Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Boston Research Party

In the season premiere of Boston Legal, one of the named partners enlists the main character to defend her from Stanford University. She originally said she'll donate money to fund a study on climate research but pulled the three million when she discovered an oil company donated 100 million for similar research.

It would be foolish to think a study is treated the same when its chief financiers have a vested interest in a particular outcome (just like climatologists have a vested interest in pushing other results). But it would be sloppy to conclude thus the study is bunk and has no value whatsoever. An incentive to lie does not translate into an act of lying; other incentives can counteract and overcome that motivation.

But skepticism is something people should hold in abundance. If Shirley Schmidt wishes to pull it away upon discovering this other financier, why shouldn't she be allowed to? It is her money and she can tag on any requirements she wishes. Stanford doesn't have to accept the dough and perhaps encouraging universities to choose between the hundreds of millions from a few and the millions from hundreds would add a diversity of research, and thus conclusions, and thus something close to the truth. Not everyone has to be invited.

2 comments:

Mike said...

Surely you don't suggest that people be permitted to reneg on contracts for any reason, do you?

Anonymous said...

David's an idiot, just like his brother said over at Pharyngula.