The controversy over medical researchers taking money from drug companies continues. Universities are being called out for their failure to disclose to public agencies the other, private grants researchers are pulling in. The article discusses the competition between research shops for the star grant recipients, but discreetly fails to point out that the universities themselves get a cut of the proceeds, so that the conflict of interest is theirs too.
I’ve mentioned this in the past and will repeat now: there is no corresponding policy, not even rules to be broken, in economics. Public funders and some foundations require an acknowledgment in the published research they support, but this is about “thank you”, not probity. Any disclosure of other, privately-interested funding sources by economists is strictly voluntary, and in practice seldom occurs. Trade researchers can be funded by foreign governments or business associations, health researchers by tobacco companies, law and economics researchers by trade associations facing tort claims, agricultural researchers by agribusiness, and on and on. Turn on the recording function of your iPhone as you saunter the halls in Atlanta in January, and you will pick up lots of tidbits about economists proudly on the take.
Where should we begin to reform this profession? Would an AEA resolution help? Standard disclosure forms required by journals? I’m happy to see that the economic meltdown has prompted some soul-searching about where economists went wrong. Maybe a good starting point would professional transparency.