Centre for Law, Economics and Society


Corporate (and other) sponsorship of academic research in competition law

On May 22nd, 2018, the Centre for Law, Economics and Society, the Association of Competition Law Scholars (ASCOLA), the Association of Competition Economists & Solvay Brussels School at the Solvay Brussels School in Brussels.

In view of the recent publicity relating to the lack of disclosure of some academics in competition law and economics that they have received monetary payment (or other forms of compensation) by the industry (corporations and other private interests) in order to produce scientific work, the Academic Society of Competition Law (ASCOLA) has named a standing ethics’ committee, under the chairmanship of Prof. Ioannis Lianos, with the aim to prepare a code for its members, but which could also serve as a model for the development of ethics’ rules in all areas of research activity related to the implementation of competition law.

In collaboration with the Association of Competition Economists (ACE), ASCOLA and the Centre for Law, Economics and Society at UCL co-organised this public debate on “Corporate (and other) sponsorship of academic research in competition law: defining the problem, searching for solutions” to discuss the extent of this practice, the situations in which corporate sponsorship may become an issue for the integrity of academic research, the importance of promoting a transparent and fair debate in academia and, more generally, the impact of such practices on academic research, but also on the practice of competition law and economics. The public debate also reflected on the way competition authorities and EU courts understand this issue, the implications it may have on their work, and the standards of assessment of expert evidence, in particular if this relies on published work.

Professor Ioannis Lianos has briefly presented the philosophy and main provisions of the code (please click here to view the presentation), after which a general discussion followed.

The debate was chaired by Denis Waelbroeck, Partner at Ashurst and Professor, Solvay Brussels School and included the following panellists:

  • Damien Geradin, Partner Euclid Law Firm, professor at the University of Tilburg; visiting professor at the UCL Faculty of Laws

  • Pablo Ibanez Colomo, Professor of law at London School of Economics School of Law

  • Bill Kovacic, Professor at George Washington University School of Law; professor at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London (To Be Confirmed)

  • Ioannis Lianos, Professor of Global Competition Law and Public Policy, UCL Faculty of Laws; Director, Centre for Law, Economics and Society

  • Penelope Papandropoulos, European Commission and chair of the Association of Competition Economists

  • Alexis Walckiers, Chief Economist, Belgian Competition Authority; Solvay Brussels School (please click here to view the presentation)

  • Wouter Wils, European Commission and visiting professor at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College London

Summary of the discussions

This summary was prepared by Dr. Penelope Papandropoulos, the chairwoman of the Association of Competition Economists, co-organiser of this discussion.

          Most participants agreed that public and privately funded research are both desirable, “competition” of ideas is good (i.e. advocates)

-          Private firms need incentives to provide data and market knowledge – this is important for researchers

-          What is not good:  Funding aimed at steering the public debate or research agendas in specific directions in order to satisfy/protect corporate interests & in a way that is non-transparent

-          There are many examples of corporate tactics to use academics to the benefit of private interests

-          Such instances, when they are made public, can have negative externalities on the entire research community that is discredited (bad mouthing of experts)

-          There is also an issue when there is asymmetry on the funding side (large, organized corporates funding many papers in one direction or on one topic)

-          Problems arise when (a) there is no transparency about the ultimate funding;  (b) there is a too much asymmetry in funding

-          Why is it a problem? Because it gives the appearance of neutrality to research that may not be neutral in its aims (this can lead to a lack of trust – see negative externality)

-          The aim of the code of conduct is to ensure that useful & meaningful research is carried out in a way that ensure a balanced debate, whereby opposing views/arguments can be debated openly

-          By disclosing funding, the risk is that research is discounted (or even dismissed) by regulators (avoiding this is precisely the aim of non-disclosure)

-          Self-regulation is one possible avenue but incentives do matter for effective enforcement

-          Disclosure ultimately ensures that trust is not broken and that potential biases are identified

-          To the extent that different sides contribute to the research agenda, the issue of “discounting” should be less prominent as the debate is open and transparent

-         The role of peer reviewed journals is very important in this respect:  systematic request to fill in a form on disclosure (or at least confirm there is nothing to disclose), ensure a fair balance of different views being published, work can even be commissioned in case of imbalance or in general (e.g. literature reviews, meta-studies, encourage young researchers to revisit famous papers – this requires replicability through data and code availability).   Editors should check literature reviews are balanced and complete

-          Plurarity of editor profiles is important to ensure that potential undisclosed biases are detected

-          Non refereed journals could remain a problem  

-          By abiding to strict disclosure rules, some publications may be regarded ultimately as higher quality (more reliable as more transparent)  [this is my own thought] – this could lead to such publications being relied upon more by regulators

-          Potential for naming and shaming as a “stick” (reputational damage) was mentioned

-          Awareness and public debate about this issue is already a good starting point