Researchers As Hired Guns

I hate to put it this way, but not only do vested interests “buy” Congress, but they also buy the research Congress cites to support legislation desired by those vested interests.  (And as an added bonus, the vested interests will also draft the legislation itself.)

In this post I’ll discuss the industry funding of pro-H-1B research, giving various examples. But first, I must raise the question of what impact the money has on the findings of industry-funded researchers.  I want to make it clear that I am sure that  all of these researchers sincerely believe an expansive H-1B program is good for the nation. On the other hand, I want to make it clear that, YES, the money has an impact on the analyses these researchers develop.

Here is a concrete example:  Several of the industry-funded researchers make claims regarding supposed job-creating powers of the H-1Bs.  Putting aside the serious methodological problems with such studies, I have asked, why don’t these researchers also try to measure the job-creating powers of the American workers?  If the American job-creation rate were higher than that of the H-1Bs, wouldn’t that be an argument AGAINST expanding the H-1B program?  But if you as a researcher have an industrial patron, you will not calculate the American rate, as it may turn out to be counter to your patron’s agenda.  (In fact, even if this particular project is not funded by the patron, you still will need to avoid the patron’s displeasure anyway.)

The other point I wish to make before getting to the funding examples is that even those of you readers who are not statisticians or economists can easily spot pro-H-1B bias, in the following simple way:  Just look at the bibliography section of the researcher’s papers.  If the researcher either never or rarely cites papers that are critical of H-1B, then there is a clear bias.  (It also is a violation of a central tenet of academia.  One is supposed to cite all major relevant work; one may explain why disagree with such work, but one can’t ignore it.)  I’ve found that most of the pro-H-1B researchers fall into this category.

An excellent example of how insidious the process is can be found in Tuesday’s press release by Senators Hatch and Flake, citing a string of pro-H-1B research papers to justify the senators’ bill to greatly expand H-1B. Every one of these papers is authored by people with industry funding. And other than Bill Kerr’s work (which I’ve generally praised, though with some criticism as well), none of the papers cite any work that questions whether H-1B is working well.  And sadly, the mainstream media won’t call Hatch and Flake out on such deception.

These days the work of my UCD colleague Giovanni Peri is often cited in support for H-1B, but his funding by Microsoft and PNAE is not mentioned. The press also overlooks Madeline Zavodny’s funding by the American Enterprise Institute.  Similarly, the press didn’t seem to know that pro-H-1B Matthew Slaughter of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business (now dean of the school) has financial ties to a number of entities in the business community.

Let’s not forget the Brookings Institution.  Brookings, a major advocate of H-1B, has been accused of a “research for sale” policy.  Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been among the most generous donors to Brookings, according to the latter’s annual reports, and most of the seminars held by Brookings on the H-1B issue have included a panelist from Microsoft.

Over the years, University of Washington computer science professor Ed Lazowska has been quite outspoken in his support of H-1B.  Again, I am sure he is sincere, but one cannot ignore the financial implications, both for his department (he is former chair) and himself personally.  As I wrote in my University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform article,

The Web page of the Computer Science Department at the University of Washington, a leading supporter of industry’s labor shortage claims, showed the following as of March 16, 2000: $1.5 milion from Ford Motor Co. in research funds; “several million dollars” in equipment from Intel; $500,000 from Boeing for an endowed faculty chair; another $500,000 chair from Microsoft; another chair from Boeing; and finally, $3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for two endowed chairs. Department chair Ed Lazowska, who has been an outspoken supporter of the H-1B program, personally benefits financially from a cozy relationship with industry too. According to his personal Web page, http://lazowska.cs.washington.edu/, he is “member of the Technical Advisory Boards for Microsoft Research, Voyager Capital, Ignition, Frazier Technology Ventures, Madrona Venture Group, and Impinj, and of the Boards of Directors of Data I/O Corporation and Lguide.com.”

Even an insightful Wall Street Journal column that questioned research claiming special job-creation powers for H-1Bs dropped the ball in this regard, failing to note that one of the statisticians it cited has ties to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.  Augustus Fragomen, probably the most prominent immigration lawyer in the U.S.A., once wrote that the AILA “commissions academic studies to support our positions.”

Think twice before accepting “research” cited by politicians.

