BP, 'Knowledge Exchange', and Corporate Control over Research

Since 2007, this blog has warned about the dangers of handing over research in universities to private corporations. This is the idea at the heart of so-called ‘knowledge transfer’, or ‘knowledge exchange‘— code names for an attempt to eliminate the relative autonomy of university researchers.

I began my last series about this process (see Big Society, Big Oil, Muzzled Universities) with an account of the way in which BP was alleged to be trying to buy the work of whole university research departments in a bid to control the outcome of research about its disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Today the Guardian has published information obtained by Greenpeace that appears to confirm the fears concerning possible efforts on BP’s part to undermine the independence of scientists researching the spill:

BP officials tried to take control of a $500m fund pledged by the oil company for independent research into the consequences of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, it has emerged. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show BP officials openly discussing how to influence the work of scientists supported by the fund, which was created by the oil company in May last year. Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: “Can we ‘direct’ GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor’s offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?”. The email was obtained by Greenpeace and shared with the Guardian. The documents are expected to reinforce fears voiced by scientists that BP has too much leverage over studies into the impact of last year’s oil disaster.”