My gosh, you wouldn’t believe what I just found out – oil companies are funding university research! That of course means that the results are skewed to line their filthy, greedy pockets.
Seriously. I get so tired of this! This is the third or fourth e-mail I’ve gotten implying that academia will throw objectivity to the wind if their research is funded by the majors. I don’t know if these all come from the same group of knee-jerk reactionists, but it would be funny if it weren’t so misguided and downright stupid. Here’s a sample of the breathless accusations included in a recent report:
“The world’s largest oil companies have funded at least $800 million of potentially compromised research at American universities over the last decade … based on a detailed analysis of university-industry contracts. Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, and ExxonMobil – members of a group of major energy firms informally known as ‘Big Oil’ – have underwritten research at top-tier universities with few contractual protections for objectivity or scholarly independence.”
Despite the fact that this has been going on for at least a decade (and, in fact, a lot longer than that), this relationship between industry and academia is referred to as a “disturbing trend.” About the only positive aspect of is that it encourages more US government research involvement, a pattern that has paid off well for countries like Canada, Brazil, and Norway. It also notes that the “disturbing trend” is the result of a dramatic drop in federally funded energy research in the US.
True enough. But to imply that a lack of government oversight equals a lack of objectivity and sound science is a slap in the fact not only to the oil companies but to the universities as well. Yes, the oil industry funds directed research to find a solution to a problem. And either the solution works, or it doesn’t work. I’m hard-pressed to see what’s so sinister about that. Some of the best technology being used today is in part due to joint research. New technology that finds oil and gas while reducing the environmental footprint and keeping gasoline prices affordable – yep, pretty scary stuff.
I wonder if the report also investigates the “science” behind climate change that has proven, time and again, that scientists were motivated more by politics than common sense. That’s a report I’d like to read.
To learn more about “Big Oil Goes to College,” visit www.americanprogressaction.org.
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