In his classic book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imagined the correspondence between Wormwood, a young apprentice demon, and his uncle, an older and more experienced tempter named Screwtape. Uncle Screwtape advises Wormwood on how best to corrupt human kind, and the book has become beloved as a kind of reverse moral theology. One can learn a lot about human foibles and weaknesses by reading how Screwtape and Wormwood conspire to exploit those weaknesses and lead humans ever deeper into corruption.
But what if Wormwood took a job? As an academic publisher? What would Screwtape advise him to do? How best could he sow fear, uncertainty and doubt? How best to exploit the weaknesses and vanities of academic authors and the hand-wringing timidity of librarians? In this vision of the correspondence between Uncle Screwtape and the newly-employed Wormwood, Amherst College Librarian Bryn Geffert imagines that they would hit upon pretty much exactly the practices we actually see today. His reworking of The Screwtape Letters was published as an essay in Inside Higher Education, and I link to it here because it really is too good to miss — deadly accurate and very funny.
Interesting, I think, to compare the correspondence between Wormwood and Screwtape with this actual dialogue about academic publishing going on The Economist website about whether and to what degree academic publishers add value to the work they sell. I wonder if we will see similar arguments on both sites, the fictional parady and the serious debate.
Thanks to my friend Gary Draught for pointing out Geffert’s essay on his blog about Open Access called Alpha Omega.