Funders Are Out of Control

The root cause of most of the new crises for scientific publishing? Funders

Funders have been throwing their weight around more than ever for the past 25 years. Once constrained by norms that kept them from interfering with publication, research, or academic practices, during the rise of the Internet and the period when “disruption” was misinterpreted as permission for transgressions, they learned a specific formula for exploiting the power of the purse :

  • Create a policy + give funding + threaten to withhold funding = Extort compliance with said policy

This formula has proven very successful.

Publishers, researchers, academics, and institutions have all capitulated in one way or another to funders’ improper use of the power of the purse.

Naturally, in the wake of such power drunk tactics, resentments and problems lurk under the brave veneer most adopt to retain their dignity after being extorted by funders:

  • Researchers feel more and more like indentured servants fulfilling transactional roles
    • Serving as tenants in funder shopping malls is not dignified, as they are always aware their leases will be terminated if their funding ends
  • Publishers feel embarrassed and harassed by funders and their cronies as they interfere, diminish, and mock them
  • Even librarians — many of whom feel newly empowered as allies of the funder bullies — sense something is wrong, and that they are merely pawns in a larger game

The latest evidence came last week, with a new “proposal” that would flood the zone, swamp the scholarly record, and repel people from the scientific literature. Predictably, it is being praised by the usual transgressives.

In short, funders are out of control.