A comment to my last post, on the Litan affair and the importance of disclosure, has got me thinking. As was point out, Litan had disclosed his funding; what he hadn’t disclosed was that his funder had commissioned the work. This raises the larger question of what sorts of disclosure ought to be required. A researcher’s relationship to external interests is not a binary, yes-no matter; there are multiple levels.
The obvious answer, how much money changed hands, is not very informative, in my opinion. A lot of funding can be earmarked for expenses, and even the meaning of an “expense” is open. If a professor has a course bought out, is this an expense or a benefit?
I think the question that tripped up Litan, whether the funder commissioned the work in question, is germane, although there are large ambiguities here as well. Sometimes a researcher will go to an agency or foundation with a proposal and request that a particular piece of work be commissioned; I’ve done this myself. But is that the same as having someone come to you, ask for a specific product and then pay you enough to convince you to do it?
For me the most important question is whether the researcher has an obligation to share results or manuscript drafts prior to public dissemination. Whether there is a further understanding that the funder’s explicit approval is necessary to go forward may be relevant, but not necessarily. The critical line, in my opinion, divides research with strings, like the obligation to submit drafts, from research without. I believe it should always be specified whether a report or article was reviewed by an interested party before it was released to the public.
These are preliminary thoughts on my part, and readers may have insights I haven’t considered.