It always helps if one of these journalistic broadsides against summat understands the summat that the broadside is against. This not being the case often enough at The American Prospect and this not being the case at all in this piece by David Dayen.
The specific complaint is that Juul – those folks that make vaping stuff – have paid for things to be published in an issue of an academic journal.
To Dayen of course this is disgusting. People making profit no less, and from addicting people to nicotine! That vaping is also – also note – a smoking cessation tool doesn’t matter. Big Tobacco!
But here’s the real problem:
Juul is spending millions in lobbying and persuasion to get the FDA’s green light to continue operations. But a Tuesday New York Times article on the subject contained a fascinating nugget midway through, which could be described as a buried lede (journalese for putting the most explosive part of a story in the middle of the piece). Juul, the Times reports, “paid $51,000 to have the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior devoted to publishing 11 studies funded by the company offering evidence that Juul products help smokers quit.”
The corruption of academic research is not a new subject. Corporations fund third-party studies and benefit from “independent” validation of their perspectives all the time. But this is a new wrinkle. Juul didn’t just front money for a couple of academic papers; it bought an entire edition of the American Journal of Health Behavior (AJHB), which it can then point to as “proof” that its product has a public-health benefit, the key question currently before the FDA.
Well, you know, not so much.
There’s a whole fee schedule at the journal’s website. Authors pay $895 per article, and if they want the article to be made Open Access so that everyone can read it, that jumps to $1,595. (Only a portion of articles are accepted for Open Access, as most of the AJHB is gated.) If you want more than six tables and figures in your article, that’ll cost you $150 a pop. And a “theme issue,” similar to the kind that Juul bought, costs $2,500 per article, with an additional $500 to make each article ungated, not including the $195-per-article service fee for copyediting.
In this context, the $51,000 that Juul paid for the May/June issue is not that far from what the AJHB would normally charge for a theme issue with 11 studies ($33,000, plus extra for copy check and any additional tables and figures above the prescribed limit). This turns the work of a scientific journal into what looks like advertising.
That’s the way Open Access works.
There are two publishing models. One is that the journal charges people to read it. Libraries – university libraries – pay a subscription fee to gain access to the wonders of science for faculty and students.
Open Access reverses this. The people who want their paper published pay for it to be published.
Much of the industry is a little blurred over this. A fee to be published plus a subscription, either side taking some of the strain.
But the idea that those who write a paper – or their institutions – pay for a paper to be published is not unusual at all. It’s entirely normal in fact. It’s not advertising, it’s not corruption and it’s not Big Tobacco buying academic respectability.
But Lord Forbid that a journalist should know anything about the subject they’re broadsiding.