Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign

By: Brody Mullins and Jack Nicas, The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2017

Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley.

Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of emails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics, the Journal found.

Google has funded roughly 100 academic papers on public-policy matters since 2009, according to a Journal analysis of data compiled by the Campaign for Accountability…

Another 100 or so research papers were written by authors with financing by think tanks or university research centers funded by Google and other tech firms, according to the data. Most of those papers didn’t disclose the financial support by the companies, the Campaign for Accountability data show.

Google said in some of its funding letters that it would “appreciate receiving attribution or acknowledgment of our award in applicable university publications.” There are no professional standards on such disclosures in the research papers, which are mostly published in law journals at the universities.

Money spent on the research measures in the low millions of dollars—according to the former employee and former lobbyist—a relatively small expense for the search-and-advertising giant. Some in academia say professors pay too high a price. Such corporate funding runs the risk of creating the impression “that academics are lobbyists rather than scholars,” Robin Feldman, of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, said in a Harvard University law journal article she co-wrote last year.

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