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18 thoughts on “Researchers As Hired Guns

  1. It’s a good point but it’s not new, I remember how shocked, shocked I was when I first learned that even the most famous research institutes did at least half of their work not to find answers, but to find arguments for predetermined answers.

    One can debate whether such work can *ever* meet academic standards.

    But it’s much more common today. My local Rand Corporation fell entirely into that hole by 1980, young people probably don’t even associate the name with authority, may never have heard of it at all.

    And it is just so freakin’ sad that major political institutions can be so WRONG about this, that the big American tech companies and executives can be so WRONG about this, that the issue of “biased research” becomes a gnat in a hurricane. The question is not “How can paid researchers say such crap?” but “What kind of horrible companies would commission such crap?”

    But yes, once these are the facts, they must be acknowledged, revealed. We have to swat the gnats, in a hurricane.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Norm, the biased research and articles you refer to are useful in presenting the subtopic of mind-control which includes misinformation and (or “vs.”) disinformation, followed by propaganda and brain alteration). This is why your research and exposes will always be applauded and be of encouragement for the difficult and challenging grassroots efforts to combat it. If we don’t, the slippery slope will worst-case lead us to the “Matrix” or a “Matrix-like” state (at which point I will be sought out as “The One” and you will be Morpheus — just kidding there). Seriously, a movie like the Matrix is inspiring and so are you for your tireless dedication to the truth and showing us how deep the rabbit hole is.

    Warm Regards,

    Harry

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The list of board affiliations of Ed Lazowska leaves me wondering how anyone could trust his research on any topic based on his apparent inability to identify conflicts of interest. I would not question his civic mindedness if his board memberships were in non-profit social service institutions. I seriously doubt that payments for his services to the corporations are going to the university to pay his salary and benefits. I guess the university is willing to accept “gifts” in lieu of payments for services in this case. It is so sad that our young people have such poor examples of true leadership.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think he has done any actual research on H-!B. He simply uses his position as the chair of a major computer science department to demonstrate his “expertise” on H-1B.

      Like

  4. > An excellent example of how insidious the process is can be found in Tuesday’s press release by Senators Hatch and Flake, citing a string of pro-H-1B research papers to justify the senators’ bill to greatly expand H-1B.

    Yes, I notice that the Hatch & Flake press release references the Zavodny study in the following statement:

    As the conservative American Enterprise Institute has confirmed, each foreign-born worker with a STEM degree who remains in the United States creates an average of more than 2.5 additional American jobs. [LINK]

    It escaped my googling for “2.6 jobs” since they cleverly stated it as “more than 2.5 additional American jobs”. However, they link to the Zavodny study so they are referring to the 2.62 number. I also heard Hatch repeat the above statement about 2 hours and 14 minutes into the hearing at http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/immigration-reforms-needed-to-protect-skilled-american-workers . It was especially disheartening to listen to Hatch’s commentary. He claims to be flummoxed that others cannot see the “facts” that he sees. To me, he simply sounds flummoxed. He appears to have drunk very deeply of the pro-H1B kool-aid that claims that all H-1B immigration create jobs thereby creating a free lunch by which everyone wins. I think it’s telling that the joint press release mentions the predictions of “supply-side economists”. They are the ones who push the idea that all tax cuts increase revenues, creating another free lunch by which everyone wins. But as you mention, the studies make no mention of any job-creating powers of American workers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. People who speak on public policy today have a stark choice on immigration. They can support immigration ‘reform,’ meaning increased immigration of all kinds, including legalization, and receive the rewards of being part of the elite establishment, be ‘rich and famous,’ i.e. get paid well and be well thought of. Or they can oppose ‘reform,’ and be looked at negatively, suspected of being nativist or worse.

    The difference between today and earlier times is that the money is so much bigger, funded by fabulously wealthy global corporations and their owners, who have discovered that academics [and politicians, etc.] are a good buy – they get a lot of PR value for their buck. The ‘Ivory Tower’ chapter in Ferguson’s ‘Predator Nation,’ seems to show a figure of about $1 million / year [from corporations] for top name brand economists, especially with government experience. Independently Leibovich’s better known ‘This Town’ has about the same figure for say a well known Senator who goes to work for a corporation or as a lobbyist. Leibovich speaks of the lucrative revolving door of politician / reporter /lobbyist / executive…

    ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ – Upton Sinclair

    ‘I desire to serve God and grow rich, like all men.’ – a Spanish conquistador

    So it’s pretty easy for the elite to convince themselves that they are ‘serving God’ – doing good – by supporting reform [and globalism in general], and they know that it’s the way to get rich. Economics is not a hard science [and it’s Nobel prize is not a real prize – it was added on later, and good PR made it accepted as Nobel] and practitioners usually find things that match their beliefs / interests.

