Disclosure of Research Funding Key Issue for Academics, Journos

July 1, 2015

"Who pays you?" is a basic question journalists should ask often to help readers judge the accuracy and bias of information sources. Some science journals have made disclosure of funding a must for researchers publishing articles. Now the Smithsonian Institution may be catching up.

The issue re-ignited recently when astrophysicist and climate change denier Willie Soon was revealed to have taken funding — but not disclosed it — from fossil fuel interests. Soon is affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. A political brouhaha followed. Climate deniers took affront that they were being asked to disclose their funding.

But the Smithsonian Institution said June 26, 2015, that it would tighten its guidelines for disclosure of funding by its researchers. The guidelines are under development and have not been released. W. John Kress, the acting under secretary for science at the Smithsonian, told the New York Times they would be tightened.

The Smithsonian may come out ahead of many academic institutions on scientific integrity. Its announcement of tighter disclosure policies suggests that the credibility of science and avoidance of conflict of interest outweigh concerns like academic freedom.

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