ACS to Bloggers: Shove It

September 26th, 2012

Derek Lowe just called attention to this item in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education. Here’s the snippet that reeled me in:

“The built-in inequity in the pricing model that ACS has come up with makes it very difficult to act in collegial, supportive ways while we look out for our own interest,” she said.

According to Ms. Rogers, she’s not alone in her gloomy assessment of the situation. “I may be saying this publicly, but there’s a lot of people saying it quietly,” she told The Chronicle.

(Observers, including some commenters on Ms. Rogers’s call-to-action blog post, have noted a potential conflict of interest for the chemical society, which serves as an accreditor of chemistry programs as well as a publisher of chemistry journals. A certain number of high-quality journals is required for accreditation. They don’t necessarily have to be ACS journals, though, and losing accreditation as a result of canceling ACS subscriptions does not appear to be a worry for SUNY-Potsdam’s chemistry program.)

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers’s blog post or the conversation that’s sprung up around it. “We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed,” Glenn S. Ruskin, the group’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. “As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.”

Wow. I’ve got too much to do to comment now, but you’d better believe I’ll have more later.

Edit: I received the following e-mail message from Glenn Ruskin at 1:00PM (PDT):

Paul:

Good afternoon.  We have not yet met, but I hope to do so at some point in the future.

I noted your ChemBark posting regarding my comment in the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) and I wanted to provide a bit more context.

It was not my intention, nor the intention of ACS, to denigrate blogs or users/contributors of blogs.   My comment was directed toward the blog that was the subject of the CHE story.  Unfortunately, CHE did not use the totality of my comment as I think it would have been clear that I was speaking specifically to the blog that was the point of the story.  Here is the totality of my statement (bolded section was omitted by CHE):

“We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed.  As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.  Therefore, we will not be offering any response  to this blog posting or the conversation that has ensued.

I respect and appreciate responsible bloggers, those that thoughtfully engage on those blogs as well as those that utilize listservs.  No insult was intended, and apologies to those that interpreted the comment that way.  These outlets provide important avenues to further dialogue and collaboration and are valuable assets in the ever evolving digital age.

The individual responsible for the above cited blog certainly has the right to her opinion, but that does not excuse rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees. While not evident in the most recent postings, I won’t repeat what she has posted in the past.  But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic.

Glenn Ruskin

So, it would appear that the absence of a comma after the word “listservs” in the original statement was intentional, such that the subsequent clause of the sentence was restrictive (consult Strunk & White, rule #3). I am not that familiar with the blog in question, so I cannot speak to the blogger’s rudeness, but I sincerely hope that the ACS does engage in a public dialogue about the pricing of its journals. I am outraged, as a chemist and a human being, that there are some schools that are being forced to encourage their students to curtail their exploration of the chemical literature because the ACS is charging enough “per click” to bust these schools’ budgets.


34 Responses to “ACS to Bloggers: Shove It”

  1. Matt Says:

    Noooooooooooooooo. I heard that. Didn’t see it was from Glenn. Arrrrgh. He knows better!! So frustrating.

  2. Ian Says:

    It is strange that they’d make such a statement since no one actually makes comments on the C&EN blogs.

  3. Chemjobber Says:

    Funny how ACS’ chemical safety division seems to have had a listserv for *years* that mostly has operated with “logic, balance and common courtesy.”

  4. Nicholas Condon Says:

    “Other listservs”?! There are at least two problems with that construction.

    ACS is doing precious little to dissuade me from the notion that the old-time professional organizations offer little beyond conference registration discounts.

  5. Paul Says:

    I find this official statement from the ACS infuriating. It is so obvious why ACS Publications does not want to negotiate prices for schools in a public forum like a blog: it’s because you don’t want schools to have information about what you’re charging everyone else. This way, you can maximize profits by bumping up the price to meet each individual school’s perceived value, thus squeezing every last cent out of the customer base.

    As detailed in previous posts (re: journal subscription costs, Leadscope, executive compensation, negative chemistry stories), the ACS routinely clamps down on information. In doing so, the membership (i.e., electorate) cannot make informed decisions about whom to elect to run the organization. We (i.e., researchers, schools, etc.) are getting screwed because of it.

