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OP–ED: Illinois Taxpayers Pay for University Research, Not Publisher Investments

(Washington, D.C.) – OP–ED: The Illinois Observer‘s editorial supporting Illinois Senate Bill 1900 misconstrues or ignores key elements in the dialogue about scholarly research and public access.

State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) is sponsoring legislation that would provide free, on-line access to taxpayers for taxpayer supported research produced at Illinois universities. Private publishers, who earn lucrative profits on the material, are fighting the proposal.

There are significant differences between the raw results of research, which may be funded to some degree by taxpayers, and a finished, vetted, published journal article, which isn’t.  Researchers’ manuscripts are often assumed to be simply compilations of data results.  That’s wrong.

Manuscripts use such information as a starting point to report, dissect, analyze and interpret the completed research.  That’s comparable to The Illinois Observer cutting and pasting public record documents versus using its professional expertise to study, examine and analyze that information to provide context.

You also assume that manuscripts somehow just pass through publishers and land in journals.  That ignores the complex, extensive work done by publishers:  They build and manage the peer review process that vets the validity and significance of authors’ research findings and improves it.  They also edit, digitize, distribute and archive the published article of record so it can be discovered, delivered and preserved in multiple formats.  These costs are borne by private sector publishers, with no taxpayer money.  And like news organizations, publishers’ revenue comes from their professionally-finished works.

How critical are journal publishers to scholarly communications?

Less than 50% of submitted manuscripts are deemed qualified for publication following peer review.  That acceptance rate drops to 5-10% for highly-selective journals.  Taxpayers may pay for research but they don’t pay for publishers’ significant investments to ensure the public record is sound, accurate and safe.

The Obama Administration’s new policy, which was shaped with input from all stakeholders including publishers, aims to expand public access to federally funded research in a sustainable way.  (And let me correct you:  the 12-month embargo you cite was called a “guideline” in the policy, not a deadline.)  Publishers are already working with federal agencies; these activities build on numerous public access initiatives publishers already manage, independently or in public/private partnerships with government agencies.

Illinois is one of several states currently examining this issue.  In so doing, however, Illinois legislators need to recognize – and appreciate – the difference between raw research results and a validated, polished final article and carefully weigh possible unintended impact on the sustainability of research.

Andi Sporkin, Vice President, Communications

Association of American Publishers

Washington, DC 


Twitter @IL_Observer

(Note to Political Insiders: The Illinois Observer also offers our exclusive, subscriber-only e-newsletter – The Insider – to Illinois political insiders. Each Tuesday and Friday at 6:00 a.m. The Insider, whose Consulting Editor is Capitol Fax Publisher Rich Miller, arrives in e-mail boxes with the choicest Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago political gossip, insider information, and news tips. For a free, 4-week trial subscriptionclick here for more information…)

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About IO News Staff

One comment

  1. In many cases researchers do their writing as part of the grant paid for by taxpayers.

    The world is changing and as usual printed publications and publications in general need to adapt. While I understand the concerns of publishers, ultimately all research is aimed at benefitting our society.

    The more information available to the public, the more the public can use it to benefit us all. This is especially important in areas where there is contentious debate. In order to have vigorous debate, the public needs as much information as is available. In addition, free access to research may help entrepreneurs with little funds compete against larger institutions that have access to knowledge, but lack the sense of urgency or creative talent to exploit it.

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