Thursday, January 25, 2007

AAP hire PR 'pit bull' to discredit open access

With pressure of other things I've been failing badly to keep up with Peter Suber's fantastic Open Access News. I'm glad I looked this morning, though, since Peter has pointed to a report in Nature suggesting the American Association of Publishers have decided to hire a prominent public relations firm to spread untruths about the idea of open access.

"The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as "Public access equals government censorship". He hinted... also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists. One suggestion was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington DC, which has used oil-industry money to promote sceptical views on climate change."

Peter himself has a remarkably measured response:
  1. I've read this several times and still find it incredible. Why would the AAP pay $300-500k for advice on how to misrepresent the issue? The next time you see an AAP press release on OA, ask yourself this question.
  2. Does the AAP even need the advice? It has been falsely identifying government archiving with government censorship, and falsely identifying threats to publisher revenue with threats to peer review, at least since the debate over the NIH policy in 2004. For a more recent example, see its May 2006 public statement opposing FRPAA. (Also see my rebuttal.)
  3. I hope that publisher-members of the AAP will disavow these tactics and that journalists and policy-makers will understand the difference between intellectual debate and media massage.
  4. Kudos to Nature for uncovering and reporting this story."
I looked in particular at that PR 'message' they're going to work with, "
Public access equals government censorship", and thought how on earth could anyone believe that open public access is censorship?! But then I thought again and depressingly realised that much political and commercial power is sustained these days by carefully massaged 'messages' describing black as white or vice versa. This is a tale that will require careful monitoring.

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