90 percent of tax returns filed electronically

A simple factoid jumped out at me from a story about the U.S. Postal Service handling of tax returns that appeared in the Star-Advertiser this morning.

The S-A version is hidden behind its paywall. But you can read the original, which ended up in the newspaper in a slightly edited version, in the USPS press release.

The IRS reports that more than 88 million individual federal income tax returns had been filed as of Mar. 29. Of that total, almost 90 percent have been filed electronically. Last year more than 80 percent of the final total of 146 million federal tax returns submitted were filed electronically.

I was shocked by those numbers. I suppose this is just a discrete indicator of how disruptive the internet has been to the USPS. I guess they’re just in the same queue of businesses, like newspapers, looking for a new business model in order to survive.

And now publishers of academic journals are facing similar pressures.

The following discussion appeared in an email concerning the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, but appears to apply across the board to academic publishers.

RE the question of open-access publishing, everyone is struggling with this, and I agree with you it is important to keep a close eye on developments. Some US congressmen are arguing that open-access is harming the American publishing business. Some professional societies depend heavily on revenues from publishing, so they too are cautious. But the biggest American funder NIH is as of June 2013 requiring that all grant-funded papers be posted open-access, and by this they mean posting drafts in WORD, as soon as the paper is accepted by a journal. Official NIH policy is now that all papers credited to any grant must be posted open-access or the authors are deemed ineligible for further funding, which is quite a carrot/stick. Some US and UK universities have offered funds that authors can apply for to cover open access costs, but these funds have rapidly depleted. UK charities such as Nuffield are disinclined to foot the bill for publication costs. In any case, it pays for us to monitor how international policies might affect researchers, and their inclination to submit papers to the journal.

So before journals are published and distributed, their any contents funded through NIH grants must be available online in preliminary form via open access. Journals, like newspapers, will have to figure out what value they can add to justify subscription fees, especially since a bookshelf of printed journals is much less user friendly than an online library of the same materials.

There’s a lot more information available about the open access policy of the National Institutes of Health.

The University of Hawaii has also adopted its own open access policy, along with additional information on what faculty are supposed to do to comply.

Basically, UH says that all academic articles published by its faculty are now subject to an automatic license allowing the university to include the articles in its open access libarary.

I guess newspapers just hit these issues ahead of others. Where all of this eventually ends up is anybody’s guess.

4 responses to “90 percent of tax returns filed electronically

  1. “especially since a bookshelf of printed journals is much less user friendly than an online library of the same materials. ” There is nothing, except perhaps a cat in the lap, as user friendly as an actual book in the hand.

    • Online database is a quantum leap more friendly for research users. My cat has jumped on my keyboard & blocks the screen when she wants attention. User annoying.

  2. When I was a young engineer, I was a member of AIEE (American Institute of Electrical Engineers) and IRE ( Institute of Radio Engineers). As college students we were strongly advised to join these professional societies and many did. However, as a member I was getting professional journals, conference proceedings etc. and soon had four foot high stacks of unread literature. Maybe as an academic you may have time to plow through that kind of stuff but as a working aerospace engineer, you do not. I finally dropped my memberships to stop the avalanche of paper. Of course such things were not available in those primitive times, but if there had been an online searchable database it would have given a fighting chance to work through the information and sift out what may have been useful to your particular situation.

  3. During my career in academia I published 43 scholarly articles in various academic journals. All of them were written and published back in the stone age (i.e., before the internet became widely available). For many years they were available only in the academic libraries which subscribed to the journals. Professors or students who wanted a copy had to travel to one of those libraries, or write me a letter to ask for a reprint (a copy of an individual article printed from the original plates at the same time as the journal itself was printed). There was no way to copy/paste; so anyone who wanted to quote something would have to manually type the quote while looking at a photocopy or a reprint or original.

    I discovered that some of the articles were already available through JSTOR or ERIC, but only for fee-paying subscribers or for people with passwords who were affiliated with universities which paid for access.

    I decided that some of the articles I authored were sufficiently interesting (for nerds!), or potentially useful to today’s scholars, that I should rescue them from oblivion by making them available on the internet at zero cost to the reader.

    It’s quite possible that the copyright for some of those articles is owned by the publishers of the journals in which they were printed. Maybe one of them will sue me! But I decided that as author I should have the moral right (if not the legal right) to make them freely available. About ten years ago I also figured out that it had been about 20 years since even the most recent article was published, which meant the copyright had probably expired.

    A friend who had an optical character reader was very kind to take about a dozen of my reprints and convert them to pdf files which I posted on a website. More recently, I went through boxes stored far in the back of a closet to find originals or reprints for about 20 more articles, scanned them on my own multipurpose printer, and uploaded them to the website. I also wrote to the publisher of one article, which was filled with mathematical symbols and special formatting, and the publisher (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) was very kind to make a pdf copy and e-mailed it to me.

    There are now 32 of the 43 articles available on the website, at

    I wish that more scholars would make the articles they author freely available on their own websites, or Facebook, etc. But perhaps they worry that doing so might offend the scholarly societies or publishers, hindering their ability to get things published in the future. And as we all know, it’s publish or perish!

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