Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

How Big Business Poisons Academic Research

The energy industry and Big Agribusiness are distorting academic research by wielding corporate influence.

Wenonah Hauter

 by OtherWords

In 1862, the federal government created the land-grant university system to produce critical agricultural research. Since then, America has relied on these schools to inform and guide independent scientific advances in areas like food production and energy development.

Yet public funding for that kind of research has eroded over recent decades, and these schools have turned to corporations to augment their budgets. The consequences of increasing dependence on profit-driven research in academia are becoming troublingly clear. The recent exposure of numerous sham scientific reports generated by biased individuals at supposedly objective institutions should draw intense public scrutiny to this new era of corporate-funded science.

While drug makers and other industries have spent heavily in academia for years, a relatively new player in corporate-influenced “research” is the natural gas business. Awareness has grown recently of the serious environmental and health dangers associated with fracking — the highly controversial drilling process that has opened up millions of acres of domestic land to shale gas production by blasting water and toxic chemicals underground at great pressures. In response, the industry has become extremely aggressive in its attempts to influence academic reporting on the subject.

Consider the State University of New York at Buffalo and its now-defunct Shale Resources and Society Institute. In May, the institute released a report claiming that improving technologies and updated regulations were making fracking safe. But to SUNY Buffalo faculty, students, and community members, something smelled fishy. The nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative, based in Buffalo, scrutinized the report and did some additional digging. What it found was alarming.

Despite the report’s conclusion stating the contrary, an analysis of its data actually showed that gas fracking is causing more environmental contamination than ever. Even more telling, researchers determined that the report’s authors had all done previous work directly funded by the oil and gas industry, and that significant portions of the report had been copied directly from a previous industry-funded paper.

Under intense pressure from the university community, including the Board of Trustees, the institute that had released the skewed report was shut down by SUNY Buffalo’s president in November.

An isolated incident? No. The University of Texas at Austin announced on December 6 that the head of its Energy Institute had resigned over allegations of conflicts of interest, ethics violations, and industry influence regarding another pro-fracking study its institute had released in February. In the fallout, the university is currently updating its conflict-of-interest policies.

As for agriculture, corporate influence now appears to be routine. Beginning in 1982 with the Bayh-Dole Act, our land-grant schools have been encouraged to partner heavily with the private sector. By 2010, almost a quarter of all the grant money for agricultural research came from industry, with companies like Walmart, Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s receiving unencumbered access to and exerting great influence on many campuses nationwide.

The integrity of the “science” produced under this funding regime is troubling, but not surprising. The nutrition school at the University of California, Davis is researching the health benefits of chocolate with funding from the Mars candy corporation. A study supported by the National Soft Drink Association found that soda consumption by school children wasn’t linked to obesity. An Egg Nutrition Center-sponsored study determined that frequent egg consumption didn’t increase cholesterol levels.

More broadly, corporate funding steers agricultural research toward the goals of industry. It discourages independent analyses that might be critical of the many hormones used in industrial meat and poultry production, and genetically engineered crops that are now widely grown.

With the health and safety of our families and our communities hanging in the balance, it’s time to demand more transparency and less corporate influence from our research universities.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Action. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Will They Lie or Finally Come Clean?: Watch Fossil Fuel CEOs Testify at Historic Hearing

"Will these executives own up to their misinformation, or keep trying to hide behind lies and spin?"

Andrea Germanos ·


Key Global Systems Need 'Complete U-Turns' to Avoid 'Disastrous Tipping Points' for Planet

Which system changes are "on track," meaning transformation is "occurring at or above the pace required to achieve" global climate goals? According to a new report: None.

Jon Queally ·


'All You Have to Do Is Follow the Money': Ilhan Omar Rebukes Corporate Democrats

"It is corporate greed, and the lawmakers who serve them," argues the Minnesota Democrat, "who are betraying the values of our party and the American people."

Jon Queally ·


'Outrageous and Shameful': Dems May Cut Paid Leave Due to Manchin's Opposition

Decrying the plan, advocacy groups vowed that "the American people are not going to allow that essential human need to be ignored and negotiated away behind closed doors."

Jessica Corbett ·


Open Letter Warns Trump's 'Big Lie' GOP Poses Existential Threat to Democracy

"Now is the time for leaders in all walks of life—for citizens of all political backgrounds and persuasions—to come to the aid of the republic."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo