Editorial Board 2001-2002
Now that the flood of government funding has dried to a slow trickle, university research is being left high and dry.
Government research funding in the past 10 years has decreased substantially and professors and students have begun looking elsewhere for necessary funds.
Private corporations have stepped up to the plate to provide much-needed cash. But, there are concerns that this new source of revenue could pose a threat to seeking knowledge purely for the sake of knowledge itself.
Traditionally, universities have sought money from governments or philanthropic private citizens for their academic pursuits.
With corporations thrown into the mix, there is a danger the knowledge-seeking tradition could be tainted.
Professors are now being forced to play politics walking the thin line between academic integrity and the risk of insulting potential financial contributors with conclusions that may not satisfy a company's corporate agenda.
It is obvious corporate investors will want to see something to justify their expenditures and there is the ever-present danger that companies could cancel funding to projects that fail to produce financially viable results.
Professors might also rush otherwise sensitive projects in order to appease the companies responsible for providing them with the research money resulting in faulty, even misleading conclusions.
Another important question to consider is whether or not companies that pay for research have the exclusive rights to what the research produces.
If a company invests millions of dollars into a cure for cancer, do they alone hold the rights to it if or when it is actually discovered?
But, is there an alternative?
Not really. It is not like professors can sell lemonade and cookies in order to generate the necessary cash to fund a study or two.
The only realistic alternative seems to be corporate cash.
No matter what, bias will always exist. Whether research money comes from private or public interests is irrelevant. With universities scrambling for new ways to fill their wallets, why not take money from those willing to give it to universities?
Afterall, biased research is better than no research at all. Who knows how many wonder products like insulin would never have been discovered if corporate cash was turned down?
However, research projects supported by corporations should not go unchecked. Somewhere in the middle, lies the balance between unbiased research and appeasing those who pay for it.
When the conclusion is reached, all research should come flagged explaining whatever organization funded the project.
That way, the inherent bias will be understood and companies will not be able to pull the wool over our eyes.