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Conflicts of Interest in Public Policy Research

  • Author(s): MacCoun, Robert J.
  • et al.
Abstract

In this essay, I discuss the difficulty of sustaining an inquisitorial system of policy research and analysis when it is embedded in a broader adversarial political setting. Conflicts of interest in public policy research exist on a continuum from blatant pecuniary bias to more subtle ideological bias. Because these biases are only partially susceptible to correction through individual effort and existing institutional practices (peer review, replication), I consider whether a more explicitly adversarial system might be preferable to the awkward hybrid that exists today. But there are important disanalogies between policy-relevant empirical debates and the kinds of conflicts we address with our adversarial legal system. If we are stuck with a muddled inquisitorial-adversarial hybrid, we need to encourage norms of “heterogeneous inquisitorialism,” in which investigators strive for within-study hypothesis competition and greater clarity about roles, facts, and values.

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