As University budgets have tightened over the past decade, researchers have increasingly turned to 'nontraditional' sources for funding. Ufortunately, despite the best intentions of the researcher, it is often difficult to separate the funding source from the objectivity of the research itself.
As I report in The Times, a central question in the controversy over a new fracking study from the State University of New York at Buffalo is where the money came from to finance the report and the new institute on gas drilling that released it. The university says the money came from discretionary funds in the budget of the College of Arts and Sciences but that the new institute is seeking funds from the natural gas industry and other sources.
Industry grants for academic research are simply a fact of life, many universities say. Alexander Cartwright, vice president for research at SUNY Buffalo, said that ultimately universities have to trust their researchers. “We value our faculty and we trust that they’re going to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s the essence of academic freedom.”
“Our mission as a public institution is to protect the public interest,” said Martha McCluskey, a law professor and member of the faculty senate executive committee. “We should make sure that our research efforts don’t look like industry public relations efforts.”Nancy L. Zimpher, the chancellor of the SUNY system, has asked the university to respond to the criticisms of the study, which a public accountability group says includes skewed data and the reuse of previously published material without proper attribution.
In the meantime, the SUNY Buffalo study is already being cited as an authoritative source in some quarters. Testifying on May 31 before a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, cited the report to make his case that regulation of fracking was working.
“Just the other day, the State University of New York at Buffalo released a report which found that Pennsylvania regulations have been quite effective at reducing the impacts per well drilled and that there is a compelling case that Pennsylvania state oversight of oil and gas regulation has been effective,” he said.