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For-profit companies and research

January 2, 2021

Reuters published an article right before Christmas about how Google is purportedly attempting to shape the messaging in the research papers published by its staff. First, an upfront disclaimer: I have no knowledge of Google’s publication processes, and I’ve been out of academic research for years. But I find the hand-wringing in response by some academics hilarious. News flash: for-profit companies do not fund research out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it to, y’know, make profit. Even if companies don’t explicitly shape the content of papers, researchers will do it implicitly. If you were a highly paid industrial researcher, would you really want to publish a paper that made your employer look bad? When you’re thinking about your yearly evaluation and promotion path?

Frankly, if you want total intellectual freedom, you need to do your own research and fund it yourself. Want to do research in industry? Companies have agendas. Government funding? If funding decisions are made by other academics, then you’re probably going to have to focus on trendy research topics. If they’re made by a single funding manager, then that manager’s agenda is determining acceptable research topics. And academics also need to be able to interest grad students in working on a problem (trendiness again).

Research is always shaped by external factors; don’t act shocked by it.

From → Research

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