The State University of New York (SUNY) will soon close its discredited Shale Resources and Society Institute. The Buffalo-based university announced that it is terminating the institute after its failure to prove the credibility of its research, to consistently disclose its financial interests, and to ensure the presence of sufficient faculty.
The Shale Resources and Society Institute was investigating the hydraulic fracturing process. Back in May, it released a study that showed significant partiality towards the oil and gas industry. Critics promptly tore into the institute for its obvious bias.
SUNY President Satish K. Tripathi told the “university community” that faculty members should follow strict standards of academic integrity, intellectual honesty, transparency, and ethical conduct.
The Austin-based University of Texas at Austin is likewise investigating a fracking study that it released earlier in 2012. UoT had discovered that one of the professors who ‘fostered’ the study hid the fact that he was a board member of a gasoline company.
Government grants are on the decline, forcing academic research to rely more and more on corporate money that is accused of influencing its results.
Grassroots efforts accounted for recent investigations and the closure of controversial institutes like the Shale Resources and Society Institute. Professors, students, and several SUNY trustees had pressured the University to close its shale institute. The movement presented a petition with more than 10,500 signatures to support its cause.
SUNY English professor Jim Holstun was one of those who challenged the credibility of the Shale Resources and Society Institute. The signatories strongly insisted that their public university should not turn into a corporate mouthpiece.
The Shale Resources and Society Institute released a study that claiming that state regulation was making drilling for oil in Pennsylvania much safer. The study argued that the rules pending in New York would bring about the same benefits.
Howver, the local government watchdog group Public Accountability Initiative challenged some of the data and conclusions published by the study. The PAI also pointed out that the study’s lead authors directly conducted research for the oil and gas industry, and that they did not release full disclosure.
The PAI noted that John P. Martin, the study’s third author and the co-director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute, provided planning and public relations services for the oil and gas industry.
According to Dr. Tripathi, the now-closed shale institute brought a number of transparency issues to light. The State University of New York will be assembling a committee to discuss ways of strengthening policies for disclosing financial interests and sources of support in research going forward. Dr. Tripathi added that SUNY would continue to study energy and environmental matters.
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