Denialist Deck Applied: PRISM

It’s that time again. Bora’s got the scoop on this new organization PRISM (Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine). They purport to be the saviors of scientific publishing, protecting us from the evil of open access. But how much do you want to bet they’re the same old industry lobbying group, disguising themselves as actors in the public interest? Well, there’s an easy way to tell. Let’s apply the deck of cards!

There’s not a lot to work with yet, but I think we’ve got some classics to go after right away. After all, we have an industry group – the publishers – who are trying to avoid being regulated so that they’re forced to open up publicly-funded research to the public (after a delay). Let’s start with their frontmatter:

* undermining the peer review process by compromising the viability of non-profit and commercial journals that manage and fund it;

Undermining peer-review! Commercial journals can’t compete with open access! That sounds like:

* opening the door to scientific censorship in the form of selective additions to or omissions from the scientific record;

Now this is just utter BS. I have no idea where they manage to get this idea that forcing open-access will lead to censorship, but I can’t help thinking this sounds like:


* subjecting the scientific record to the uncertainty that comes with changing federal budget priorities and bureaucratic meddling with definitive versions; and

Well this one is easy:


Going through the Prism Principles I found more fodder for the cards. We have

* Scientific knowledge should incorporate new research as part of the scholarly record based on merit alone-not tradition, ideology, or political expediency. Society is best served when the pursuit of scientific knowledge takes place in an environment of intellectual freedom-where objectivity and independence are guaranteed, and where published expression is protected from governmental or other controls, and is free of censorship or bias.


* Scientific knowledge must be documented and preserved in perpetuity, free of alteration, political or ideological pressures, or the threat of uncertain funding.


* Research funding is best spent on new and important research studies, and should leverage rather than duplicate the valuable publishing infrastructure built over decades by private sector publishers working in partnership with the research community.

I know that one:

* Society is best served by sustainable business models and reasonable copyright protections that provide positive incentives for publishers to continue innovating in their distribution of scientific knowledge, investment in peer review, and exploration of preservation technologies.

* The free market of scholarly publishing is dynamic and competitive, responsive to the needs of scholars and scientists, and balances the interests of all stakeholders in making research widely available. It encourages publishing innovation and diversity, and should remain free from government mandates that favor particular business models.


Nope, not impressed with PRISM. Seems like the classic industry lobbying tactics applied to protect publishers’ profits against a business model they can’t compete with. No real substance here, just a plea for government protection of their business model.


  1. This is why we love the deck of cards! It makes it so nice and clear (and pretty!).

  2. angrytoxicologist

    I love the deck. Perhaps I am naieve but I think that the way to go is something the ACS model where you can have open access but the author has to pay for it. Comparatively, this is a pretty small fee to throw into a grant application.

    I think that the censorship comes from the idea that if publishers would have to start living on ad revenue they would be beholden to those who put up the money. Not sure, but it’s still probably a red herring, the rest of the media lives on ad revenue too, with few problems.

  3. In no particular order.

    They also claim they are working hard to make papers available (but how hard can it be?) under the current NIH voluntary system: 10S Self Regulation.

    Then there’s the expropriation of copyright: AC Our Rights.

    The ‘Myth vs Fact’ page: “(PRISM) is committed to challenging key misconceptions about scholarly publishing as put forth by those who simply do not know the facts”: 10H You Don’t Understand Us.

    One angle I’m surprised not to see is that open access would also allow non-US taxpayers (and non-taxpayers generally) to access research free – that’s got to be Danger (KS) and Unamerican (AH). The threat of junk science is pretty much a danger cry in itself.

  4. Theodore Price

    In my little corner of the research world our researchers have 4 main field specific journals. One of them is OA and was started about 5 years ago. It has done quite well although most of the work is not very patient oriented (although I am in a very patient oriented — translational field). I am pushing hard for our main society journal to move to OA and while the momentum has been slow to build, it is starting to grow. That journal is much more patient oriented (more translational findings with less very basic research) and I think it could make a major impact with patients if they could get the info free of charge from any internet portal. Hopefully this will happen sooner rather than later.

    As a frequent consumer, author and reviewer of the primary scientific literature I do not find a single argument made by PRISM to be credible (aside from their basic statements about scientific research — which have nothing to do with the publishing houses).

  5. Evil Monkey

    Amazing how frequently capitalists employ the government to “protect” their “free market” business model. And how when anybody else but them engages in this behavior, they call it “socialism”.

  6. Valhar2000

    Evil Monkey, you are not the first, and you will not be the last, to notice that. As Ed Brayton said, free market exists at the level of the taxi cab driver, or the hotdog salesman at the corner, but if you move a little higher than you will invariably find companies that are utterly dependent on the government to protect the statu quo.

  7. Justin Moretti

    On a light-hearted note, you could engage in a bit of journal-terrorism: say that “If you do not make your journal (title X) open-access after 12 months maximum from the date of publication, then we, the People’s Front for Free Access to Journals, will collectively pay for a full subscription to that journal and disseminate the password everywhere. You do not know us. You cannot stop us.”

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