AnnMaria De Mars is President and founder of the Julia Consulting Group based in Santa Monica. She’s worked in both academia and business. We talked to her about how access to research affects her consulting business, and her reaction to the Research Works Act
Could you tell us a little about the Julia Group and what you do?
We mostly do statistical consulting, contracted research and customized programming. We were originally a satellite office of Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc., founded around 2000. We spun off as a separate company in 2008.
What is your background and how did you come into small business?
I have a Ph.D in Educational Psychology with specializations in Applied Statistics and Tests & Measurement (psychometrics). I also have an MBA. I was an industrial engineer before I went back to graduate school. I began working as a consultant in 1985 when I was a graduate student. I was an associate professor when my husband passed away and the consulting was paying enough more by then that when I had to choose between the two careers, I went into consulting full-time and left academia.
What kinds of publicly funded research do you use in your day-to-day business? How do you gain access to it?
If at all possible, I access results — and open data — through full text sources online. Because I’m an adjunct at one university and a consultant for a couple of others, the research may be available through the university libraries either online or I may pick up the journal article if I’m on campus. If I’m not teaching that semester or on campus for a meeting that makes no economic sense because the $25-$35 I’d save is far less than the money I would use in billable hours by driving over to campus and back.
You had a very strong reaction to the Research Works Act, particularly the fact that it claimed to “support small business”. How would the RWA have affected your business in practice?
Our business is a mix of different sized contracts. We have medium-sized contracts of $15,000-$25,000 a year, and some multi-year grants and larger contracts but about half of our work is small to medium contracts, often around $5,000. For these, we’re often called in by a small non-profit to write a grant application, do an evaluation, write a program, etc. Very often, these projects will have 30 or more journal articles cited in the references. These include articles on statistical techniques such as propensity score matching or clustering, reliability and validity data on measures the client is considering using or research results. Our bids include any costs we anticipate. So, if I need to pay $25 for each of these articles, the cost of a contract is going to increase by maybe $750. On a large bid, that may not make a difference, but increasing a bid from $5,000 to $5,750 may make the difference between the organization being able to afford it or not. That’s a 15% price increase.
Obviously, the less work we have, the fewer people we hire. I just found it the height of hypocrisy that the same people who were screaming about a 3% or so tax increase hurting small business were supporting legislation that would result in much higher percentage increases for us.
You and your company are both consumers of research but also contributors to it through taxation. As a business you will appreciate the needs of commercial publishers to make a profit, but would also like your taxes to be low. Where does the balance lie?
I think the line lies similar with not allowing “double-dipping” on federal funds. For example, I have a person I hired to collect data in the schools. He also is a substitute teacher. I wouldn’t expect him to be collecting pay from the school on the days he’s being paid as a participant observer on our project, even if he is in the same classroom working with the same students he might see on days when he’s teaching. He has already been paid for that. He may be providing a small additional service to the school, but that is irrelevant.
Similarly, the commercial charges for journals are far disproportionate to the share of the costs they bear. Federal funds have paid for data collection, analysis and the authorship of the piece. Reviewers have donated their time. Frankly, I wonder if the commercial model is about to become obsolete.
What do you think are reasonable charges for access to this information?
At most, articles ought to have a charge of 99 cents or so, like the app store. If you had a model like that, people would probably pay it, the journals could recoup a modest fee and taxpayers like me wouldn’t be charged twice for the same research.