Hired Guns

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” We all know the phrase, and one area in which it is particularly important is academia.

In particular, most academics who write research in support of the H-1B work visa do receive funding from the industry and its allies.  Yet many will claim that the funding doesn’t impact the content of their work.

For example, my UC Davis colleague, economist Giovanni Peri, specializes in H-1B and immigration issues in general, and has become one of the nation’s top researchers on the “pro-” side of these issues. He does interesting work, but he too receives funding from the pro- side, as noted in an article earlier this year in The Atlantic (emphasis added):

Many of the immigration scholars regularly cited in the press have worked for, or received funding from, pro-immigration businesses and associations. Consider, for instance, Giovanni Peri, an economist at UC Davis whose name pops up a lot in liberal commentary on the virtues of immigration. A 2015 New York Times Magazine essay titled “Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant” declared that Peri, whom it called the “leading scholar” on how nations respond to immigration, had “shown that immigrants tend to complement—rather than compete against—the existing work force.” Peri is indeed a respected scholar. But Microsoft has funded some of his research into high-skilled immigration. And New American Economy paid to help him turn his research into a 2014 policy paper decrying limitations on the H-1B visa program. Such grants are more likely the result of his scholarship than their cause. Still, the prevalence of corporate funding can subtly influence which questions economists ask, and which ones they don’t. (Peri says grants like those from Microsoft and New American Economy are neither large nor crucial to his work, and that “they don’t determine … the direction of my academic research.”)

An article in Friday’s edition of the Gainesville Press reports,

A University of Florida professor, who has been a longtime defender of genetically modified foods, has sued the New York Times and one of its reporters for libel.

Kevin Folta, UF’s horticultural sciences chairman, filed a lawsuit against reporter Eric Lipton and the New York Times in September over a 2015 article he says unfairly portrayed him as a “covertly paid operative” for Monsanto, a company that produces genetically modified crops.

The lawsuit states the article falsely alleged Folta received “unrestricted grants” for research from Monsanto in exchange for his public support for GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, as one of several academics “recruited” to “advance Monsanto’s corporate goals instead of presenting legitimate, objective scientific results.”

Inside Higher Ed adds, echoing Peri,

Folta, who believes in the ability of genetically modified organisms to help meet global food demands, has said he accepted funds from Monsanto to hold science communication seminars but that the funds had no bearing on his scientific conclusions…

But these claims are clearly invalid. If one takes money from a given source and wants to continue receiving the funds, one cannot do work antagonizing the source. It’s that simple.

I don’t know anything on the University of Florida case, but the researcher’s claim that the money “had no bearing on [my] scientific conclusions” are disingenuous. He may well independently believe in the safety of GMOs, but funding like that could put a damper on whatever negative findings pop up in his work