What is a “private-sector research work”?
January 30, 2012
A short one this time, honestly.
I’ve written plenty about the Research Works Act, both on this blog and in The Guardian. Those writings have mostly focussed on the practical implications of the bill. But those aren’t the real reasons that it invokes such rage in me. That comes from this definition (from the text of the bill):
The term ‘private-sector research work’ means an article intended to be published in a scholarly or scientific publication, or any version of such an article, that is not a work of the United States Government (as defined in section 101 of title 17, United States Code), describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a Federal agency and to which a commercial or nonprofit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, including peer review or editing.
So if Randy Irmis gets an NIH grant to research some subject; if under that funding he does the research, writes the paper, creates the illustrations, formats it all according to a journal’s guidelines; if it’s edited by John Hutchinson for an Elsevier journal by donation of the time he would otherwise spend on his own research; if it’s peer-reviewed by Matt Wedel on Western University’s dime and by me at my own expense (since I have no funding of any kind); if Randy executes the necessary revisions and eventually the paper appears in that Elsevier journal — then the paper is a ‘private-sector research work’.
In this scenario, apart from a small amount of typesetting, the private sector’s only contribution has been to accept donations of time, effort and expertise from scientists. And the text of the RWA says that this makes the result the property of the private sector (i.e. in this case Elsevier).
That stinks. It stinks much worse than any of the actual consequences should the RWA pass. It stinks of arrogance, privilege, enshrined habitual dominance and a habit of bullying. And it can’t be allowed to stand.