Monday, November 23, 2015

Risky Business and Financial Disclosure

Nature recently requested clarification on whether I should have issued a financial disclosure for my recent paper with Marshall and Ted for a grant originating with the Risky Business Project, based on a inquiry from a concerned reader (at least one is here). For transparency, in case there are other concerned readers out there, our reply is pasted below.

The Risky Business Project provided a 1 year grant to Hsiang that ended in the summer of 2014. The grant was to work on new methods for estimating the economic impact of climate change in the United States with a larger research team comprised of researchers from Rutgers University, Columbia University, Risk Management Solutions and Rhodium Group. That work was released in the summer of 2014 as the American Climate Prospectus and then subject to peer review and publication as a book by Columbia University Press: “Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus” in the summer of 2015 ( That research program was entirely independent of the diverse views of the members of the Risky Business Project, and none of those funds were used to support any of the work in our recent Nature publication.

At the time when Hsiang’s grant concluded, i.e. when the American Climate Prospectus was released in 2014, The Risky Business Project described itself as:

“The Risky Business Project is a joint partnership of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Paulson Institute, and TomKat Charitable Trust. All three organizations provided substantive staff input to the Risky Business Project over the past 18 months, and supported the underlying independent research being released today. Additional support for this research was provided by the Skoll Global Threats Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund. Staff support for the Risky Business Project is provided by Next Generation, an independent 501c3 organization.”

Thus there is no profit-driven element of the organization and Hsiang’s research funding ultimately came from philanthropic foundations, analogous to the Gates Foundation. Further, Hsiang has no financial interest in any of the organizations contributing to the Risky Business Project. For these reasons, Hsiang did not believe it was necessary or appropriate to disclose the grant as a financial conflict of interest at the time of publication. 

Nevertheless, due to this inquiry, Hsiang double checked this logic with members of the UC Berkeley administration to make sure this reasoning was consistent with the University’s view. He received a reply that confirmed this interpretation: 

“Based on the description of Risky Business that you provided, it would appear that it is a philanthropic sponsor of research and therefore would not benefit financially from the results of the research you published in Nature, nor do you have a financial interest in the affairs of Risky Business.  According to Nature's "competing financial interests" policy, authors are required "to declare to the editors any competing financial interests in relation to the work described."  As Risky Business can reap no financial benefit from your research and you have no financial interest in Risky Business, it does not seem to me that you have any obligation to disclose your previous Risky Business grant.  Indeed doing so would be misleading as it would erroneously suggest that you and  Risky Business have such interests.”

For all of these reasons, we do not feel that it is necessary to publish any correction.

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