Saturday, May 9, 2009

Scientific Integrity for Economists

The federal Office of Science and Technology Policy is taking comments on its draft principles of scientific integrity. Here's what I wrote:

I am writing to offer a comment on scientific integrity. As we know, it is important that those whose work is used to provide a scientific basis for policy decisions reveal the sources of their funding so as to avoid conflicts of interest or undisclosed potential bias. This stipulation has made gradual progress in the medical sciences in particular -- something for which we should all be grateful. Unfortunately, in my own field of economics no one makes or enforces such a rule. Economic analysis often plays a central role in decision-making, and economists are often funded by interested parties, but disclosure is nonexistent. It is unlikely that the economics profession will take the lead in remedying this situation, so we have to look to our clients. If OSTP would take a clear stand on this matter it would improve the credibility of analysis entering the regulatory process and would also have a salutary effect on the profession itself.

UPDATE: The rules for biomedical researchers may be tightening. Why can't we do this for economists?


Cameron Mulder said...

I had no idea that the economics profession did not already disclose such sources of potential bias.

Makes you wonder about all those economist who doubt global warming, and how i might be able to get in on the action :)

Jack said...

An excellent start, but I am perplexed as to why the profession itself through some integrity committee does not require such disclosures. The alternative would be for individual economists to monitor their peers by noting potential conflicts of interest when they are known to occur. Frankly would think that this could best be accomplished through citation in the peer review process.

That leads to another potential means of disclosure. Are the professional comments and prognostications of influential economists presented in professional journals? I would hope so, especially those with a peer review process or inclination. Such journals might require such potentially influencing funding streams. Peers might note those that are known about authors of influential work. Just some thoughts aimed at better government if not better economics.