How Academic Paywalls Kill Research Funding

Several months ago I predicted that the academic paywall system – which cuts off scholarly work from ordinary people unwilling to shell out hundreds of dollars for a few articles — would ultimately lead to a loss of funding down the road. When the public has no ability to see the work their tax money is funding, they are unlikely to protest when funding is cut – and they are more likely to believe politicians who claim that work is worthless.

My prediction came true with the passing of the Coburn amendment, which prevents the National Science Foundation from funding political science. The move leaves the discipline’s future in jeopardy, but, to some extent, academics themselves are to blame. I wrote for Al Jazeera English:

The loss of NSF funding is a loss for American political science and for Americans. But it is understandable that most Americans do not recognise the significance of this loss. Academia rewards social scientists who prohibit the spread of knowledge more than those who share it. From paywalls to jargon to a tacit moratorium on social media, academics build careers through public disengagement. They should not be surprised when the public then fails to see the relevance of their work. […]

There is no doubt that defunding disciplines like political science means we will lose research of value. There is also no doubt the government will seize any opportunity it can to axe programmes it deems of little significance. What is in doubt is the willingness of academics to forestall budgetary cuts by allowing the public to see the value of their work.

When scholars and society are considered separate, it is politicians like Tom Coburn who benefit. Politicians are able to exploit stereotypes of academics because academia blocks access to its best line of defence: its research.

There is no excuse, in the digital age, for continuing to suppress ideas and insight behind jargon and paywalls. We cannot debate what is in the public interest if the public has no way to discover what interests them.

Read the full article, Academic funding and the public interest: The death of political science, at Al Jazeera English.

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2 Responses to How Academic Paywalls Kill Research Funding

  1. Erika says:

    I found this article excellent in all but one respect. The political scienctist you chose to quote, Stephen Walt, is in fact one whose research funding will most likely not be cut due to this move. Dr. Walt has made a career out of hardcore mainstream security politics and international relations such that his work always falls within the limits of national security and economic interests. He has also been involved in the sort of academia boundary drawing and discipline disciplining that you critique (excellently again) elsehwere. There are thousands of critical political scientists who work on the margins and they are the ones who will truely be affected by this change in funding policy. I politly suggest you seek sound bites from the wealth of critical feminist, critical race theorists, poststructuralis, and postcolonial writers in the American academy – they are the ones pushing the boundaries of political science and asking the difficult questions about the costs and consequences of the political choices being made in the United States and around the world.

    I look forward to continued posts from you on the topic of academia and the public.

    Erika K.
    PhD Candidate
    University of Ottawa

  2. erika says:

    the above was misplaced, I have reposted it on the correct thread

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