What should researchers disclose?

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March 6, 2016 by Kate Bowles

 

Quite a bit of research that makes its way into public discussion is produced by professional research firms on behalf of clients. Research is also commonly undertaken by firms whose work is supported by corporate sponsors.

What difference do these relationships make to the results? Do clients or sponsors necessarily bias the research findings? And how do these research results influence the research reporting by journalists and others, as research outcomes travel through our culture?

These questions are behind a Code of Conduct that has been proposed by a Canberra-based think tank, the Australia Institute. This Code of Conduct focuses specifically on economic modelling, following a controversial research report that has been used to argue back and forth about party political policy on negative gearing.

The Australia Institute argues that a Code of Conduct is required because research of this nature has a real impact on public opinion, so at the very least journalists and their readers must know who paid for the research to be done.

Here’s what they say:

While the startling allegations in the BIS Shrapnel report have been quickly torn apart by many economists, it has nonetheless misinformed and mongered fear among the public.

BIS Shrapnel refused to identify who commissioned their work and the key assumptions used were not made clear.

Auditors have a code of conduct because financial information is open to abuse and people rely on this information to make important decisions. Actuaries in Australia have a code of conduct that includes context, basic rules and a declaration of fairness and accuracy. A consistent standard would be in the interest of the economic modelling industry and its reputation.

We call on the government to develop a code of conduct to ensure the standard of all economic modelling used to inform Government is transparent and of a high standard.

Read the whole report here. And here’s one of the news articles that examines the need for audiences to understand where economic modelling research comes from, and what it’s used to do.

Update: Here’s another even clearer article, ‘Time to take a stand against misleading modelling‘, from senior economic journalist Ross Gittins, detailing the issues with research communication and credibility in this case.

Photo credit ‘Numbers and Finance‘ by Reynermedia, shared on Flickr under CC-BY 2.0.

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