PRISM Bends the Truth, as well as Light

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The Professional/Scholarly Publishing
Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) has launched the Partnership for
Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM) Coalition
. According to
the PRISM website, the coalition exists “to educate policy
makers and the American people about the risks posed by government intervention
in scholarly publishing.” Ahead of an upcoming vote in the U.S. Senate
that would require open access to all National Institute of Health funded
research within 12 months of original publication, lobbyists for traditional
publishers fearing change are again engaging in a mudslinging campaign against
advocates of all forms of open access.

As open access champion Peter Suber points
out,
there is little that is new in what PRISM is saying or doing and all
of the points have been addressed and debunked by the community since the
Internet began to make true open access to research a reality.

The press release to launch PRISM uses
emotive terms such as “safeguard peer-review,” “scientific integrity,” and
“government interference”. The evidence that open access to scientific research
does not harm the peer review process, compromise the integrity of research
through government censorship, and certainly doesn’t only cater to “junk
science,” is so well established that it merits no further defense.

Last year, however, Eric
Dezenhall (“PR’s pit bull”), advised the AAP “to equate traditional
publishing models with peer review,” i.e. to say that peer review, the
cornerstone of scientific research, is under attack or prone to deterioration
by open access publishers, and that only traditional publishing models can
somehow be used to preserve and defend it. It should be noted that peer review
is practiced as stringently by open access publishers as it has always been
throughout the history of scientific publishing. As a result, impact factors
for open access journals continue to increase annually, speaking to the sound
nature of the research featured in those publications. BioMed Central’s Malaria Journal, for example, was
recently determined by Thomson Scientific to be the number one journal in the
field of tropical medicine. This accomplishment would not have been possible
without the most disciplined attention to peer review.

Dezenhall also listed a
number of other aggressive communications strategies and talking points that
the AAP should utilize. These can more or less be read on the front page of PRISM’s website under the
heading “what’s at risk.”

The real goal of PRISM
seems to be protecting publishers’ perceived entitlement to copyright the
research results of authors they publish (a standard practice in traditional
scientific publishing) which gives the publisher the right to erect cost
barriers in exchange for access to results (otherwise known as a subscription
model). These subscription barriers are counter to PRISM’s desire to “share as much scientific and medical information as possible with
the entire world.”

PRISM suggests that
open access “would jeopardize the financial viability of the journals that
conduct peer review, placing the entire scholarly communication process at
risk,” because the publisher can no longer recover their costs and make large
profits through subscriptions. But the viability of these journals is only
possible because the market is broken, and the library community is held over a
barrel and forced to funnel vast amounts of money into them through subscriptions.

Under open access, the
intellectual property rights rest with the author under a Creative Commons
license, the publisher provides a service (submission/tracking systems,
peer-review, XML markup/PDF creation, marketing, customer service, distribution
and archiving) for which the publisher is paid, and the research output is made
freely available.

What PRISM truly
represents is an entrenched industry still attempting to hold at bay the
disruptive effect of 21st Century communications. In the same way
that the music industry was forced to adapt to iTunes, and cinema and
television had no choice but to use sites like YouTube to their advantage, so
will the scientific publishing industry have to eventually determine a way to
use today’s technology to its advantage. Anything less than a commitment to
this principle is to the detriment of scientific discovery and the global
public, which stands to benefit enormously from greater access to
publicly-funded research.

Prisms have a wonderful ability to take in
a uniform band and split it into its constituent parts. Let’s hope the increasing
criticism
over the launch of PRISM does a similar job of fragmenting this
coalition, and exposing their true colors.

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