Sunday, 15 January 2012

Liberal New York’s underbelly of greed

Carolyn Maloney represents the tony ‘silk-stocking’ district of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and toils for a host of worthy goals such as women’s health, relief for the 9/11 victims and anti-corruption oversight in federal contracts. She was touted as a possible successor for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat and from all appearances seems to be a nice lady, too.

But money talks in the same language in liberal Manhattan as in the cracker backwoods of Georgia. Maloney has now been exposed as a cheap date after joining with former car thief and congressional thug Darrell Issa to author and introduce the scandalous Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) of 2011 to reverse public access to federally funded science to the benefit of academic publishers like Elsevier, which (surprise, surprise!) turns out to have donated cash to her campaign.

Academic publishing is one of the great, misunderstood scams of modern life. The owners of ‘peer reviewed’ journals, which researchers rely on to get their work out, are monopoly institutions that exploit unpaid labor to roll up huge profits. They get scientists to submit articles, then farm out the drafts to reviewers who spend hours pouring over each detail to spot errors and weaknesses, return the whole mess to the authors for rewrites, do little or no copy-editing and then sit back smugly as the ‘owners’ of the final product, for which they sometimes charge tens of thousands of dollars annually for subscriptions. So research originally funded by public monies ends up for sale in private hands after 99% of the work has been done for free.

But Maloney has some of these publishing companies in her district and was so susceptible to the blandishments of their PR people that she didn’t even bother to rework the lobbyists’ talking points before using them in her replies to unhappy constituents. A little campaign cash apparently didn’t hurt either, not that Maloney needs any—she crushed her last Republican opponent by 60 percentage points.

There has been some progress in recent years in breaking the monopoly over academic publishing and liberating federally-funded scientific knowledge for public use instead of permitting corporate behemoths like the Dutch octopus Elsevier from slurping up torrents of cash for virtually nothing. That’s where congressional whoring comes in handy, to turn back anything that might smack of the public interest. We expect it from creeps like Issa, and it’s a bracing dose of reality to see the same service to corporate overlords coming from smiley moms like Maloney wearing excellent suits.

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