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Sinking To A New Low

I wonder how those open access advocates who were shocked (shocked, I tell you) to find out that the AAP had hired a PR guy, responded to Richard Smith's wretched presentation at the BioMed Central Colloquium where he equates traditional publishing with slavery.  The second slide, with the artfully arranged lynching drawings is particularly tasteless.  I wonder how the people in the room responded.  I hope they didn't cheer.

Personally, I've kind of had it up to here with the whole thing.  At the Charleston Conference, I described myself as an "open access heretic," pointing out that Martin Luther never stopped believing in Jesus Christ, he just quit believing in the pope.  I was trying to suggest that while I remain strongly committed to transformations in scholarly publishing that will provide more access and take better advantage of digital technologies, I'm not very comfortable with the orthodoxy that claims that complete immediate open access is a moral imperative.

I was disheartened when Heather Joseph was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education saying, "We're disappointed to see that the publishers would hire someone to spin a message."  This was in late January, only a few weeks after one of my professional organizations had voted to continue our annual subsidy to the Open Access Working Group to help fund their lobbyist.  I'm sure I'm just being dense, but I still can't quite figure out the moral difference between the publishers hiring a PR guy, and the OAWG hiring a lobbyist.  (Oh, right -- their guy is "pit bull" and ours is...  um... a pusscat??)

A number of people have suggested that open access is the most important issue in scholarly communications today.  I have my doubts.  Improving peer review, doing a better job of ferreting out fraud, figuring out more effective ways of measuring research output, developing data stores and figuring out how to mine them -- I can think of a lot of issues surrounding scholarly communication that seem to me to be as important, if not more, than open access.

Actually, I think maybe the wave has passed.  It's pretty clear that no "one size fits all" approach to funding scholarly communication is going to make sense.  One can pretty well predict what's going to happen from here -- there is going to be substantially more access around a variety of funding models as publishers figure out different ways to make that happen, but the subscription model will continue to play an important part.  Some publishers will go out of business and some important new entrants into the field will arise.  Libraries and the institutions that they are a part of will continue to wrestle with the daunting challenges of finding the resources to manage everything that they need to do.

And some publishers and some open access advocates will remain locked in a deathstruggle of rhetorical spin, relying on their lobbyists and their public relations flaks to help them craft their soundbites, convinced that it's those bastards on the other side who have absolutely crossed the line, while they themselves are managing to stay just barely on the side of truth and justice.  And if they have to push that line a little hard sometimes, well, it's all in the service of a good cause -- whether that be eliminating the slavery of traditional publishing or preventing the complete collapse of scholarly communication as we know it.  It is, after all, the most important issue of our time.


Dorothea Salo

Um, the identity of the AAP's PR guy didn't bother you? Or the particular tactics he was endorsing?

I wasn't thrilled by Smith's presentation either, I may say; it was at the very least unacceptably racist. But a thoroughly tasteless analogy is still a bit less than an open lie like "OA = government censorship" in my book.


I'm a little surprized the AAP or one of its members hadn't brought out the big PR guns earlier - perhaps they underestimated their adversaries in this argument? However, as to who they hired, it's just business. We shouldn't take it personally.

Be that as it may, the lynching metaphor was beyond the pale. Worse than tasteless, and far worse than equating open access to censorship. In addition, it takes the conversation out of the realm of civility and into name-calling and mud-slinging, and farther away from any hope of crafting a win-win outcome.


I didn't hear any cheering on the MP3 version.

Do we need to quibble over who is worse?

Smith's analogy is indefensible, and his presentation is offensive.

Nothing Eric Dezenhall does will change that.

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