Should experts be required to disclose who paid them for writing their opinions?

The question came up near the end of the documentary “Inside Job”. I don’t want to talk about the faults of the documentary itself in this thread (although I think there are a few), instead I want to focus simply on the question in the thread title.

For those who don’t know, in the documentary the question is raised in an interview with a Harvard professor of economics who wrote a paper about how an unregulated Wall Street was economically sound (you’ll forgive me the exact details, but it’s not really important in this discussion because I’m not talking about a single case, but more in general). The professor in question was paid about 150,000 USD by a US corporate and investment banking firm for writing this paper. Nowhere in the paper is it stated that he was paid to write it - it seems to be more of an academic paper than anything else. Yet I assume (big assumption here, I admit) that it has some influence over public policy within the government or at least with investors.

What do you think?

I could see a case being made for such requirements being put into university or academic journal rules if they are not there. But required by law? No, I don’t think I’d agree with that.

How was the paper mentioned in the documentary disseminated?

Under what penalty? “Or else we’ll treat your findings as suspect until we have independant verification” or “Or else you’ll be fined”?

I like the idea of politicians being required to wear sponsorship patches like they do in NASCAR.

They’d probably suffocate…
It’s win/win!

Some experts are ethically bound by the standards within their fields. For example, engineers are ethically bound to disclose who pays or otherwise motivates them to give opinions, to all interested parties.

Feel free to suggest any penalty you want. There are a ton to choose from you know.

I didn’t know that, very interesting, thank you. But economists are, it appears, not held to the same standards. Civil engineers design and inspect super-structures that could endanger lives if improperly constructed or maintained, so it makes sense that they are held to a high standard of disclosure.

I wonder if that means the field of economics is more like sociology - take it all with a grain of salt because these people are not scientists. Should we regard what economists say as more like a heartfelt opinion rather than anything else?

If you can’t tell yet, I’m kind of pissed at this Mishkin clown, who produces economic ‘reports’ for pay that are wrong, but he can get away with it by calling it just his opinion, and it being based on ‘faith’ (what he said). He is not a professional.

When I was a grad student and postdoc in physics (many years ago), we had to acknowledge funding sources in all our published papers. But all the work I did was funded by the Feds in one way or another, and I suspect that was a condition of the grants (since publicly funded research is in the public domain).

In any case, experts who don’t disclose potential (or actual) conflicts of interest are not to be trusted. Doesn’t mean their work is wrong a priori, but it should be held to a higher standard of verification.

Economists (and doctors who do research for drug companies) should disclose. Penalties should be assessed by professional organizations. A lot of people still can be shamed (exceptions include reality TV stars), and should be.

I publish about 10 or more academic papers a year. In most journals (and in all the high-end ones) you have to not only disclose who funded the study, but also formally declare any financial considerations apart from funding (like, say, if a company paid you $150,000 to write the article(!), or, more frequently, if you work for or have stock in a company benefiting from the research results).

Papers can be retracted if you don’t do this.

But are they? I can count on one hand the number of papers I’ve heard of being withdrawn because of failure to disclose (conflicts of) interest.

Arguments based on a writer’s funding are arguments ad hominem, and it seems like that should indicate when funding matters.

If a paper discloses its assumptions and methodology such that it can be reproduced or rebutted, then it seems to me that the source of its funding is of little relevance.

If it does not make such disclosures, then it seems like it can adequately be attacked on that basis, although it may be fair to wonder whether the decision not to do so was motivated by financial considerations.

If the paper is itself an argument to authority – “trust my judgment because I know a lot about this” – then its funding seems entirely relevant. Of course, one may also be able to draw conclusions from the failure to disclose all funding.