New disclosure rules regarding potential financial conflicts of interest may be on the way for NIH-funded researchers.
I support this sort of disclosure but worry that the public discussion of issues of bias in research funded by government grants and contracts tends to focus almost exclusively on issues related to researchers who receive funding from private firms.
Also important, but rarely discussed, are the incentives that face researchers to pander to the perceived objectives of the government agency funding the research. Two good examples from the Bush II administration are the Reading First program and abstinence-only sex education, which administration was heavily invested in and where it pretty clearly had an answer it wanted to hear from the evaluations.
These sorts of issues, which come up regardless of the party in power, are just as real as the private sector related concerns that appear to motivate the NIH proposals. When it became clear that the Reading First evaluation was not going to produce a shiny positive and statistically significant impact estimate, the contractor got, justifiably, a bit nervous. As a way of covering themselves, I think they had nearly every economist who had ever written a paper using a regression discontinuity design (including yours truly) review and sign off on the design and implementation of the Reading First study.
Also potentially important are biases related to individual ideology, as when individuals with strong normative views related to the environment sort into doing climate research.
I am not sure quite how one goes about developing institutions to alert the research consuming public to these issues, but they are surely worthy of note.
Hat tip: Nancy Herlocher, UM Economics' amazing computer poobah.
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