When Big Tech & Entertainment Buy Off Academia, Consumers Suffer
Though Republicans and Democrats agree on little these days, a rare consensus seems to have been reached on one issue: Big Tech and Hollywood have become far too powerful.
It's one thing when corporations amass high market share organically — by building mousetraps that are better than their competitors. The trouble is that today, many are amplifying their influence by rigging the system. In particular, they do this by skewing policy debates and tipping the scales of government for personal benefit.
The politicians, of course, deserve some blame here. Time and again, they have stifled innovation by choosing winners and losers. This manipulation occurs using subsidies, bailouts, in addition to new rules and regulations. However, what few recognize is the critical role college and university professors play in advancing Silicon Valley's agenda.
A recently-published University of California-Berkeley paper stated that while academics have a truth-finding-and-telling role, "because of their own financial interests, faculty may be dishonest in what they say they have discovered and/or how they describe the state of knowledge in their field." Their tainted "findings" are then shared with government officials. In some cases, these questionable studies distort the thinking of policymakers. In others, they merely provide cover to help allied interests.
Particularly alarming is the uncomfortably cozy relationship between Google and academia. The Wall Street Journal found that, "[o]ver the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying $5,000 to $400,000 for the work." Representatives of the search engine behemoth sometimes even go so far as to hand-draft working titles and abstracts for professors.
A top Google lobbyist told the Journal that the company then provides copies of the papers to government officials and sometimes even flies authors into the Capitol to discuss contents with Congress and the White House. Frustrated members on both sides of the aisle who wonder why their interests are never advanced in Washington need not look any further.
Google has been the subject of much criticism lately, but this deck-rigging in academia is not exclusive to the tech giant. Though examples are endless, over the last several weeks, the music industry has stood out in having engaged in these tactics more aggressively than others.
Larry Miller, the head of New York University's Steinhardt School of Music, who has admittedly been paid by the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) in the past, is just the latest case study. Recently, Miller hosted an NYU event with the NMPA's president despite the fact that it previously held him under a consulting arrangement. There, they discussed the controversial issue of Congress imposing a fee on radio airplay, with a leading member of Congress in attendance to absorb their findings.
As detailed by The Washington Times, the event's characterization of the need for such a new fee as an unequivocal truth was quite curious and unusual. For decades, a bipartisan majority of Congress has repeatedly gone on record dismissing the idea. And yet, Miller's university-sponsored event failed to mention the consensus point of view, only showcasing the contrarian perspectives of those aligned with the same interest group that Miller previously helped with consulting services. Unfortunately, however, this degree of dishonesty should be expected, as Miller has routinely issued anti-radio studies and derided radio to the press to seemingly help them advance the music industry's agenda.
The more professors get in bed with Big Tech and the crony entertainment industry, the more American people struggle. As a result of each piece of bad policy added to the pile, they're stuck with less choice, efficiency and higher prices.
But what can be done?
According to the Berkeley study, schools that face egregious conflicts of interests like these have several viable courses of action, including threatening after-the-fact punishment, requiring abstention and the imposition of regulatory supervision.
Whatever the solution, here's hoping that colleges and universities begin to rectify the situation before it destroys their credibility. Institutions of higher education have been blind to deliberate bias and interest-peddling for far too long. For the sake of sound policymaking and the young professionals who are not getting the educational experiences they deserve, it's time for some long-overdue housecleaning.
Brian Maloney is the co-founder of the Media Equality Project and the Editor-in-Chief of MediaEqualizer.com, an on-line watchdog for media, tech and government. He worked as a radio talk show host for 15 years.