06 August 2014

Will AAAS get burned in the (scholarly) kitchen?

Yesterday, a single tweet announced that Kent Anderson would be the publisher for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This has now been confirmed by AAAS (longer press release here). I would like to congratulate Anderson for landing what must be a plum gig.

And I wish AAAS luck, because they will need it.

Anderson has a lot of knowledge about the scientific publishing industry, that much is clear. He has served as president of the Soceity for Scholarly Publishing.

But he also has a definite point of view about scientific publishing, which he has puts forward at the blog The Scholarly Kitchen. If I may try to summarize some of his positions (The Scholarly Kitchen is a group blog, so I may be misremembering other people’s positions as his; correct me if I’m wrong):

Anderson argues that subscription journals by “for profit” publishers is the One True Path of scientific publishing. This, he says, is the only method of disseminating scientific information that has been sustainable (e.g., here).

He has been critical of open access publishing.  (Honestly, I wonder if he has a voodoo doll wearing a PLOS ONE t-shirt.) In this interview, he says, “I think (open access) is structurally flawed.”

He has been extremely critical of PubMed directing traffic away from publishers (e.g., here and here). That huge numbers of working biomedical scientists find PubMed invaluable to their research and use it every day seems not to matter much in Anderson’s point of view.

At every turn, Anderson had advocated positions that favour the interests of publishers over either the needs of working scientists or the general public.

It’s okay to have a point of view. It’s okay to defend publishers (I do it myself sometimes.) But it seems odd to put Anderson, for-profit publisher booster, in charge of the publishing arm of not-for-profit, member-driven scientific society, particularly at a time when the society is launching open access journals. Anderson has a reputation, and it’s not of someone who is interested in innovative publishing.

Anderson’s appointment is not a good move, public relations wise, for AAAS. But it will give other publishers an opportunity to contrast their positions with those espoused by Anderson. What publishers will support giving researchers and readers valuable tools that they want?

I once thought that Science magazine was rife for takeover by its members to become an open access journal. Anderson’s appointment seems like an open access takeover is exactly what AAAS fears, and they want someone to dig a moat and man the barricades.

Edit: Struck “for profit” in a couple of places, as the subscription model is probably more central to Anderson’s argument. And, as noted in the comments, Anderson has worked with non-profits.

Related posts

Occupy Science (the journal)
AAAS creates another Zune journal

External links

Interview with the Scholarly Kitchen’s Kent Anderson 
Meet Kent Anderson, anti-#openaccess campaigner, publisher of Science


Christina said...

Increasingly, nominally not-for-profit scholarly society publishing arms are acting more predatory and more money-grubbing than even the worst offenders of the for-profits. At least for-profit companies are explicitly about "shareholder value" as a primary goal whereas societies list furthering their science.
Am I surprised? No. Hey, maybe Science will try again to pull out of JSTOR.

David Crotty said...

Kent definitely has his opinions and how it all plays out with AAAS will be interesting to see. But to be fair, there are some incorrect characterizations in your post.

Looking at Kent's resumé, he has predominantly (exclusively?) worked in the not-for-profit world, whether for the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. So it's unfair to characterize his focus as being in the for-profit world.

Similarly, describing him as someone not interested in innovative publishing displays a lack of knowledge about his activities. In the last year alone he's launched projects like PreScore and SocialCite.

I don't always agree with Kent and frequently argue with him, but if you're going to criticize his track record, it's important to get the facts right.

Adam Etkin said...

Golf clap for Crotty. Full disclosure: I'm the Founder and Managing Director of PRE.

Zen Faulkes said...

David: Thank you. I asked for corrections, and I'm that you took the time to provide some.

I freely admit I know his blogging at The Scholarly Kitchen, and not his record in publishing. I hoping to have another post focusing on his achievements more than his opinions.

Narad said...

"He has been extremely critical of PubMed directing traffic away from publishers...."

Don't forget the ongoing saga of the FOIA requests. One thing that he does not seem to be willing to consider is that the PubMed Central HTML versions (well, the "classic" flavor in my case) might actually be considered superior to the publishers' by readers.