Academics Disclose Your Conflicts
To debut on October 8, Inside Job, promises to chronicle the origins and response to the financial crisis by the power elite, especially bankers but others included. Some media reports say it will target academics in particular, highlighting the likes of Larry Summers, who, along with people like Rob Rubin, ride the gravy train between Boston, New York, and Washington.
Only the naive think professors are public-regarding altruists, the hyping of the documentary suggests; they bring down big consulting fees and lucrative book deals, just as bankers and politicos do. This is nonsense. True, among a small handful of professors in certain fields–law, medicine, finance–people who double as scholar/teachers generate consulting income of many millions of dollars annually.
But for the overwhelming majority, even the most prominent, consulting income doesn’t even double basic salaries and royalty income. This isn’t to say professors aren’t among the best paid and well off in the country–they are. But a few dozen aside, they aren’t in the rarified top measured in money.
That said, it’s appalling that some academics, whether getting super- or only moderately-rich, don’t disclose their interests in published research. Though recent reports concentrate on professors of medicine, the deception occurs in other fields too, including law. That’s a serious problem for the academic profession, whose value to society includes the unusual capacity to contribute something that’s both informed and independent.
True, most universities, including mine, require professors to make requisite internal disclosures of any potential conflicts. But everyone needs to know about potential conflicts, including both the general public and, especially, other scholars writing in the same field.