Xenophobic scientific publishers: open access aids foreign enemies

The American Association of Publishers and the anti-open access DC Principles group have sent letters to both houses of Congress outlining why they oppose the Federal Research Public Access Act, which would make the results of all federally funded research publicly available. They largely trot out the same tired “not all publishers are alike, so don’t impose a single model on all of us” baloney they’ve been using for years.

But one part of the letter really caught my eye:

[FRPAA] would also compel American taxpayers to subsidize the acquisition of important research information by foreign governments and corporations that compete in global markets with the public and private scientific enterprises conducted in the United States.

Huh? Think about what they’re saying: The US government should not make the results of taxpayer funded research available to all US citizens because it would also be made available to foreigners, which would give them a leg up over American companies in the competitive global marketplace. And how are the publishers going to protect us from this looming threat? By denying these nefarious foreign entities access to the information they are going to use to trounce us? No! The publishers want Congress to insist that these foreigners pay them a small fee to facilitate their fleecing of America.

COME ON! This one sentence exposes the publishers who wrote and signed the letter either as racist idiots who have no clue about how science works and what its goals are, or as craven liars willing to trot out xenophobic claptrap to promote their agenda.

We are not talking about classified information here – we’re talking about information that authors are willingly making freely available. And these foreigners the publishers are deriding are not enemies. They are our collaborators in science – whose ability to build on work generated in the US benefits us all. This is how science works, you morons!

Earlier in the letter, these signers of the letter claim that they are “devoted to ensuring wide dissemination of the results of all peer-reviewed research”. That they would then have the gall to put forward the argument that US interests are served by impeding to free flow of scientific information to scientists in other countries makes it clear that this is a complete and utter lie. This is one of the most repulsive things I have seen from the forces that oppose public access – anyone who signed this letter should be ashamed, and is deserving of our contempt.

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13 Comments

  1. fairscientist
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    i wonder if aap will state that they will not publish scientific articles from any non-american scientists and only want to restrict access to the articles published by american scientists to non-american readers!!!!! i agree, this is pure baloney and exposes their true color and desperateness.

    thank you.

  2. ukscientist
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    I agree with the thrust of your blog but isn’t there something valid around IP that does need to be addressed? If you publish data that have some commercial value you are protected by local and well-policed IP laws. What about jurisdictions that don’t really pay much attention to such things?

  3. GM
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Well, that is very telling of the way science is viewed in the US (and not only there). You are absolutely correct to point out the insanity of it, but they are saying this because they know there is a large receptive audience for that kind of message out there and we all know that too – science in the US (and, again, not only in the US) is not funded because of the goals of science as scientists see them (advancing our understanding of the world around us) and in the spirit of the values scientists broadly share (expansion of knowledge in an open and collaborative environment that is blind to race, nationality or borders). It is all framed as “staying competitive”, “stimulating economic growth”, and other buzzwords and catch phrases of the sort, and all of that is actually deeply anti-intellectual and antithetic to the spirit of open inquiry most of us would like to see dominating the conversation. The whole issue with access to journals is a derivative of that fundamental problem – we would never have for-profit publishers to begin with if society as a whole shared the same view of science that scientists (or at least the more idealistic-minded among them) have of it. But that’s not the case and the open access battle is only the tip of the iceberg.

  4. Posted March 7, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Michael,
    As I am sure you know there is a language developed by conservative publishers which encapsulates their political philosophy. Another enemy is not North Korea but the federal government. Here’s Rudy Baum, ACS,

    “Socialized Science”
    RUDY M. BAUM, Editor-in-Chief, C&E News,
    September 20 2004 Volume 82, Number 38 p. 7

    I find it incredible that a Republican Administration would institute a policy that will have the long-term effect of shifting responsibility for communicating scientific research and maintaining the archive of STM literature from the private sector to the federal government.

    PMR: The ACS is part of the “private sector” (a usage foreign to Europe) and “Socialized” (which has no pejorative meaning in Europe) means communist, although I was ticked off by RB for using the word “socialist”.

    I think continued use of this language helps to strengthen their fantasy world.

