Research banana republic

Think about universities as governments, ruling over researchers and their virtual children, the students. Think about research results as bananas. The “universitary ” governments rule that the only good bananas are those accepted by publishers (mainly private entities, or even intimately associated with universities). In exchange for good bananas the researchers get vanity points, which they exchange for universitary positions or grant funds. They feed their virtual children, the students, some of the good bananas, namely their published books, or published books (validated bananas) from researchers of another, more prestigious university. These books, produced by researchers of one university are bought by another university library from a publisher, by default.

It’s a banana republic:

a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by a collusion between the State and favoured monopolies, in which the profit derived from the private exploitation of public lands is private property, while the debts incurred thereby are a public responsibility.

State = universities

Favoured monopoly = publisher

This post is triggered by Mike Taylor’s post “Predatory publishers: a real problem“.


See also: Traditional publishing works because academics support it.

8 thoughts on “Research banana republic”

  1. I don’t think the analogy works because it needs to be the actual State — i.e. the one that approves land rights, levies taxes which you cannot say no to, has courts, there’s no further recourse outside of it.

    What about the wider context? Universities themselves are competing for money to keep themselves running; professors can go to another university (as can students); the actual State can give more or less money to the University; the College Board can say it’s not accredited; …..etc.

    1. Yes, not perfect analogy but universities managers are in (too) close relation with the publishing industry. Practically, because the cake is smaller (or is it?), the government funds university based on points (number which can be compared to other, politicians are not there to understand what they do in such a small and uninteresting activity which has effects far beyond the next elections). Points are obtained from sending a big enough number of bananas (standardized articles) to publication. It matters where they are sent, btw, as much as in the Salon d’Automne mattered if the painting is at eye level or skyed, decided by the jury. Publishers create artificial scarcity by hiding the articles behind paywalls. Tax paying citizens pay again for the article (most of the time they are those who wrote them). So an unhealthy collaboration between academic managers and publishers is in place. Tht’s what I called, maybe not very accurate, a research banana republic, where university (management) plays the role of the state part which distributes the losses (among university menbers) and the publisher plays the role of the private company which cashes the revenues, by giving to the managers points (from publishing in their journals, which the managers decided are important), finally those points are as good as money (in relation with the real government.

      1. Yeah, I don’t think it’s even fair to ask politicians to be experts. There’s no way they can know about everything they need to make decisions about. Again, the tension between measured X and messy reality.

        And ok , yeah, the aspect you’re talking about — with the profits going to the private and the quasipublic doing the work — this part makes sense.

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