A friend of mine sent me a link to The Kept University, a great article about how corporations are increasingly turning universities into cheap biased research labs.
Companies give researchers stock options for conducting research on product development, censor negative reviews, and see a much higher rate of positive reviews. They then use this research to try to push new products into the market. That is about a million times worse than something like PayPerPost, which recently saw many of their bloggers get their PageRank axed by Google.
In one way it makes Google's position seem absurd because many of the "best links" are simply a reflection of these hidden business deals by publishers and the advertisers with the largest profit margins. But you could also think of these types of relationships as a low risk source of clean links, and the type of relationship and reputation building tools needed to sustain profit margins in competitive marketplaces.
When you are new and small you can't afford to sponsor a school, but you can still offer to take a professor out to lunch or offer them free stuff to help build your credibility and push you into a market leading position.
You don't have to own the world to do well, just be a leader in a growing market and ride that growth curve. And if your field does not relate to a school it probably relates to some community or industry organization. And if those do not exist you could create one and build from there.
I am not suggesting that anyone pay people to lie about you, but that if Google doesn't like paid links maybe we should try to emulate how market leaders get and keep their leading market positions offline: pay to get your products in the hands of market leaders and (when possible) don't disclose the sponsored editorial transactions!
Excerpts from The Kept University:
In higher education today corporations not only sponsor a growing amount of research -- they frequently dictate the terms under which it is conducted. Professors, their image as unbiased truth-seekers notwithstanding, often own stock in the companies that fund their work. ...
In the summer of 1996 four researchers working on a study of calcium channel blockers -- frequently prescribed for high blood pressure -- quit in protest after their sponsor, Sandoz, removed passages from a draft manuscript highlighting the drugs' potential dangers, which include stroke and heart failure. ...
In 1996, while serving as a consultant to Microfibres, a Rhode Island company that produces nylon flock, Kern discovered evidence of a serious new lung disease among the company's employees. Upon learning that he planned to publish his findings, the company threatened to sue, citing a confidentiality agreement that forbade Kern to expose "trade secrets." ...
The New England Journal of Medicine warning that drugs like fen-phen could have potentially fatal side effects. But the same issue contained a commentary from two academic researchers that downplayed the health dangers of fen-phen . Both authors had served as paid consultants to the manufacturers and distributors of similar drugs -- connections that were not mentioned.
If everything becomes free then hidden costs will pop up everywhere. It is so much cleaner if it is all out in the open, but some people don't think of the alternative before trying to force their view of the world upon it. Cheers to the rise of paid content as free content becomes more polluted.
In a few years search engines will wish their problems were as simple as spotting paid links.
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