    This official attack by the society on blogs is making it clear that leadership views independent sources of news and analysis as a threat, rather than an opportunity to improve by inviting feedback. The revolution is coming; they knew it before we did.

  6. Eric Says:

    So much of what the ACS does sets my teeth on edge. I realized a few years ago that I didn’t get any real advantages from my ACS membership, and I was just perpetuating it out of habit, so I discontinued my membership the next time the pissed me off. Now, ACS still bugs me, but it doesn’t get as deeply under my skin from the knowledge that they purport to speak on my behalf ( and that I was paying them to do so).

  7. The Curious Wavefunction Says:

    There’s also Mr. Baum’s parting editorial where he says that “blogs are all well and good, they add richness to the exchange of information, but they are not journalism, and they never will be.”

  8. Paul Says:

    Oh, jeez…I have yet to read that issue (last week’s). You’re right, CW. Here’s the link and snippet:

    Technology has profoundly changed journalism during my tenure with C&EN. Much of the change has been positive—who can imagine doing research on a topic without access to the Internet?—but the business model for journalism remains very much in a state of flux. The silly mantra, “Information wants to be free,” overlooks the fact that quality information requires effort, and effort costs money. Blogs are all well and good, they add richness to the exchange of information, but they are not journalism, and they never will be.

  9. bad wolf Says:

    Well, to be fair, C&EN is not journalism, and it never will be either.

  10. Paul Says:

    And Ruskin must be confused, because the reporting, analysis, and discussion of issues like pricing for ACS journals, Leadscope, the Sames-Sezen misconduct scandal, and laboratory safety on blogs have been much more thorough and/or “logical” than what is to be found in C&EN and other mainstream outlets. To me, “logic” would dictate that you would explore these issues deeply and in a timely manner. And how can you say that there is no balance when every thread is open for public commentary? That only recently started at C&EN.

  11. Paul Says:

    And from the comments in the Chron article:

    A key feature of ACS’s new pricing scheme needs further highlighting. A major component is the usage data from that institution in past years. While on the surface it sounds fair that the more you use, the more you pay, there are two problems. The first is that ACS’s tiered pricing scheme results in a per-article “price” that is much higher near the bottom than the top of the usage tier structure. One institution might end up paying an effective rate of $4 per article, while a much larger one might be paying only $0.40 per article, one tenth as much.

    The second problem, which is much more insidious, is that it creates a perverse incentive for researchers to avoid reading articles. After the new pricing scheme came to us, we sat down with our own chemistry faculty for a meeting to explain what was happening, and our concerns that we were close to the top edge of a “tier”, going over which would triple our costs (rather than just double them as the new tier is likely to do). I listened in horror as they talked among themselves about how they could reduce the number of articles they read or encouraged their students to read.

    The whole point of scholarly communication is to spread the research as widely as possible. If the pricing structure itself discourages that communication, it is working against the very purpose of the “product’s” existence. This is why librarians have always fought against use-based pricing structures for scholarly literature. And we need to continue to do so, to make sure that no other publishers decide to follow ACS’s example.

    What the hell has our professional society come to when it is making librarians and chemistry professors discourage students from accessing papers?! Is this what we, as chemists, want? Surely there is a better way to go about running our publications division.

  12. Michelle Says:

    No. Just no. Tearing my hair out….

  13. Paul Says:

    I am going to use this comment to stash some links, because this matter will require follow up:

    Rogers response to ACS/Ruskin

    CW’s rebuttal to Baum’s editorial

    A rebuttal to Baum’s editorial

  14. Jenica Says:

    After I posted back to Mr. Ruskin’s attack on CHMINF-L (my response: https://list.indiana.edu/sympa/arc/chminf-l/2012-09/msg00122.html), he replied directly to me with a screenshot of a conversation I had on Friendfeed, a social network where I hang out, after I was thoroughly infuriated by an ACS staffer. My post, to my friends, was “Motherf*cking ACS.” Conversation ensued, as conversations do between friends.

