Reasonable consulting fee? reply to Diana

Daniel Janzen djanzen at SAS.UPENN.EDU
Fri Nov 29 17:05:59 CST 1996


   Not as simple as it might appear.  You, just like a highway patrolman or
county clerk, are salaried and otherwise supported by the State Budget
(=taxpayers).  If your job description, formally or informally, assumes
that you will provide services, including identification services, to the
requesting taxpayer, then there is a quite complex question of whether and
how much you could/should be charging.  Effectively, you are in a business
partnership with the State (just as is a federal employee doing
identifications nationally in the USDA) and working out fee schedules is
going to be not up to just you (= the working taxonomist).  You are in the
same bucket as the city policeman or fire department who decides to charge
a service fee to each citizen that he or she helps (this is already
occurring, with some easily imagined non-hypothetical consequences).  Leads
to some quite interesting tangles of the public/private sector.  It boils
down to the basic problem of when do you put up a toll booth and when do
you have open highways, and clearly leads to interesting questions as to
when can "public (= paid for by the taxpayer) services" (which you and and
an awful lot of the taxasphere are) be used by an individual for individual
or institutional gain.  In the (probably silly) case where the University
of Iowa began to take in very large amounts of money from the
identification of mosses, it is not a long stretch for the State
legislature to decide to reduce the U of I annual budget.  Cost-recovery
touches everyone in interesting ways, and especially when there are nested
sets of costs not recovered at their point of occurrence, but traditionally
assumed at some higher level in the institution because society decided
that it desired their persistence at the local level and as part of the
institutional responsibility.  This is a pandora's box that the taxasphere
needs to approach with very substantial caution.  I am not at all certain
that the science, art and practice of taxonomy in the broad sense is a kind
of profession that 100% lends itself to a full market economy any more than
does police protection, gradeschool education, or medical support.

The above is no answer to your dilemma, but is more input to the general
case of which you are specific example.

Dan Janzen, U. of Penn.

>I was recently asked to identify some mosses for someone who plans to use
>them in studies of heat shock proteins.  Apparently, this person has been
>looking at heat shock proteins in vascular plants, and plans to move on to
>the mosses.  I explained that if this is funded research, I charge a $50/hr
>consulting fee; if it is not funded, there is no charge.  The answer came
>back (I was asked by a third party) that it is funded research, but that the
>person doing the research would like to know if I would be willing to accept
>I am annoyed by this response because a) $50/hr doesn't even match my salary,
>and most certainly doesn't include 48% overhead if I do it through the
>university, which would be useful to me politically, and b) I really wonder
>if this researcher would be willing to work for less than his/her salary.
>Also, I think that it could be argued that having the organisms correctly
>identified is (or should be) a crucial aspect of the research that should
>warrant an authorship, let alone salary plus overhead.
>Am I way off base?
>-- Diana Horton
>Herbarium 312 CB
>Biological Sciences
>Biological Sciences
>University of Iowa
>Iowa City, IA  52242

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