Beyond the question raised by the Guardian article (Google spends millions on academic research to influence opinion, says watchdog) of the responsibility of major corporations in funding research to further their vested interests lies that of the credibility of science at a time when the person camping out in the White House regularly tweets about science as ‘fake news’. But more than all, it casts a doubt on the mechanisms for funding research and, through it, the training of many promising doctoral students. What role does government play by progressively withdrawing from the funding of universities and their research and pushing academics to secure private money in efforts to downsize public spending? To what extent are academic institutions complicit in corporate astroturfing (1)? Why does the vetting of academic research by peer reviewing not act as a barrage against biased, if not false, research? What steps can be taken to guarantee the independence and quality of research? Or, if complete independence is not possible, can we make direct or indirect sources of funding explicit?
(1) Astroturfing: the deceptive practice of funding supposedly independent academic research to covertly influence results in favour of corporate vested interests while presenting an orchestrated marketing or public relations campaign in the guise of unsolicited comments from members of the public.