Thursday, January 25, 2007

This week in Nature

Two interesting pieces (and both are for free access). The first is a new feature called "Connections", an essay series for exploring connections -- hidden and not so hidden -- among disciplines. The first essay in the series, by Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese, is about biology:

This is an extraordinary time for biology, because the perspective we have indicated places biology within a context that must necessarily engage other disciplines more strongly aware of the importance of collective phenomena. Questions suggested by the generic energy, information and gene flows to which we have alluded will probably require resolution in the spirit of statistical mechanics and dynamical systems theory. In time, the current approach of post-hoc modelling will be replaced by interplay between quantitative prediction and experimental test, nowadays more characteristic of the physical sciences.

The second is an exposé by Jim Giles on what a worried bunch of science journal publishers would stoop to. What are they worried about? Open access publishing. What did they do? Consult a public relations 'pit bull' whose earlier clients included Jeffrey Skilling of Enron (who is serving a 24-year jail term now) and ExxonMobil:

The consultant [Eric Dezenhall] advised them to focus on simple messages, such as "Public access equals government censorship". He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and "paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles".

Dezenhall 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. Dezenhall estimated his fee for the campaign at $300,000–500,000.

Two interesting things from the article. First, among the publishers that Eric Dezenhall advised is the American Chemical Society, which has been anti-open access right from the beginning. And second, here's a 'definition' of censorship according to its vice-president:

... On the censorship message, he [Brian Crawford, a senior vice-president at the American Chemical Society] adds: "When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity's interests."

Over at the excellent Open Access News blog, Peter Suber comments on this story, and covers some of the bloggers' reactions to this story.