At a time when many institutions are under siege, public trust is in short supply. Now researchers working at institutions of higher education find themselves under scrutiny for profiting from their relationship with search engine giant Google. A new report from the Wall Street Journal shows that Google offered cash to college professors who wrote papers that took positions advocated by the company.
“In general, Google wants academic research out there that says they’re not a monopoly,” Wall Street Journal Reporter Brody Mullins says, “and that they don’t have too much market power and … shouldn’t be broken up or regulated under antitrust rules.”
Google monitors antitrust research at law schools, Mullins says, and zeroes in on professors who report favorably on the company’s practices. These college researchers are then approached with offers to write additional pro-Google papers. Mullins says that Google asks professors to disclose the source of their research funding, which happens much of the time. The bigger problem, he says, arises when researchers fail to name their funder.
“If a professor knows that Google or other companies are out there funding research, you may start writing papers that can lure that money,” Mullins says. “You may sort of move your research in a direction that Google would want to fund you in the future.”
Mullins recognizes a parallel between Google’s relationship with academic researchers and the oil industry’s deals with medical school researchers, decades ago. The difference is that medical school research is based on hard science, whereas law research is based on intellectual property, which is is subject to debate. Arguments can be made either way depending on whether Google is funding the research, Mullins says.
“There’s sort of no right or wrong,” Mullins says. “‘Do you think Google’s a monopoly?’ We don’t know the answer to that.”
Professors who agree to work on behalf of Google say they do so amid cuts to their research budgets, Mullins says. Meanwhile, Google points out that theirs is not the only corporation to fund research. While Oracle, Microsoft and others use the same practices, Mullins says that Google’s effort is “the most sophisticated and best organized.”
Written by Louise Rodriguez.