  5. Bill Walsh
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    See also Peter Suber’s response to the AAP’s Allen Adler’s 2006 comments on the same subject:

    “If it really were in the national interest to limit access to peer-reviewed research literature, and to use price barriers to limit access (an absurd counterfactual, but I’ll play along), then the money should go to the state, not to the publishing industry. When the state wants to deter smoking by making it more expensive, then it puts a tax on cigarettes and directs the money to the state treasury for the public benefit. It doesn’t collude with the tobacco industry to let it raise prices to the same level and keep the windfall for itself.”

    http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/10-02-06.htm#adler

  6. Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Hi Mike: Here’s a similar comment I posted to G+ the other day.
    https://plus.google.com/109377556796183035206/posts/AaWDcCs4AY3

    The publisher letter [against FRPAA] also repeats the old nationalist argument: “[FRPAA] would also compel American taxpayers to subsidize the acquisition of important research information by foreign governments and corporations that compete in global markets with the public and private scientific enterprises conducted in the United States.”

    Carolyn Maloney used a similar nationalist argument in defense of RWA : “Two-thirds of the access to PubMed central is from non-US users. In effect, current law is giving our overseas scientific competitors in China and elsewhere important information for free. We are already losing scientists due to a reduction in funding for federal research. This policy now sends our value-added research papers overseas at no cost.”

    The AAP first used this argument in 2006 in attacking the first iteration of FRPAA : “Remember — you’re talking about free online access to the world…You are talking about making our competitive research available to foreign governments and corporations.”

    My reply to the 2006 version of the argument still applies to the current versions : “Note that we’re talking about published research, not classified research that isn’t published. Thank goodness our enemies can’t afford to pay subscriptions or visit libraries. Thank goodness harming Americans has the side-effect of harming foreigners….Thank goodness Americans have never benefited from scientific advances made by non-Americans. Thank goodness publishers are willing to collect subscription fees for this patriotic purpose. Thank goodness publishers are willing to shoulder the responsibility of controlling access to our research. We know that they don’t have to. They didn’t conduct this research, write it up, or fund it….”

  7. Posted March 7, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Yeah, these fuckers are total liars. In general, our public discourse has been so degraded by decades of white christian corporatist propaganda, that public lying has become completely unremarkable.

  8. Adam
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    GM, I think it is fine that scientific funding is justified on the basis of creating prosperity, and I don’t think that such an outlook has any sort of nationalistic (or even competitive) implications. I benefit from the increased productivity of Chinese workers. I benefit from the technologies they develop. I can benefit from improvements that they make to business operations (assuming that they don’t rely on a tyrannical government). I definitely benefit from their scientific advances.

    For those reasons, I am happy to “give away” the results of our scientific investigations. But to top it off, I want to set a good example and encourage them to also “give away” their knowledge when their research output is comparable to the USA’s.

  9. Adam
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    On a related issue, American scientists (and engineers) benefit when foreign researchers publish their work in English. It’s possible that increasing access to English-language publications will help to maintain the preeminance of English among scientists. That would definitely be in the national interest. I’d be interested in seeing some more examination of that issue.

  10. GM
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Adam
    Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink
    GM, I think it is fine that scientific funding is justified on the basis of creating prosperity, and I don’t think that such an outlook has any sort of nationalistic (or even competitive) implications. I benefit from the increased productivity of Chinese workers. I benefit from the technologies they develop. I can benefit from improvements that they make to business operations (assuming that they don’t rely on a tyrannical government). I definitely benefit from their scientific advances

    I don’t think you understood my post – what I was pointing out was that we are doing the right thing (funding science) for the wrong reasons (grow the economy, be competitive, etc.). Which will come back to bite us badly at some point, and this is aside from how wrong those reasons are on their own. For example, we do science in order to better understand the world around us, and the advancement of our understanding of the world achieved through science has made it abundantly clear that we should not be growing the economy because it is suicidal due to how ecologically unsustainable and ultimately self-destructive perpetual exponential growth in a finite environment is; yet, instead of hearing that message and acting accordingly, society has decided that the primary role of science is to help growth the economy. Complete insanity.

    So I pointed out that the battle over open access publishing is just a small part of the bigger issue about what the role of science in society is and what its goals are. We have this problem as a consequence of the general dysfunctionality of the system, and it is useful to keep that in mind.

  11. Posted March 10, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Of course, to protect the US interests, editors should only ask US scientific editors and referees to review papers.

  12. Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    A PR rep for JSTOR has posted a comment on a futurist website claiming that they are not guilty.

    How guilty is JSTOR of fleecing the public?

    http://singularityhub.com/2012/03/18/8200-strong-researchers-band-together-to-force-science-journals-to-open-access/

  13. Posted August 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

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