You’ve got to hand it to National Review for sheer balls. They’ve got a link on their front page to a “special symposium” on health care and pharmaceuticals—and from the front page, it looks just like any other article. Click through, though, and you’ll notice it’s basically one of those “special advertising sections,” with ad copy disguised as articles that you sometimes find in print magazines. They’re at least blatant about the fact that it’s sponsored by Pfizer, and it’s even hosted on ads.nationalreview.com. It’s blatant enough that I guess it’s not really deceptive, but it does strike me as a little unseemly.
Now, I certainly have nothing against a scholar or a tank taking funding from a person or company who agrees with (or has a vested interest in) the work you’re already doing anyway. If you’re putting out arguments either for or against some form of regulation, it shouldn’t be suprising if the interest groups or industries with something to gain from the adoption of your position want to step up to support you, and you’re surely not obligated to turn down the money so long as it’s not leading you to alter your conclusions. Even so, contributing your name to some glossy “brought to you by Pfizer” ad insert smacks a little too much of directly whoring for the drug companies for my taste.
Am I being pedantic here? Is this a distinction without a difference? Maybe… I suppose I see it as the difference between accepting support for something you were going to do anyway, and being commissioned to toe a particular line. But does it really matter if that sincerely is your line? Should you turn down an opportunity to write what you actually believe, just because it’s going to be circulated and sponsored by an interested party? My intuition is that there’s some difference, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on it.