Having just given a talk on science communication and the merits of public engagement to a group of undergraduate students, I was delighted to receive a phone call out of the blue from someone asking me to write about my research for “Adjacent Government Main Document”. The gentleman who called (and who spoke with a delightfully posh English accent) assured me that it was read by 145,000 key decision makers, politicians, and research councils, with a >30% read rate on their email and 28,000 views of each email in the previous issue. I was informed that Miguel Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, had specifically requested a piece to go opposite his editorial on climate, to highlight “climate change impacts nature’s mimicry system research”. That sounds a bit strange, I thought, but fine – the EU had just published a short piece on my work (which they fund) and so I figured this was some sort of follow-up. I was asked if I could provide 1,000 words by 10th January 2017 for inclusion in a later issue. I said “yes” – I can eat 1,000 words for breakfast! Then I was informed that this was wonderful and that all that was left was to negotiate the fee. There was discussion of fees in the £1000s, and possible discounts. A bargain!
Now, I have never paid for publication in anything other than an academic journal, and I have never been compensated for writing for the general public. Indeed, I would gladly do so for free. However, to pay to publish for the public seemed odd. There was something that sent my skeptical senses tingling, so I told the gentleman that I did not have the budget to cover the fee. He said he would pursue a discount for me. I said I didn’t think I could afford anything. He asked whether my dissemination funding had run out. I told him that I had some funds allocated to open access journal articles, but nothing for general dissemination beyond a project website and Conversation articles. Then I pushed further. I told him I was skeptical about their business model. He asked what I meant. I told him about predatory publishers. He reiterated the prestigious place that Adjacent Government had in disseminating to 145,000… I told him I wasn’t interested, thanked him for his time, and said goodbye.
Now, there was a good reason that my skeptical senses were tingling. Adjacent Government is the latest in a string of incarnations of what has previously been Public Service Communication Agency (often going by “PSCA”), which then rebranded as Public Service Review (who went bust in 2013) and reappeared as Adjacent Digital Politics Ltd a couple of months later. They also seem to have a really weird WordPress site, which looks like the kind of thing a 15-year-old would knock up if they wanted to try to convince people they were important. I remembered coming across them before, but I don’t recall whether they called me or whether I read about the experiences of others. They claim high-ranking authors (Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner, and Miguel Cañete, the Commissioner for Climate Action, were mentioned in my phone call as being specifically interested in my work) but they have no formal links to the EU. They do seem to produce a very glossy, professional-looking (electronic) magazine, which I am sure is sent to the inboxes of large numbers of people (poor souls who have their emails in the public domain).
However, the conversation had four red flags:
- A very specific interest in my work (great!), but based solely on a title of a PR piece from the EU (suspicious…). Further, the gentleman mispronounced “mimicry” twice. My work simply isn’t that interesting at the moment (but check back in when the project is finished, because there is some cool stuff to come!).
- Pay-to-publish models where the publisher comes to you always set off alarm bells. If you are good enough to warrant my attention, I will find you. I get at least a couple of emails per week from dubious conference organisers and publishers offering me great opportunities to give them money.
- The history of the company, having evolved through various bankruptcies. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it is hard to claim gravitas when you have gone bust three years ago. There are also a variety of claims that I can’t substantiate around the Department of Trade and Industry asking them to change their name from “Public Service…” due to confusion of them being an official government publication (possibly covered in Private Eye, but I can’t find more than that), and something about the involvement of the Advertising Standards Authority, too. If you have half an hour, you can read five years of complaints spread across 11 pages here and an account very similar to my own here (again, read the comments).
- The cold-calling, rampant name-dropping, and hard-sell approach. I doubt very much that AG has any links to Moedas and Cañete. Apparently, the old MO used to be “I’ve just come out of a meeting with my editor and we need two pages immediately!” followed by offers of deals. Ask for an email from them and see if they tell you that their email servers are down.
To sum up: if you have £4k lying around and you fancy a glossy (electronic) magazine article then I am sure Adjacent Government will send it to 145,000 people. I am sure your article will look very nice (and it bleeding well should do, for that price!). Some people might even read it, and some of those people might even be important. I won’t be doing that. To be clear, I do not think that AG are doing anything illegal. They are running a glorified blog that they charge £6k to publish in, and they seem to be able to convince people to publish in it. In that regard, they’re not so dissimilar to Elsevier… Oh, and quick prediction: AG (or “anonymous clients”) crop up in the comments section, posting testimonials… 🙂