3  March 2011

Recent entries have commented on integrity challenges flowing from lobbying and from exam cheats.  But what happens when lobbying and academic fraud collude?

A focus on developments in North Africa and the Gulf provides examples. A number of governments in this region have engaged public relations firms to shape foreign perceptions of them, particularly in the developed world.  Many of the agencies providing this service are London based because there are few legal constraints on representing foreign governments.  In the United States, lobbyists must declare any connections with a foreign state.  That hasn’t restrained what has been described as “…an elite band of former members of Congress, former diplomats and power brokers who have helped Middle Eastern nations navigate diplomatic waters here on delicate issues like arms deals, terrorism, oil and trade restrictions…” For more subtle influence, a way around the disclosure requirement is to exploit rights flowing from academic freedom. The Monitor group has identified the following deception that can occur under the guise of research and academia.

A Harvard professor who developed the concept of “soft power”, published a paper illustrating its use in terms of democratic governments working with the regime in Libya. What was not disclosed was that he was engaged by a PR company getting substantial payments from the regime to “enhance the profile of Libya and Muammar Qaddhafi”.  Part of the commission was to increase media coverage “broadly positive and increasingly sensitive to the Libyan point of view”.

British and American universities are known to accept donations from “suspect” sources.  The Guardian reports that the London School of Economics has far deeper links to dictators than are in the news at the moment.

Harvard recently returned a substantial gift received from a Gulf based donor.

Ethical norms must be that funding and academic publications reflect honest and open processes.