Here’s a link to the New York Times story.

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And here’s a link (UD thanks Stephen) to where one of the people written about in the NYT piece seems to threaten to sue.

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9 Responses to ““The exchange’s public relations staff has helped [Scott H.] Irwin shop his pro-speculation essays to newspaper op-ed pages, according to emails reviewed by The Times.””

  1. dmf Says:

    http://freakonomics.com/2013/12/17/is-academia-like-a-drug-gang/

  2. Stephen Says:

    I usually enjoy you pointing out the corruption and ridiculousness that is rampant in academia and America at large, but I think you are way too quick on the draw here.

    Craig Pirrong has a nice response here:

    http://streetwiseprofessor.com/?p=7930

    And Felix Salmon, a very well-respected financial journalist, has his own take here:

    http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/12/29/the-non-scandal-of-scott-irwin-and-craig-pirrong-3/

    Even if you agree with the premise of the NY Times article, which I’m not sure I do, some of the factual errors and apparent “selective” journalism is troubling. Craig Pirrong’s record of testifying against commodity exchanges and traders and the fact that none of the CME donation to the U of I business school when to Scott Irwin or even his affiliated programs should definitely at least have been mentioned in the article as it provides a strong counterpoint to the articles thesis.

  3. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Stephen: Thanks for the Streetwise Professor link, which I’ll read now. I’ve read Salmon’s post, and find it unconvincing as a defense of Pirrong. He makes Pirrong sound like a nice guy capable of seeing both sides of an issue, but this does nothing to undermine the basic claims of the NYT article.

  4. Stephen Says:

    In reading through the material surrounding this article, I’m having difficulty finding a clear position on either side. It is undoubtedly true that an academic spending a significant amount of time working on/with/for private interests (particularly finance, healthcare, or pharmaceuticals) should be subject to conflict of interest scrutiny. And even if there is no clear remuneration, proximity or personal relationships can cloud judgement and conclusions.

    In this instance, I see a lot of relatively convincing circumstantial evidence that a COI exists, but no smoking gun. And you are right in that Salmon’s article does not refute all of the evidence, he does take pains to point out the circumstantial evidence is presented in the most damning way possible, regardless of the actual veracity of the claims.

    But Pirrong makes a decent point in that it should be desirable for academics to be informed by and be informing the practice of their expertise, so I’m not sure how I feel about condemning him without more clear-cut evidence. I don’t buy his claim (or Salmon’s claim) that this will drive academics out of the public arena or toward private universities, but it probably doesn’t help the matter.

    Additionally, with state funding for public universities as it is, donations to universities from business interests may, on the whole, be a net positive. I firmly believe it is the country’s best interest to increase funding for all types of research and education, but as that is not happening, public relations donations from alumni and businesses may be what’s left to sustain American academia.

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Stephen: I think you’re right that the core of this story is not about taking money in exchange for writing up certain opinions but rather about conflict of interest and inadequate disclosure.

  6. Stephen Says:

    I’ll make this my final thought and stop bugging you with drivel.

    Thanks for the shout-out in the original post. I think this perfectly exemplifies Felix Salmon’s point that ostensibly factual information (I confess I don’t see the section where he threatens to sue) can be framed in ways that reinforce particular viewpoints. By linking to Pirrong’s post in such a manner, you seem to be presenting his response as a shrill and hysterical defense and thus reinforcing your view that the NYTimes article is correct. (Feel free to correct me…this is what I surmise your view is.) Conversely, when I linked to the post in my comment, I said it was a nice response, reinforcing my view of that the NYTimes article is at best a gross overstatement.

    Perhaps I was primed to agree with Pirrong as I was introduced to this whole issue by Felix Salmon, but at the very least I think this demonstrates that the context in which you are introduced to and view arguments matters a great deal. This in turn, to round out the whole COI arc, gets at the point that it is hard not to have conflicts or biases no matter who you are or what you are studying.

    Anyway, thanks for indulging me and, as a decently loyal reader, it has been nice chatting.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Hi again Stephen: Pirrong’s response is written in a rage. It includes the following sentence:


    Therefore, to suggest some connection between my paid outside work and my opinions on speculation is misleading, deceptive, and plainly libelous.

  8. Stephen Says:

    The post is undoubtedly written in a rage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all the points he lays out are lies or are incorrect.

    Frankly, I don’t even know why I am trying to defend Pirrong at all, as I had never heard of him before a couple days ago.

    I guess I was more just looking for a better discussion on the nature of conflicts of interests and biases in academia and how (if at all) an academic can both research a topic and be an influence on that topic’s practice. It seemed to me that the NYTimes article was lacking in this respect, as is our discussion here.

  9. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Stephen: As is often the case in good comment exchanges (and I think this is one of those), we turn out to be pretty close on this one. That is, I think we both acknowledge a pretty large gray area – enlarging all the time in academia – having to do with tailoring your academic writing for certain interest groups and/or taking financial or other goodies from parties with a financial interest in the positions you take in your academic work. I think the film Inside Job gives you a good idea of the larger American context here, the reasons why the NYT and other publications are interested in this subject. I’m probably too quick to jump on articles like the one in the Times; I was eager to read Pirrong’s response to it. But his anger and his legal language (and, far as I could tell, his omission of any discussion of why his university seems to be withholding pertinent information from the NYT) did little to convince me that the NYT piece is without some merit.

    On the larger question of COI: I think this is a good summary of the rather scandalous situation among economists.

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