Beliefnet
A Pagan's Blog

The tensions are heating up between a gift economy revitalized by the web and corporations who make money to the degree they can keep information scarce and expensive. Until recently the only way research could be made available was through journals often published by corporations less interested in science than in profits. With the coming of the web there are now 2811 journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals available to scientists and anyone else interested in their topics. 144375 articles from 859 of these journals are searchable at article level. Science is moving to an information system whose values are more in keeping with those of science itself.

Scientific research benefits from three sources: industry, government, and philanthropy. This complex combination propelled American science into the finest in the world. Many different funding sources ensured a wide variety of questions could be investigated. Open access to findings encouraged the widespread dissemination of that information. By contrast, closed access encourages abuse of the scientific process, as the frequent suppression of undesired findings in corporately funded medical research repeatedly demonstrates. And expensive access reduces the number of people who might see an article and find it useful in their own work.

As any college professor can attest, before the rise of the net open access to academic research was getting increasingly difficult. The costs for providing information to students has skyrocketed due to changes in copyright laws that enriched journal publishing companies but neither authors nor those who wanted to read their work. Professors were faced with the dilemma of circumventing the law, depriving their students of reasonable access to important information, or contributing to skyrocketing education costs.

In a push back against the closing off of access to anyone who cannot pay high prices for the journals reporting scientific research, efforts are being made by scientists and citizens to insure publicly funded research is also publicly available.

Now a new group, the “Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine” or PRISM, is arguing that such policies will injure science.

Getting closer to what is really at stake, they contend that journals will have their economic viability threatened, due to
” Unwarranted increases in government spending to compete with private sector publishing
” Expropriation of publishers’ investments in copyrighted articles
” Undermining the reasonable protections of copyright holders”
Somehow this is supposed to be bad for science.

Scientific American disagrees
So does Nature

So what is happening here?

PRISM has no problem with high priced journals being able to copyright and profit from tax payer funded research. The profits our taxes generate for them enable journal companies to hire high priced and ruthless talent to fight for them, talent such as Eric Dezenhall.

Scientific American writes that the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers “hired Eric Dezenhall, head of Dezenhall Resources, a public relations firm that specializes in ‘high stakes communications and marketplace defense,’ to address some of its members this past summer and potentially craft a media strategy. Dezenhall declined to comment for this article, citing ‘our longstanding policy due to strict confidentiality agreements neither to identify our clients nor comment on the work we do for them,’ in an e-mail response to a request for an interview. But ‘nobody disagrees on the goals of high-stakes communications–sell a controversial product, win an election, defuse conflict and so forth,’ Dezenhall notes in the ‘manifesto’ on the firm’s Web site. ‘The life-or-death public relations struggles facing businesses today are not about information, they are about power.’ “

According to information leaked to Nature, “Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: ‘Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate’.” Dezenhall previously worked to defend the reputations of criminals such as Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling, who now faces prison over fraud convictions.

PRISM seems to be following the Dezenhall script, seeking to put advocates for open access on the defensive regardless of the merits of the case. Swiftboating is being applied to science.

For more on this subject, go here and here.

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