August 27, 2007

The PRISM Coalition: Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine

Oh, this is a sad, pathetic story.

It seems that the The Executive Council of the Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers got together and decide that Open Access is a Very Bad Thing and set up this Prism Coalition to combat it.

What's their problem with OA?

What's at risk

Policies are being proposed that threaten to introduce undue government intervention in science and scholarly publishing, putting at risk the integrity of scientific research by:

  • undermining the peer review process by compromising the viability of non-profit and commercial journals that manage and fund it;

  • opening the door to scientific censorship in the form of selective additions to or omissions from the scientific record;

  • subjecting the scientific record to the uncertainty that comes with changing federal budget priorities and bureaucratic meddling with definitive versions; and

  • introducing duplication and inefficiencies that will divert resources that would otherwise be dedicated to research.

And they see their role:
The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine (PRISM) was established to protect the quality of scientific research, an issue of vital concern to:

  • scientific, medical and other scholarly researchers who advance the cause of knowledge;

  • the institutions that encourage and support them;

  • the publishers who disseminate, archive and ensure the quality control of this research; and

  • the physicians, clinicians, engineers and other intellectual pioneers who put knowledge into action.

And they hope that we, the larger commuity of those interested in scolarly publishing in science, will act:
What you can do

We encourage you to use this website to:

  • Learn more about PRISM and what you can do to preserve the integrity of America's scholarly research.

  • Review our PRISM Principles;

  • Learn more about government intervention, the threats to peer review, and other current topics of interest;

  • Endorse the PRISM Principles

So, that's their case. Personally, I think it's the actions of the representatives of an industry that scared of the future, that can't come to grips with the sea changes happening is the world around us, that can't adjust to how those changes will affect their businesses. And they definitely want what they perceive to be the status quo: big revenues, huge profits and a near monopoly on scholarly publishing.

Can these points be refuted and destroyed one by one? Absolutely. Take a look at Bora Zivkovic/coturnix's terrific post summarizing all the reactions in the scientific blogosphere. Bora does a great job of detailing the reactions. I would only suggest that you take a particular look at the posts by Peter Suber in Open Access News (and here and here). I'm not going to attempt to add more smackdown to what has already been done.

However, I would like to talk a little about the makeup of The Executive Council of the Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division.

Who are the members of this Committee? Sure, the usual suspects, representatives of the major commercial publishers such as a bunch from Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw Hill, Wolters Kluwer Health, Springer Science + Business Media, SAGE Publications, ISI Thomson Scientific. All the major commercial publishering companies in the scitech fields. Given that they are for-profit companies, however, it's not surprising that they would act to protect their profits. Really, we shouldn't think of them as any different from a company like WalMart or the various companies in Big Pharma. They exist to make money.

Thank god, you're thinking, that the list above does not include any representatives from scholarly or professional societies. Surely they must understand the importance of free and open access to information, something which can surely only benefit their members, scholarship and society as a whole. Sadly, the Exec Committee also includes members from the IEEE (2, including the chair of the journals committee), American Chemical Society (2, including the chair), American Society of Clinical Oncology, New England Journal of Medicine, Columbia University Press, MIT Press, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Institute of Physics and University of Chicago Press. Unfortunately, scholarly societies see OA as a threat to the income from their publishing programs, which is used to finance all the other membership programs that they have like conferences and continuing education. It's really unfortunate that they can't see past these concerns to what the true interest of their members is: for their research to have as high an impact as possible and, as a byproduct of that impact, to benefit scholarship in their discipline and, hopefully, society as a whole as much as possible.

So, what can we librarians do to make ourselves heard? First of all, I'm not going to waste much breath on trying to persuade the Elsevier's of the world to get on board. They'll be the last to convert. What I think is the best plan is to work on the societies.

  • If you're on a library advisory group for a society, use that forum to explain the benefits of OA to society members and to explore with the society the kinds of business models that can work
  • At conferences, talk to the society reps and explain your displeasure with PRISM and how you think they're playing the game of the commercials
  • Advocate with your faculty, explain the controversy to them and get them to advocate for OA with their societies
  • Money talks. If at all possible, don't subscribe to journals just because they are from societies, even if they don't make sense

(See here for a list of all the members organizations of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division. It's basically everybody.)


Anonymous said...

Not to mention that as of yesterday morning 100% of PRISM's homepage images were infringed from Getty Images, showing the watermark which indicates that they were not paid for.

Of course, by yesterday afternoon they were paid for and attributed. But it's interesting that protecting the rights of authorship is only important when it serves their own economic interest.

John Dupuis said...

Yeah, thanks for the link about the Getty images.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. It just reinforces that all they care about is the money.

Anonymous said...

The PRISM Coalition appears to be little more than a way for the American Chemical Society to hide attempts to undermine Open Access from ACS membership.

Certainly the leaders of the executive council at the Association of American Publishers are made up of ACS executives such as Brian Crawford.

And we all know that people like ACS CEO, Madeleine Jacobs, are very interested in protecting their bonuses which are tied to publishing profits.