Paying the piper: Government censorship of social science research
The findings of research funded by private-sector companies are often (and sometimes rightly) treated with suspicion, while public-sector research grants are assumed to be untainted by vested interests. David Blunkett's recent attack on research which dared to criticise government policy, including threats to "review" public funding of social science research, demonstrates what some of us already knew: that public-sector research funding comes with strings attached.
As it turned out, much to Blunkett's embarrassment, the Sheffield Hallam University research that he attacked was not funded by the government but by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. His comments and threats, however, reveal the sinister degree of censorship practised in public-sector research funding, and indicate that in judging the influence of vested interests on research findings, one should pay more attention to the contract than the source of funds. In standard Department for Education and Employment research contracts, for example, there is a clause which states that researchers must "incorporate the Department's amendments" in their reports. Professor Michael Bassey of the British Educational Research Association has described this as "totally unacceptable".
David Blunkett's latest threats suggest that in future this clause will be superfluous, as censorship will be pre-emptive: research likely to produce 'off-message' findings will simply not receive public funding in the first place.