Market-driven Academic Research

Posted on October 30, 2014 by Marko Dimjašević

Courtesy of 401(K) 2012

If there is a private entity providing funds for a project that is carried out by another entity, everyone would find it egregious if the receiving entity denied access to the project’s deliverables to the funding entity. However, as a society we find it perfectly acceptable that when the funding entity is the general public funding a research project through taxes, that the receiving entity does not have to make research results freely available to the public.

With academics having to search for research funding beyond publicly provided resources, there come interesting changes in a market-driven academic research world. Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones writes incisively in an article about such a world, giving an example of corruption at the University of Utah where I’m a student. Unfortunately, that is not a matter of the past — the university has an office promoting ideas of patenting research and saying that a research idea is the same as a property, in particular an “intellectual property”.

As the office puts it on its website, “One of [our] goals is to provide process support services to companies and universities to help them successfully commercialize their intellectual property.” And here lies the problem — at a publicly funded university, such as the University of Utah, research outcomes do not belong to the research team carrying out the research, but to the public that has been funding it. Therefore, “their” in the quoted statement cannot refer to a “private thing” belonging to the team. The university supporting the team in denying the general public from accessing the research ought to be banned, and not encouraged. Taking money from the public and then privatizing the research is an act of misappropriation.

For the article in which Hinkes-Jones writes about this issue and related problems that come with research being a yet another traded item on the market, go to Jacobin.