Call for papers: Money talks? The impact of corporate funding on academic research in information law and policy
Concerns about the corporate funding of scientific research, and about the presence of corporate sponsors in scientific events are not an exceptional issue in the academic field. For decades, scientific domains like medicine, climate research, health and nutrition science have been struggling with controversies and dilemmas around the direct and indirect impact of corporate funding on the quality of their scholarship, integrity, independence, both actual, and as perceived by others.
Research in the domain of the information society is not immune to these controversies. For example, the emerging giants of the information society are active research funders, and promote academic research as a way to influence public policy, or at least are perceived to do so. The information industry is also increasingly in exclusive control of fundamental research resources, such as data, or technology design. The 2017 Campaign for Accountability (CA) controversy perfectly captures the complexity of the situation this creates around science. CA was apparently set out to identify Google’s influence on information policy research and (controversially) identified 329 research papers on public policy matters that were directly or indirectly funded by the search company. Only later it turned out that one of the funders of CA was Oracle, which at the same time was fighting Google in Court, and perceived CA as part of that effort.
In September 2018 a wide group of academics raised concerns about the role of surveillance technology company Palantir as sponsor of academic events on data privacy. The subsequent debate raised important questions about the dimensions in which different corporations active in the online world should be critically assessed, and the terms on which science can engage with them.
The growing concerns about the influence of corporate funding of academic research in all disciplines can be attributed to the effects of several connected factors. For a number of financial, political and social reasons there is a significant pressure on academics to be entrepreneurial, and attract and pursue funding from private sources. Large corporations have been responding to this situation with often substantial amounts of funding, and various forms of collaborations.
On the other hand, access to private funders and corporate sponsors may carry benefits: corporate participation is a prerequisite of a substantive and inclusive dialogue on contentious issues and policy developments. It can also foster collaborations, and provide scientists access to information, data, people, which would otherwise remain beyond reach. However, the intentions of corporations to invest in academic research are not always transparent. Some consider it to be relatively harmless when corporate sponsorship is motivated by the desire to associate their brand with academia, or to contribute to society to boost the public company image. Others claim that … READ MORE