With too much control, the results can be intentionally skewed in the direction big oil would like — even if it is unintentional. As with any research, it’s dangerous to only rely on research from the industry that is going to be possibly hurt, financially or otherwise, by the new information. for example: I recently saw an article about GMO fish, and the companies trying to market the salmon were doing the research on whether or not it would be healthy for human consumption. The EPA determined several times that their evidence that the fish would be safe was insubstantial.
In short, bias is the reason they’re being criticized.
A lot of times academic research is sponsored by big oil companies. This means that the companies can choose what kind of research is done, and what is published. Big oil companies have the advantage of picking and choosing research that they know will benefit their company, while they can decide not to fund research that could have less than positive results.
The Center for American Progress recently published a report highlighting several recent large contracts that have been made between large oil companies and research universities. For example, the oil company BP contracted with the University of California-Berkeley for a $500 million agreement that will last 10 years. Many deals like this contain restrictions, overseen by the funding company, of what research proposals will be pursued, along with whether and when research results can be made public. Besides the obvious influence this will have on both research, results, and the application of those results, there are also concerns about companies using students as contracted lab staff, especially as many of the students are being publicly supported for their education.
University representatives have contradicted the conclusions of the report, emphasizing their continued perception of unfettered academic freedom. It is still the case, argued the author of the report, Jennifer Washburn, that the contracts include requirements for proposals be reviewed by industry representatives before approval.
The majority of the research funded by these industry-grants is directed at development of alternative sources of energy.
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