Aug 292007

It’s been hard to miss the uproar that followed the launch of The Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM). The PRISM Coalition is a new lobbying organisation formed by The Executive Council of the Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP). From their press release:

A new initiative was announced today to bring together like minded scholarly societies, publishers, researchers and other professionals in an effort to safeguard the scientific and medical peer-review process and educate the public about the risks of proposed government interference with the scholarly communication process.

(That is, to campaign against research funders such as the National Institutes of Health mandating the deposit of authors’ postprints in open access repositories.)

The criticism from the open access blogging community has been deafening, at least for those who hang out in the echo chamber that is the blogosphere. Blog posts are too numerous to mention but here are a few: Open Access News, Information Research Weblog, Peter Murray-Rust, A Blog Around the Clock (includes links to yet more comment), and lots more.

The criticism ranged from the detailed and forensic (Peter Suber’s Open Access News entry cited above) through heavy-handed satire (The PISD Coalition) to the downright ugly (“lying profitmongering scum”).

The storm in blogoland was picked up by the quasi-mainstream press in the form of Salon (“Science publishers get even stupider”) and Wired (“Astroturf Spreads to Science Journals: Publishing Industry Forms Front Group to Cheat Public”), whose writers both weighed in with their own brands of polemic.

It was left to the ever-reliable John Blossom on ContentBlogger to give the voice to the kinds of worries that many in the mainstream STM publishing industry might have about PRISM:

The primary problem with PRISM is that it seems to be advocating on a range of issues which, while valid in their own right, are more about fear, uncertainty and doubt – those familiar sales tools – than the real issues at hand.

… If the purpose of PRISM is to convince legislators that there is an advocacy group that supports the publishers’ goals then my sense is that they are going to fail. The site is not very convincing and lacks information about its supporters or any input from them that would influence people into thinking that there is a broad base of support for PRISM’s views.

… With some added focus and some sponsorship of honest debate between government research sponsors, scientists and publishers PRISM may yet serve a positive and constructive purpose as an advocacy group. But if PRISM remains little more than an “astroturf” organization* that defends the commercial interests of publishers then it’s not likely to gain the needed respect from any of the parties that it needs to influence in this debate.

(*An “astroturf” organisation is one that tries to position itself as a grass-roots movement when in fact it is created by others wanting to appear to have grass roots support.)

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