Magazine article Information Today

Stickers, a Pit Bull, and Brussels: A Busy Month for OA

Magazine article Information Today

Stickers, a Pit Bull, and Brussels: A Busy Month for OA

Article excerpt

If you had walked into the MIT periodicals room this spring, you would have seen an interesting sight. Three graduate students from the Media Lab's Computing Culture group and two undergraduates created price tags and placed them (with the librarian's blessing) on 100 journals that cost MIT more than $5,000 per year. The group also created "bonus" tags that read, "Bonus! This work contains work by MIT authors! MIT paid twice!"

Benjamin Mako Hill, one of the graduate students, wanted the project to "bring attention to the open access [OA] issue and the sky-rocketing price of scholarly journals at MIT" and to "compelling, publicly accessible alternatives to ... closed and restrictive models of academic publishing." The group hopes that after seeing the actual price of the journals, readers would visit the "Overprice Tags" Web site for an explanation of the issues.

This project was inspired by the National Day of Action for Open Access (NDAOA), created by FreeCulture.org (an international student movement for free culture) in collaboration with the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (a coalition of patient, academic, research, and publishing entities that support public access to the results of federally funded research). MIT was one of 17 universities and colleges that participated in the NDAOA, including Harvard and The University of North Carolina. The events were held on Feb. 15.

Overprice Tags is one of a seemingly endless barrage of assaults on traditional scholarly publishing that have transpired over the last couple of months as one mandate after another is created with similar language. Perhaps it is not surprising that Barbara Meredith at the Association of American Publishers (AAP) has declared that the AAP is "under siege."

According to a report published by Nature magazine in late January, the AAP learned that "a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull [public relations guru Eric Dezenhall] to take on the free-information movement." Dezenhall, author of Nail 'Em! Confronting High Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses, has developed a reputation for protecting reputations of celebrities and corporate clients.

Nature claims that it has received emails that provide insight into Dezenhall's interaction with these publishers. These emails said that Dezenhall "advised them to focus on simple messages," to "paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles," and to equate "public access [with] government censorship."

The publishers seem to have quickly taken up the advice. In a curious twist, the AAP has aligned itself with "nine prominent First Amendment organizations" (including ALA), calling themselves the National Coalition Against Censorship. On Feb. 12, the group issued a "statement warning of the consequences of suppression or distortion of information that is essential to sound public policy and government accountability and applauding the January 30 House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on political interference with federal climate scientists."

A New Form of Censorship?

Being opposed to censorship is a good thing. But my first reaction to reading that the AAP was going to equate OA with censorship was simply, "What?" If more people can't afford to access information because the price has made it so prohibitive--even if it was underwritten by a nation in the first place--isn't that a form of censorship? …

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