Who are “Adjacent Government”?

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:

  1. 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!).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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… 🙂

5 thoughts on “Who are “Adjacent Government”?

  1. I have unfortunately run afoul of Adjacent Government based on exactly the same spiel they fed you. Unfortunately, I caved to the high pressure repeated calling and then didn’t think to check up until after I had ‘signed’ the contract. Horrible company!!

  2. I’m embarassed to say that this group, then known as “Adjacent Government”, tried to get their hooks into me here in Canada. They emailed me about a short piece in their high profile “journal”. Amid several deadlines, I agreed to have a brief call with them where a suave British woman tried to play to my ego by remarking on the prestigue of my position, reputation and accomplishments. She dropped so many names I was suspicious from the get go because I am not a lime light reseacher. She even went so far as to say that a funding agency I had recently received a grant from suggested they reach out to me. Looking back, their timing and tactics were astounding, and all based on what scammers could put together from publically available information. I have kept all my notes and their emails/documents in case I one day have a chance to share them with an authority that might investigate with actual consequences.

    They used a piece from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council President Ted Hewitt to get me on the hook. I followed up with SSHRC and sure enough their communications department had produced, approved and paid for the “feature piece”, which I informed them was possibly a scam (or at least done in poor taste) and that it was being used to pressue academics across Canada (indeed the world it turns out). AG thoroughly hassled me for several weeks with aggressive calls and emails, making demands for a writing piece based on super tight deadlines that I had never agreed to. They also claimed I had signed a contract, which I had not done. In fact I told the woman on the first call that I did not have authority to sign on behalf of the university. To add pressure and make me feel indebted, they went ahead and put my university logo on their website, claiming it was a high profile paid promo opportunity I had agreed to, which was not the case. Anyway the long-short… I got the university lawyer involved and after a weeks long and drawnout back and forth. AG then sent me to a collection agency out of BC, which went no where. When their issue finally came out, they emailed it to me directly as if to say “we told you so, see what you are missing.” I felt bad for them because the people behind this work clearly live desparate, empty lives. If they are legitmate, why all the lying, name changing and high pressure tactics for paid publishing? All I can say is that I am very relieved that I trusted my judgement and had support from my university and family to get out of it. I would never, ever, want to be associated with any version of this group and hope other people read this to avoid the stress and humility of interacting with these unsavoury people. I wish the police and anti-fraud agencies would investigate.

  3. I also just got this call from “Open Access Government”. It is striking how much of the story is the same (just change the names of the namedropping part to experts in my field), and it was clear that this gentleman was reading off a script. As of 2019, the pricing is exactly the same as you said (6000 pounds, but a discount and now 4000 for 2 pages; 2000 for one page). This is their new website: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/ and their magazine reads like a big advertisement brochure with a company logo every other page.

    Just like the author of this blog, when I told him I had no funds, and, no, I wasn’t going to pay for it with a year’s delay, our scheduled call instantly got cancelled from his side. I don’t have Facebook, but I can imagine that this gave him the emotional equivalence of unfriending me? Anyway, what a relief to find this article you wrote, thank you!

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