28 August 2007

When ideologues trash science...

When ideologues trash science and the scientific process it is not news. But when disseminators of scientific knowledge do it, it is appalling.

George W. Bush put pressure on NASA Scientists and our Nation's Surgeon General to tailor their results to fit his political agenda. Sad tidings for America, but thoroughly expected. One might even make the argument that it is just politics -- though our constitutionally-based democracy with it's protections for the minority makes this argument weak.

Then there are the science journal publishers -- you know, those top tier journals that the best academics donate their publishable work to: Nature, Science, etc. Last week the Association of American Publishers (whose membership includes hundreds of internationally acclaimed journals and societies) formed a lobbying group called PRISM to convince congress that open access (i.e. available to everyone, not just subscribers of their journals) to research results (which by the way is mostly funded by our taxes) is equivalent to government censorship. From the press release announcing the formation of the lobbying group:

Only by preserving the essential integrity of the peer-review process can we ensure that scientific and medical research remains accurate, authoritative, and free from manipulation and censorship and distinguishable from junk science.

There is an excellent rebuttal to the straw men set up in this press release here, so I won't go into too much detail, but let me first re-iterate the most critical issue: The journals piggy back on the peer-review process, they do not define it.

My biggest concern about the creation of PRISM is that lawmakers will consider the journal publishers in the highest regard. Who better to represent the scientific community than the journals that so many scientists regard in such high esteem and work day and night to get their work published in, right? WRONG! Journals are there to make money -- if they can make money publishing crap science, they would. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that lawmakers will say journal publishers = science therefore journals representatives represent good science policy.