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Case 21. Objectivity and Incentives


Corine Donnelly, Ph.D., is on the faculty at a regional university and her research expertise is in the area of evaluation of training programs. She routinely conducts evaluations and the grant dollars fund her salary as well as support research assistantships of a number of graduate students. As an expert in this area, Dr. Donnelly has received a contract with an employment-training firm (Backtowork, Inc.) to assess the effectiveness of their demonstration program for job training and placement. The results of this study are needed within 3 months so that Backtowork, Inc. can include the results in a federal grant proposal. Favorable results will guarantee the firm's receipt of federal funding to expand their program nationwide. Whatever Dr. Donnelly finds, her university will receive $125,000 to cover the expenses of the research over the 3 month period. However, if the results are positive, Dr. Donnelly has been assured by a Backtowork representative that she will be contracted to conduct ongoing evaluations of the nationwide job training and placement program over the next five years.


  1. What kinds of potential biases are created by incentives such as the promise of future evaluation contracts?
  2. Backtowork, Inc. is under pressure to validate the effectiveness of its program and Dr. Donnelly is conscious of this. If you were Dr. Donnelly, what would you do to retain your objectivity in this study?
  3. Society as a whole has many concerns about the relationship between scientists in academic research institutions and private business/industry. What are some of these concerns and what principles should be guide these relationships?

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