October 23, 2007

Controversy at the American Chemical Society

OK, I know I'm a little late to this one, but since blogging has been erratic the last couple of weeks I'm probably a little late to everything!

Anyways, I received this email a couple of weeks ago, from someone calling themselves "ACS Insider":


I've been an ACS employee for many, many years, but I've grown concerned with the direction of the organization. I'm sending this email to alert you that ACS has grown increasingly corporate in its structure and focus. Management is much more concerned with getting bonuses and growing their salaries rather than doing what is best for membership. For instance, Madeleine Jacobs is now pulling in almost $1 million in salary and bonuses... That's almost 3X what Alan Leshner makes over at AAAS, and almost double what Drew Gilpin Faust makes to lead Harvard.

I think Madeleine is smart, but I'm not quite sure if she's in the same category as Dr. Faust. She doesn't even have a PhD!

What really concerns me is a move by ACS management to undermine the open-access movement. Rudy Baum has been leading the fight with several humorous editorials -- one in which he referred to open-access in the pages of C&EN as "socialized science." ACS has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in membership money to hire a company to lobby against open-access.

What troubles me the most is when ACS management decided to hire Dezenhall Resources to fight open-access. Nature got hold of some internal ACS emails written by Brian Crawford that discussed how Dezenhall could help us undermine open-access. Dezenhall later created a group called Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM), which has this silly argument that open-access means "no more peer-review."

If you're wondering why ACS is fighting this, it's because people like Rudy Baum, Brian Crawford and other ACS managers receive bonuses based on how much money the publishing division generates. Hurt the publishing revenue; you hurt their bonuses.

I'm hoping that sending out this email will get people to force ACS executives to become more transparent in how they act and spend membership money. Not to mention their crazy need for fatter salaries.

It's time for some change. If you want to check out the sources for this information, there is a wiki site that has all the articles and documents outlining what I've just written.

You can find it here: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=American_Chemical_Society

Those of us inside ACS know that it's time for things to change. But management won't alter their behavior. The money is just too good.

ACS Insider

These are some pretty serious allegations and they've been really heating up the science blogosphere, with Peter Suber especially posting about it several times (1, 2, 3, 4) and on ScienceBlogs as well (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and other places. It also seems that the email above was sent to a lot of different faculty and librarians, particularly bloggers.

So, what's my take on this? First of all, I'm not surprised. Unfortunately there are some scholarly societies that operate more like for-profits when it comes to their publishing arms and ACS is certainly one of the most notable for that sort of thing. While it should be shocking that ACS is acting more like Elsevier than Elsevier at times, sadly it isn't.

Secondly, what should we, as librarians do about it? Mostly we need to advocate.

We need to push our vendors towards business models that favour open access, we need to reassure them that we're interested in a sustainable model for scholarly publishing, one in which our patrons (and beyond) can access what they need but that still has room for a wide variety of publishers with a wide variety of business models.

We need to seize all the available venues for our advocacy. Just like me, I'm sure vendors visit you at your library all the time. Take the opportunity to talk to them about what you want to see. In many ways, we're in the driver's seat because we control the money that they want. Just say, "If you want my money, this is what you have to do. Let's work together to build a sustainable system." It's not going to be easy, it's going to take time and there's going to be give and take, setbacks and successes. Talk to your vendors at Advisory Councils, conferences, demos, where ever you get the opportunity.

We need to use our financial clout to influence the vendors/publishers. We need to use our budgets, slowly but surely because we can't all change overnight, to make good choices for ourselves, our patrons and, in the long term, the publishers and vendors.

A fair and sustainable business model for scholarly publishing is just as sustainable for our publishers as it is free and open for scholars. The trick is to find a way to pay for what needs to be paid for. I believe and hope that this include some form of open access for the vast majority of published scholarly output, whether it be in OA journals or in various repositories for articles published in toll access journals. Time frame? I sincerely hope that we'll see real change in the 5-10 year time frame with a real tipping point out at around 8-10 years.


Norma said...

Although I was unaware of this ACS problem I'm not surprised. NGOs and non-profits are different from for-profits in ways most of us can't detect.

What shocks me is 1) you think librarians have any influence in a business model, and 2) that in a face paced world driven by technology, you seem to think 8-10 years is acceptable.

John Dupuis said...

Hi Norma.

Well, I don't think it's useful for us to behave as if we have no effect. Surrendering is not an option. Look at the Max Planck Institute canceling their Springer subscriptions. That's something. I'm not sure surrendering to the whims of the aggressive commercial publishers is a useful way forward.

As for the time frame, I would guess that 95% or more of scholarly literature is still published with access tolls rather than OA. That's going to take time to change. Scholars in particular are really tied to the top journals in their fields and are reluctant to move away from the idea that those journals are the major sources of prestige and acknowledgment. For that to really change isn't just technology, it's culture. And the change in culture will come when the current generation of grad students and junior profs become the important figures in their fields.