Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Still More Conference Board of Canada Fallout

The Conference Board has taken the next step in damage control arising from its recent plagiarism scandal. Here's today's statement.

The most notable and useful disclosure from the Conference Board is that:
The evidence indicates there was undue reliance on feedback from a funder who was deemed to have important technical expertise.
(Emphasis added)

The Conference Board should identify the funder who provided the “feedback”, and why this funder's “deemed” technical expertise managed to effectively poison the process. It should, as a matter of course, identify all funders of all its reports. This is normal practice, and is absolutely essential if a report is to have any serious credibility in academic, policy, business and government circles. The Conference Board must guard against letting its good name be used by special interest lobbyists in what Dr. Michael Geist calls “policy laundering.”

The report in question was to have been rolled out as a key item at a Conference Board conference on May 29, 2009. Here is the program, which shows a list of sponsors and the Advisory Board of that rather imbalanced and expensive event, which, in fairness, covered quite a lot of material other than copyright. Nonetheless, and despite the breadth of the conference, two of the four members of the “Advisory Board” for the conference were the heads of CRIA and CMPDA. These have been two of the most, if not the most, energetic, persistent and successful (in terms of legislative influence) copyright lobbyist organizations in Canada since the 1980's. It's a fair question to ask whether either or both these two well known and well funded organizations (which represent mainly American interests) were among the funders or were otherwise involved in the specific ill-fated research project now in issue.

BTW, here's what it costs to “sponsor” a Conference Board conference.

Interestingly, the Conference Board has engaged Dr. Ruth Corbin to “to review all relevant research and consult multiple sources, and redo the reports.”

The Board indicates that:
When completed, this work will be presented to a multi-stakeholder Roundtable to be held in the fall. We will publish a summary of the Roundtable discussion, reflecting the full spectrum of views on the issue, as an Appendix to the research.
One can only wish Dr. Corbin and the Board luck in sorting all of this out. The scandal may not reside only in the fact that much of the key content of the now withdrawn work was plagiarized but that much of the IIPA material that was apparently recycled as “research” may have been utterly unreliable to begin with. I'm not sure that it's possible to “redo” that kind of work.


PS & Update - the Conference Board did acknowledge the financial support of several coalition or umbrella groups in this case. But that still leaves questions unanswered - namely who was really actively involved in the sponsored research. See comments below.

PS and update #2 - more connecting of dots and about the courageous Curtis Cook, former employee of the Confernce Board, in a Canwest story here.


  1. "It should, as a matter of course, identify all funders of all its reports."

    I recall seeing the list funders on one of the Reports. This should be relatively easy to verify.

  2. Good point. In its now disappeared (or "recalled") May 2009 report "Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Economy" it did list the following:

    Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy,
    International Chamber of Commerce
    Canadian Intellectual Property Council,
    Canadian Chamber of Commerce
    Copyright Collective of Canada
    Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation
    Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network

    If you look behind the last one, CACN, for example, you will see some familiar organizations such as CRIA and CMPDA.

    Or if you look behind the Canadian Intellectual Property Council, you will see the same two.

    CRIA and CMPDA seem to come up repeatedly and in interesting ways in this context.

    However, it's not at all clear who from the disclosure of financial support who is calling the shots in terms of the Conference Board engagement or within the above organizations on these issues. I would still like to know who was the "funder who was deemed to have important technical expertise" and who specifically provided the "feedback".

  3. PS - the use of a "coalition" of special interests could also amount to "policy laundering" for a particular member or members of that coalition or umbrella group.