    Apparently, Mr. Ruskin cannot distinguish between formal professional writing (on my blog) and informal casual conversation (on Friendfeed). Oh well. People get angry, and use bad words. That doesn’t mean my discussion of their issues as a vendor is less valid or logical, or that I should be dismissed as a stakeholder in this discussion. But I guess, to the ACS, it does mean that, and that it makes personal attacks okay. Full disclosure: I did refer, in that personal, casual context, to a rude ACS staffer as being a “condescending, supercilious bitch.” I did not, however, call her names to her face, attack her in writing, identify her personally, or use my professional voice and persona to do any of the former. (my professional voice account of that incident is here: http://www.attemptingelegance.com/?p=1355) So I think I’m still up one.

  15. Paul Says:

    Thanks, Jenica.

    My concern for any swearing or name-calling that did or did not occur is dwarfed by my concern for students’ and the public’s ability to access the work in ACS journals. As you note, ACS Publications produces a top-quality suite of journals. I think that the organization deserves to charge for it and to make a profit (with the knowledge that this profit will go towards running the rest of the non-profit society). With that said, I am concerned that they (i.e., we) are charging too much. I don’t think our organization should be in the business of extracting as much money as possible from subscribers; I think we should be pricing these publications so that the society has a little more money than it needs to survive and keep making a quality product.

    Please keep blogging and sharing your experiences with ACS and other publishers. We, as ACS members, need this information to make informed decisions when it comes time to elect our officers. If you are forbidden from publicly disclosing this information, please feel free to contact me privately.

  16. Jenica Says:

    Thank you, Paul. That’s precisely my concern: This is being brought down to a level of personal attack in order to silence dissent and discussion. That is NOT acceptable. This issue matters, because access to scholarship is crucial to advancement of all of our fields of study, teaching, and learning. Whether or not I swear on the internet is absolutely irrelevant to that big picture.

    They can’t stop me.

    J.

  17. Chemjobber Says:

    Jenica, I admire your clarity during this process. Thank you for that.

  18. Nick Says:

    “The silly mantra, “Information wants to be free,” overlooks the fact that quality information requires effort, and effort costs money.”

    So, all those manuscripts I reviewed this year for ACS journals….I guess my check is in the post? Oh, right.

  19. Jeff Says:

    This is all very frustrating. It makes me feel like any monetary (dues) or time (reviewing) contribution to ACS is for naught. I came across some interesting and alarming information in reading about and researching some of the issues discussed in this post/thread. My eyes have been opened.

    Perhaps most surprising/frustrating to me is that to have ACS certified degrees a school must have access to some number of ACS publications in order to have ACS certified chemistry degrees. I guess this makes sense on some level. However, if ACS really is gouging some schools as badly as it seems, I can’t help but wonder if issues like these are contributing to even increasing costs for higher education. I echo Paul’s outrage that our society, dedicated to the advancement of the chemical sciences, is literally pricing schools out of their ability to provide resources to students. All of this seems at odds with the ACS mission statement “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.”

  20. Chemjobber Says:

    Perhaps most surprising/frustrating to me is that to have ACS certified degrees a school must have access to some number of ACS publications in order to have ACS certified chemistry degrees.

    That’s not really true. Here is the requirement:

    An approved program must provide access to no fewer than 14 current journals chosen from the CPT recommended journal list (http://portal.acs.org/portal/PublicWebSite/about/governance/committees/training/acsapproved/CTP_006024) ) in either print or electronic form. At least three must come from the general content list, and at least one must come from each area of analytical chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and chemistry education. In addition, the library should provide access to journal articles that are not readily available by a mechanism such as interlibrary loan or document delivery services. If primary student access is electronic, cost or impractical times for access should not limit it unduly.

    So far as I can tell, you can get it without using ACS journals.

