Universities like Penn State take money from gas and oil companies to do research on the Marcellus Shale, raising issues about conflict of interest. The universities' secrecy makes it worse.
'As development of the Marcellus Shale spreads across Pennsylvania, Penn State University has taken a central role in doing research about the industry, from its economic impact to its geological properties.
Some of the research is paid for by companies extracting the gas, according to petroleum geologists who do the work. But the state-related university, which took in $214 million in taxpayer funding last year, declined to say how much individual companies spend or what the money pays for.
Universities welcome the money and say there's no impact on their research, but critics are concerned that the lack of transparency is dangerous to independence.
'The problem is that, increasingly, universities are very secretive about the terms under which they're signing these research contracts,' says Jennifer Washburn, a journalist and author of the book 'University, Inc.,' which details industry's increasing ties to academia.
'I think there's a real danger right now that universities are accepting too much work that is not scientifically interesting separate from what, let's say, Exxon Mobil wants for its own commercial interests,' Ms. Washburn said.'
Reid R. Frazier, The Allegheny Front; and Olivia Garber, PublicSource,
report for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 7, 2011, in part two of a two-part feature package. Bill Schackner reports part one for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 6.