    The elite, from the top guy down, often say that ‘everyone’ favors reform except a small group of right wingers – that’s a stretch.

    “The share of Americans who are dissatisfied and want more immigration (7%) was unchanged from 2014.”

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/181313/dissatisfied-immigration-levels.aspx

    [Polls that claim to show great support for immigration reform skillfully use corporate PR techniques to elicit the desired answer.]

    But 97% of the elite favors reform, that’s why they say everyone does – and some may believe it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ll second the quote from Upton Sinclair: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’ But we more or less expect this. What we don’t expect is that “academics” can so easily be bought.

    Our traditions of objective research and use of the scientific method go back several centuries at this point in time. When someone claims to be an academic doing research we expect them to be adhering to these traditions. If not, their “research” has no validity. There seems to be a blindness in academia that ignores the power of money to undermine the objectivity needed in valid research.

    Given these blatant examples it’s surprising that the “academics” involved can’t see the conflict. Actually they should be somewhat embarrassed. Maybe we need to institutionalize the idea that academics are human and that their objectivity can be compromised. We know this anecdotally, but we don’t have any methodology to validate research. Always noting funding sources and their biases would help.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is why I think public funded research is so important. Private enterprise exists to make a profit. If they spend money as a “gift” to science or as a “donation” to a political campaign, the are going to spend it on “science” or politics likely to benefit them directly.

    Crony science is a huge problem in this country. I’m certain that if I wanted to commission a study proving that smoking is the secret to everlasting life, I could have it done by the end of the week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Making funding public wouldn’t help so much in this case. What do you think the chances are of getting funded by the government if you are known as a critic of H-1B? Pretty much nil.

      In addition, it’s not just the money that drives these researchers. They gain by looking “important” to government and industry.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Public funding is not a solution. I submitted evidence to a state agency just yesterday about some unusual activity by two companies receiving and/or vying for state awards for research and workforce development.

      Then there was my letter of concern to a the major university in my state about spending and waivers of fees to state employee owned businesses contracting for research services at that university. Even the university’s policies as well as law state that the money is due to the state from the company.

      Even more of a concern is the researcher’s annual summer travel to “collaborate” on his research in China; the travel funded from his grants that you and I are providing. The majority of his funding is coming from grants specifically to develop high tech products that can be manufactured in the US for new high tech workforce opportunities. Fat chance it is that these will not be manufactured in China first.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. From Predator Nation, ‘The Ivory Tower’ chapter.

    Ferguson is an MIT PhD in political science, high tech CEO…

    “These days, if you see a famous economics professor testify in Congress, appear on television news, testify in an antitrust case or regulatory proceeding, give a speech, or write an opinion for the ‘New York Times’ (or the ‘Financial Times,’ the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ or anywhere else), there is a high probability that he or she is being paid by someone with a big stake in what’s being debated. Most of the time, these professors do NOT disclose these conflicts of interest in their public or media appearances, and most of the time their universities look the other way…

    Academics on industry payrolls, and the interest groups that pay them, are now so numerous and powerful that they prevent universities, professional associations, and academic journals from adopting or enforcing strong conflict-of-interest policies. They also have a chilling, even dominant, effect on several areas of academic research and policy analysis. Most of America’s best universities do not limit financial conflicts of interest, do not require their disclosure, and aggressively resist inquiries into the issue. There are several reasons for this, including fear of public embarrassment; the existence of personal conflicts of interest among university presidents and deans; and the internal power (within the university) of large numbers of professors who wish to preserve their incomes and reputations, and who know that disclosure would endanger them.”

    [AND]

    “Physicians who own interests in diagnostic imaging centers are four and a half times more likely to refer patients to such centers.”

    https://books.google.com/books?id=aAZgk-DQl2oC&pg=PA240&dq=predator+nation,+ferguson,+ivory+tower&hl=en&sa=X&ei=9GAPVcjmA4vooATd-oK4AQ&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=predator%20nation%2C%20ferguson%2C%20ivory%20tower&f=false

    Liked by 1 person

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