bypassing mass consumer audiences in favour of reaching a more elite group of decision makers,' arguing that 'it's hard to fight an adversary that manages to be both elusive and in possession of a better message: free information.'" Uhuh. He advocated developing simple messages such as "public access equals government censorship," and "government is seeking to nationalize science and to be a publisher."

Apparently the extremely strained logic behind this Rovian campaign is that open access publishing depends on the cost of publication being included in research grants, including government grants. The actual journals, of course, are not government organs at all, but independent, private non-profit organizations. Right now, the financing for scientific journals comes from two main sources: outrageous subscription fees that only well endowed libraries in wealthy countries can afford; and advertising, most of it from drug and medical device manufacturers. (See my earlier post on the $20 million dollars a year or so in drug ads taken in by JAMA and NEJM -- most of which goes to finance lobbying by doctors, some for good causes to be sure, and some in defense of their obscene incomes. In spite of this bounty, they still charge hundreds of dollars a year for subscriptions.)

Of course, these publishers want to keep their own profits and executive salaries, at the cost to society of limiting access to the latest scientific research to people connected with universities in wealthy countries. There isn't a single good argument in favor of their entirely self-interested cause, so they hire a professional liar to try to bamboozle the scientific community for the sake of their socially destructive privileges.

Well, at least we have the news media to interpret science for us, even if we aren't allowed to read the journals. I think I'll go see if Anna Nicole Smith is still dead.

UPDATE: Commenter Frank reminds me that I shouldn't assume that everybody is reading all the posts here in order. (This medium still takes some getting used to, even after more than two years.) No, I don't think that physicians in general make obscene incomes. Here is what I really think, from a few days ago.

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