Saturday, July 22, 2017

The High Cost of Independence in Telecommunications Policy Analysis

            For over 25 years, I have strived to find the truth without regard to political party and economic doctrine.  My work fits no definitional template, or litmus test.   This fierce independence comes at a significant price.

            In these partisan times, the failure to make a team commitment places on in either, or both of two undesirable camps: 1) unreliable, “not one of us”; and 2) ignorable and invisible.

            For so many years, I though independence offered the opportunity to provide the “straight dope,” i.e., to offer unsponsored insights, the real deal.  On the plus side, independence has enhanced my qualifications to serve as an unbiased industry observer, legal analysist and forecaster.  On the negative side, few stakeholders and even the media want transparent analysis.  Stakeholders want advocates and they handsomely pay to use scholar-created “research” to promote their legislative and regulatory agenda.  So much sponsorship money sloshes around that the refusal to tap in generates questions about the value of one’s work.

            In light of a 24 hour news cycle, most journalists now appear content, or resigned, to interview and quote from scholars with a particular, often financially sponsored, viewpoints.  They offer no analysis leaving it up to consumers to make their own determination of the truth.

            Recently the Wall Street Journal had a front page article reporting on the breadth and reach of Google-sponsored, academic work.  See http://www.wsj.com/podcasts/google-academic-influence-campaign-paying-professors/832B4701-43E8-498E-B527-76AD0D54E553.html.  The list contained far too many “false positives,” but it does provide ample evidence of what Google does to affect policy, just like more established ventures such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. 

            I did not make the list.  I should note that Google did provide financial support for one project, but the scope of editorial oversight proved uncomfortable.

            I don’t know whether to revel in this confirmation of independence, or to regret not joining the ranks of some very impressive scholars. Are scholars not on this and similar lists nobodies, because no one paid for their work making it close to valueless?

            I continue to hope that there will remain a place for unsponsored research which can have financial support, but no explicit or implicit expectation of outcome.  Of course there will always be well-funded place for sponsored advocacy that masquerades as research.  The policy making process –and sadly most media outlets as well—function largely on the assessment and balancing of divergent viewpoints. 

            But unsponsored, independent research continues to dwindle in volume, significance and impact at a time when industry, government and the learned community need it to offer, fair-minded strategic planning insights.

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