Coverage: Google paying academics to write favorable papers
Google operates a program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley
Brody Mullins and Jack Nicas of The Wall Street Journal broke the news:
Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000, The Wall Street Journal found.
Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found.
University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald pitched an idea on copyrights he thought would be useful to Google, and he received $18,830 to fund the work. The paper, published in 2012, didn’t mention his sponsor. “Oh, wow. No, I didn’t. That’s really bad,” he said in an interview. “That’s purely oversight.”
The money didn’t influence his work, Mr. Heald said, and Google issued no conditions: “They said, ‘If you take this $20,000 and open up a doughnut shop with it — we’ll never give you any more money — but that’s fine.'”
Chris Quintana of the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Google compiled “wish lists” of papers:
The newspaper reported that Google at times compiled “wish lists” of academic studies, complete with titles and abstracts, and then searched for academics who were game to write the papers. In many cases, the Journal reported, the authors of the papers failed to disclose that they had received funding from Google.
Those studies included research suggesting that collecting user data was a fair trade for the services Google provides or that it hadn’t competed unfairly against market rivals. The article also states that Google has provided the research to lawmakers, and sometimes covered travel costs for professors to meet government officials.
The company told the newspaper that since its beginnings at Stanford University, it had maintained close ties to higher-education institutions. “We’re happy to support academic researchers across computer science and policy topics, including copyright, free expression and surveillance, and to help amplify voices that support the principles of an open internet,” the company told the newspaper.
Todd Haselton of CNBC.com reported that the company said it was supporting academic research:
Google has reason to try to get as many folks on its side as it can. The company has faced almost constant scrutiny for its business practices, most recently a record antitrust fine of $2.7 billion in the European Union. Tens of thousands of dollars to professors here and there could have helped it avoid that fine, and others.
“Ever since Google was born out of Stanford’s Computer Science department, we’ve maintained strong relations with universities and research institutes, and have always valued their independence and integrity,” Google told CNBC. “We’re happy to support academic researchers across computer science and policy topics, including copyright, free expression and surveillance, and to help amplify voices that support the principles of an open internet. And unlike our competitors who fund the Campaign for Accountability, we expect and require our grantees to disclose their funding.