In yesterday’s Worldviews panel about think tanks and university research, Adrian Monck emphasized the importance of knowing the funding sources of a research project in order to be able to make an informed assessment of the conclusions of that research. Knowing where the funding for a research project comes from, he argued, helps the reader to get a sense of the values and biases that inform the project.
Today at a panel on the importance of disseminating academic work to a wider audience, Megan Clement, the deputy editor at The Conversation UK, spoke about a project that takes seriously the importance of transparency in research funding.
The Conversation occupies a fascinating point of intersection between media and higher education – it’s a news website that publishes informed comment on news and current affairs exclusively from experts in academia. This hub of informed, expert opinion creates a space for academics to engage in public debate.
Interestingly, The Conversation requires every author who publishes an article on the site to disclose who they receive funding from – funding sources can range from government funding councils to foundations to corporations. This simple disclosure policy, which doesn’t prevent anyone from publishing on the basis of their research funding, makes it easy for readers to assess on their own terms any potential bias behind the expert opinion they are reading.
Now, Adrian Monck insisted on the importance of knowing where funding comes from in the context of advocacy oriented think tank research, and clearly the disclosure statement required by authors at The Conversation obviously doesn’t resolve that particular issue. And the model may present its own set of challenges. But it sets a standard that helps to build a culture of openness and transparency between academics and the public.