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July 13, 2017


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Dave Garrow

It only takes 2 clicks to find out useful info about the sponsors, who appear to be D.C. progressives (e.g. a top Obama campaign veteran):
I found some of the information in the WSJ's story outrageous, but not surprising; it never ceases to amaze how many people will sell themselves professionally for so little. Academia today is a far sadder place than it was 35-40 years ago.
I'm VERY surprised that there's not been more, & quicker, commentary on the WSJ piece here on TFL...


I'm no really clear on where the question is. Is there something about the work produced by the legal academy different from medical research? Medical researchers have been roundly attacked for years, their work questioned merely by having some connection with pharmaceutical companies. I know that at least some institutions, researchers are required not only to disclose their own possible conflicts but those of their SPOUSES.

The law professors taking money in support of their research seem no different. They are advocating positions on how society should be structured, what laws governing conduct are good or bad. I'm curious how one can justify the existence of a distinction. Frankly, it seems like the sort of thing that could be regulated by the bar.

Brian Frye

Thanks for your comment, Adam. I think it is perfectly reasonable to take the position that legal scholars should not accept funding from parties with a financial interest in the results of their research. But I don't see any obvious reason to prohibit funding from disinterested parties. That said, I'm not sure the analogy to medical researchers is a perfect one, as the relationship between the research outcomes and the financial interests of the funder is typically different and more attenuated. Saying a drug is safe is not (necessarily?) the same as saying advocating a particular policy position. While I would not be averse to stronger norms against funded research, I'm not sure I think the bar is the appropriate regulatory body. I think the bar has shown itself far from impartial and disinterested in its regulation of itself & I see no particular reason to think it would be a better regulator of professors.

Brian Frye

Dave, thanks for your comment & I apologize that it got stuck in our filter, perhaps because you included a link. While the Campaign for Accountability website does list the people running the organization, it doesn't list any donors. Under the circumstances, I think the source of funding is the important question. If anything, the backgrounds of the people running CfA make me even more suspicious of its motives. How does targeting Google line up with their previous policy positions.

In any case, I agree with you that we should be discussing the propriety of accepting funding for research, especially if there are any conditions associated with it. As I noted in my update, intellectual property professors have at least begun that conversation, which has continued on the IP-profs listserv.


If the research is being cited by courts or policymakers as purportedly scholarly work based upon which decisions are made - whether to adjudicate disputes or create specific rules governing conduct in that society - there is no logical reason to draw a distinction from medical research. You appear to be implying that drug safety imposes a higher burden, therefore medical researchers must make their disclosures. I have to disagree with your premise.

A key premise of the medical research disclosures is that the work will likely be tainted by the financial connection. That in one context it is a drug and another a legal framework that governs anything from criminal sentences, labor rules, IP to data protection is truly a distinction without any difference. To contend that there should be a different treatment presumes, therefore, that medical researchers are inexplicably more unethical than others receiving financial support for their research. For example, a doctor conducting research into the efficacy of a therapy versus treatment as usual - i.e., drug - must disclose ownership in a pharma company. The assumption is that his work might have been tainted by that ownership. This is required disclosure would be regardless of whether the researcher receives ANY funding from the pharma company, if the research funding actually comes from the government, of if the researcher would actually like to show that therapy is more effective.

My point is that the entire architecture of disclosure rules for medical research are built on an assumption of medical researchers as incapable of conducting themselves in an objective fashion. Given the impact and aim of what law professors' research is driven towards achieving there has been offered no objective basis to draw a distinction. This point is proven more clearly by the facts laid out by the WSJ.

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