  21. Chemjobber Says:

    That section is from this document: http://portal.acs.org/portal/PublicWebSite/about/governance/committees/training/acsapproved/degreeprogram/WPCP_008491

  22. See Also… » The ACS and FUD Says:

    [...] from Jenica’s own account, Mr. Ruskin is objecting to a FriendFeed discussion where Jenica referred to the [...]

  23. Dr. Zoidberg Says:

    Slight tangent: I don’t understand all the fuss of trying to be an ACS accredited program. I get that it’s somewhat of a bragging point for a university, but is it any more than that? If I saw this on someone’s resume I wouldn’t be any more likely to hire that person than someone who didn’t go to an ACS accredited program. I know other people feel the same. So it’s not really giving anyone an advantage in the job market as far as I know. Does it help people get into grad school? If so, how much of an advantage is it? If universities are fighting for this accreditation based on claims from ACS shills that it’s going to help their students find jobs, that’s a farce and you can save your money now.

  24. Amusing News Aliquots | Newscripts Says:

    [...] Rudy says we’re not journalists and ACS gets a beating in the blogosphere. [Emily Willingham], [ChemBark], [Chemjobber], and many other places. Subscribe to this author's posts feed via RSSShare [...]

  25. Jennifer Howard Says:

    FYI, re the ACS statement, here’s the full relevant paragraph from my CHE story. It begins with a paraphrase of that sentence bolded above:

    “A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers’s blog post or the conversation that’s sprung up around it. ‘We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed,’ Glenn S. Ruskin, the group’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. ‘As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.'”

  26. erich Says:

    Can’t wait to read blog posts about how Glenn Ruskin used obscenities in in semi-public forums inreference to librarians.

  27. Jenica Vs. The ACS Volcano « Agnostic, Maybe Says:

    [...] I’d recommend reading posts on the subject by Walt Crawford, Iris Jastram, Jacob Berg, and Chembark as well as Jenica’s followup [...]

  28. Behind the Wood Shed with the ACS | Terra Sigillata Says:

    [...] “ACS to Bloggers: Shove It,” by C&EN advisory board member, Chembark; [...]

  29. 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | ScienceGeist Says:

    [...] We were having a discussion over whether bloggers are journalists. (Our argument was spurred by a quote covered in Paul’s blog.) My wife, who is a trained communications specialists, took the side [...]

  30. Chemical Society Pricing Has Librarians Up In Arms Says:

    [...] Regardless of whether the Society engages with Rogers personally, in a blog hosted by Scientific American, fellow SUNY librarian Bonnie Swoger called on the ACS to “open a dialog on what a reasonable pricing model would include,” a call seconded by chemist Paul Bracher. [...]

  31. Clifford Rossiter Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful posts about the struggles SUNY Potsdam is having with the ACS. I would like to add the following conversation I posted on IonicViper website, a site for inorganic chemist.

    Sincerely,

    Cliff

    Dr. Clifford S. Rossiter
    Department of Chemistry
    SUNY Potsdam
    Potsdam, NY 13676

    https://www.ionicviper.org/forum/call-action-acs-journal-prices#comment-1987
    Dear Fellow Vipers,

    The issue of ACS journal pricing and SUNY Potsdam has caused a flurry of activity in the academic world. Discussions have included articles in The Scientist, Confessions of a Science Librarian, ChemBark, CENBlog Behind the Woodshed, Times Higher Education, Inside HigherEd and Library Journal.

    As this forum is sponsered by the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry and the ACS is currently having National Elections, I would be curious to hear Dr. Thomas J. Barton and Dr. Luis A Echegoyen’s opinion on the matter of journal pricing and what, if any, reforms they would propose to help address the cost of journal publications. Specifically, comments should be made available on a public forum. This posting will be forwarded to the candidates for comment.

    Sincerely,

    Cliff

  32. Paul Says:

    Hi Cliff,

    This discussion thread might be of interest to you.

  33. The right to create our own digital footprints? | Information Wants To Be Free Says:

    [...] with Jenica Rogers on the whole librarians vs. American Chemical Society thing, I do think that calling someone a bitch on FriendFeed is putting something in writing (doesn’t make her arguments against ACS any less credible though). Because even when you [...]

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