Academics Up in Arms Over Exxon-Funded Research

When Exxon went to court in 1997 to appeal a $5.3 billion punitive damage verdict over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, it cited articles from respected journals and law reviews that found that high punitive damages were bad for society or based on the unjust whims of quixotic juries. What the company didn’t say was that it had bankrolled the articles. In the years after the oil spill, Exxon hired at least nine academics at a price well beyond what the average university could pay; the new hires published 13 papers, which have since been used not only in the Exxon appeal but in other punitive damage cases as well. That’s not sitting well with other professors, who worry about industry setting research agendas. In at least one case, Exxon cut off funding for research that didn’t serve its purposes.