Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Facing up to the challenges of dangerous consumption

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On Friday we hosted a British Academy early career event. Drawing inspiration from Charles Livingstone of Monash University in Melbourne, who has been convening a far larger event for twelve years, we called it Dangerous Consumption. Our intention was to bring together scholars from tobacco, alcohol and gambling to discuss the challenges of producing knowledge in difficult fields.

Ben Hawkins and Rebecca Cassidy at the Dangerous Consumption UK workshop 2014

All researchers are striving to find new ways to survive in the increasingly market driven world of research and higher education. We are strongly encouraged to partner with industry, both for financial support and also to generate evidence of ‘impact’ (Knowles and Burrows 2014).

How does this process affect research into areas of dangerous consumption like alcohol, gambling and tobacco?

Funding challenges are inseparable from discussions about conflicts of interest. The only funding stream devoted to gambling research in the UK is the Responsible Gambling Trust, which both collects voluntary contributions from the industry and commissions research. The same situation holds in the United States. In alcohol and tobacco these kinds of arrangements have been subjected to intense scrutiny. Research funded by industry has been found to produce systematically flawed results (Babor and Miller 2014) . In gambling these discussions are in their infancy. Coming together to share resources and techniques should help gambling researchers to catch up, and, who knows, our experiences with the gambling industry may also provide new insights into alcohol and tobacco.

Dangerous Consumption showed that the pressure caused by scarcity of funding and conflicts of interest falls disproportionately on early career researchers. The lack of options for early career researchers in gambling is striking. Those who have yet to build up the social capital which comes from publication and funding records have limited options, and may accept industry funding as a last resort. Colleagues in tobacco and alcohol appeared to have relatively better options. Their research projects were undoubtedly shaped by external funding priorities, but these lay within a broader public health arena.

Early career researchers in all of these fields face distinctive problems in relation to publishing. How much time and effort should be directed to peer reviewed articles and books? Who will review my work in a field strongly influenced by industry supported actors, including at the level of journal editor? How much time should be spent on non-peer reviewed publications including social media? Web resources may have more impact, countering industry research which can move quickly and exploit the vacuum left by the peer review process. However, web resources are labour intensive and potentially limitless. They must be of the same standard as peer reviewed publications, but will they be valued equally in job interviews or funding applications? Sections of the scholarly community strongly endorse activity on social media, but others fall behind in their assessment and continue to treat blog entries and other interventions as second class work. Who will defend me if industry backed interests choose to criticise my work?

The discomforts of working in these fields mean that we will continue to lose talent to areas where funding is more easily available and potential adversaries are not so powerful. As we found in Fair Game, outstanding scholars leave gambling, unwilling or unable to produce good work under these conditions. The field is left to others, who are able to consolidate and reproduce the existing conditions of production. To begin to break this vicious cycle we need urgently to reform the structure of funding gambling research and to establish a culture of acknowledging conflicts of interest in publishing.

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Written by samkelly2014

July 16, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Posted in News

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