Academic Publishing: What is the role of funding by corporate entities?

David Dayen for Salon (2015):

From the beginning of the FTC investigation through the end of 2013, Google gave George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center (LEC) $762,000 in donations, confirmed by cancelled checks obtained in a public records request. In exchange, the LEC issued numerous studies supporting Google’s position that they committed no legal violations, and hosted conferences on the same issues where Google representatives suggested speakers and invitees

I don’t believe that there is any need to be alarmed about the apparent “conflict of interest” because as a footnote- it is useless. It works like advertising. If you look at the larger perspective, academic publishing is so ingrained in the idea of doing “science” it is hard to extricate out of it; especially as funding depends critically on the “impact factor”.

Therefore, again, it is not implausible to expect the following paper (written by someone from the University and linked in the Salon article:

Search engines efficiently provide better and faster answers to users’ questions than alternatives. Recently, critics have taken issue with the various methods search engines use to identify relevant content and rank search results for users. Google, in particular, has been the subject of much of this criticism on the grounds that its organic search results — those generated algorithmically — favor its own products and services at the expense of those of its rivals. Much of this criticism has focused on the impact of differences among search engines’ algorithmic methods upon individual websites, and allegations of “bias” in search engine results, in lieu of a conventional consumer-welfare driven antitrust analysis. 

My bigger concern is as AI becomes more prevalent, universities will align themselves with the big-tech to railroad opposition by their sheer weight of marketing and branding. As universities have declining budgets and “research-for-hire” becomes more prevalent, the idea of using academic publishing and peer review deserves a relook. Especially as the marketing departments carpet bomb the mainstream press with ideas around breakthroughs.

The linked write up above (to the journal) is 2011 vintage. Search bias is hotly debated, and one of the classical tenets of thriving in the crowded market place is to sow seeds of confusion. They obfuscate the issue, quote the articles favouring them higher, and generate citations to provide the “weight of academia”. It only hurts the process of scientific enquiry.

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