This went down in 2008, but this is the first that I heard of it via BoingBoing: Billionaires role in hiring decisions at Florida State University raises questions – St. Petersburg Times. Apparently, Charles G. Koch, tea party and anti-union hobbyist, pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University in exchange for influence over the hiring of economic professors as well as for the creation of objectives that must be met if FSU wants to keep the cash. It is unfortunate that FSU administrators sought the further erosion of academic freedom of their faculty by taking this Trojan Horse from Koch. It undermines the economic faculty’s ability to shape their department’s direction, but it also creates a precedent that administrators will likely want to replicate in other departments. Granted, the sciences already accept these kinds of deals with the Devil where the corporate sponsor has final say over the release or publication of acquired research data. The case with Koch, however, is different in that it directly targets faculty decision making and academic freedom. Have similar deals gone down at other universities? Let me know in the comments.
If you missed it, as I had, you should make a point to read Judith Warner’s “Fact-Free Science” in the New York Times Magazine. I saw it linked today from a discussion on Slashdot.org, which you can find here. It bears noting however that I am not entirely sure whether the original Slashdot poster G3ckoG33k meant to employ hyperbole or not when he linked to Warner’s article as “describing the latest chilling acts of the socially relativistic, postmodern loons.” Nevertheless, Warner’s article charts, in broad strokes, how the attack on scientific truth shifted with the political winds from the radical left to the radical right. It is useful to thinking about how we find ourselves in the current anti-scientific malaise.