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How Big Tech's Money Influences Academic Research

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Tech companies are also curtailing access to the internal data many researchers have used for their work.

Tech giants including Google and Meta have dramatically ramped up charitable giving to university campuses over the past several years — giving them influence over academics studying such critical topics as artificial intelligence, social media, and disinformation.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg alone has donated money to more than 100 university campuses, through either Meta or his personal philanthropy arm, according to new research by the Tech Transparency Project. Other firms are helping fund academic centers, doling out grants to professors, and sitting on advisory boards reserved for donors, researchers say.

Silicon Valley's influence is most apparent among computer science professors at such top-tier schools as the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Toronto, Stanford, and MIT. According to a 2021 paper by University of Toronto and Harvard researchers, most tenure-track professors in computer science at those schools whose funding sources could be determined had taken money from the technology industry, including nearly six of 10 scholars of AI.

In interviews, two dozen professors said that by controlling funding and access to data, tech companies wield "soft power," slowing down research, sparking tension between academics and their institutions, and shifting the fields' targets in small — but potentially transformative — ways.

From The Washington Post
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