The State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo recently announced that it was shutting down its controversial, and heavily-criticized, Shale Resources and Society Institute. It is shutting it down due to concerns regarding the credibility of its research, a lack of consistency in disclosing its financial interests, and an insufficient faculty presence.
The institute, which was devoted to the ‘study’ of hydraulic fracturing, was heavily criticized after the release of its first study back in May, due to its very noticeable bias towards the oil and gas industry.
In an address to the “university community,” President Satish K. Tripathi said: “It is imperative that our faculty members adhere to rigorous standards of academic integrity, intellectual honesty, transparency and the highest ethical conduct in their work.”
The University of Texas at Austin is currently conducting a similar investigation of a fracking study that it released earlier this year. It came out that one of the professors who ‘fostered’ the study was on the board of a gasoline company… and had never disclosed that.
These controversies are a bellwether of sorts. There have been growing concerns about the influence of corporate money in academic research, especially now that government grants are declining.
The recent investigation and subsequent closure seems to be due almost entirely to grassroots efforts. The University came under significant pressure from “professors, students and some SUNY trustees to close its shale institute, with a petition with more than 10,500 signatures.”
“The people who signed the petition feel that their public university needs to remain a public university and not a mouthpiece for corporations,” said Jim Holstun, an English professor at the university who questioned the credibility of the institute.
The study had stated that drilling was becoming much safer in Pennsylvania thanks to state regulation, and that New York’s pending rules would create the same effect.
After the study was released, the Public Accountability Initiative, which is a local government watchdog group, began questioning some of the study’s data and conclusions. And also questioning the lack of full disclosure from its lead authors, who have conducted research directly for the industry.
Amongst them, the third author, and the shale institute’s co-director, John P. Martin, worked for the industry doing planning and public relations.
Dr. Tripathi has said “that as a result of the transparency issues raised by the now-defunct shale institute, a committee that includes the faculty senate would meet to recommend how to strengthen policies for disclosing financial interests and sources of support in research going forward. He said the university would continue to pursue studies on energy and the environment.”