Authors, Biotech, Conflict of Interest

Check out this story in Business Week:

“A Columnist Backed by Monsanto”

Scripps Howard News Service announced Jan. 13 that it’s severing its business relationship with columnist Michael Fumento, who’s also a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. The move comes after inquiries from BusinessWeek Online about payments Fumento received from agribusiness giant Monsanto (MON ) — a frequent subject of praise in Fumento’s opinion columns and a book.

This raises a bunch of issues, but I’d like to point out 2 of them:

1) How much responsibility does a company (say, Monsanto) have for not putting journalists and authors into conflicts of interest? I take it the normal reaction is that this is an issue of professional ethisc: journalists, professors, etc., need to be careful about what kinds of agreements they enter into, especially if those agreements are likely to affect (or be seen as affecting) their professional judgment. But it takes two to tango. No professional faces this dilemma without someone having someone offered them something. Is a company to be blamed for doing so, or no? Do they have an obligation NOT to affect professional judgment in ways that might benefit them? Is transparency and openness enough to remove all worries in such cases?

2) In an era of blogs, democratization of media, etc., how the hell can we keep track of this stuff? For example, do readers of my blog have any idea whose payroll(s) I’m on? Maybe I’m a shill for the well-funded anti-SUV lobby. (?)

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