Important issues tend to be difficult, with deeply entrenched opinions and interests. They also attract the attention of media, political leaders, citizens and especially lobbyists. Recently, while explaining the results of two very contentious studies, I was asked who paid for them. That is a fair question, of course, which is why we put the name of the sponsoring organization on the study itself. But it also leads to other questions about the nature of university research – how and why we do what we do.
As a professor, I teach classes, but that is only part of my job. Most professors are also tasked with performing research. Research means different things in different disciplines, but the common feature is that it means discovering things that were previously unknown using the scientific method. I don’t know how most fields of study evaluate their research, but in economics we are judged on only two things; how important are the questions we ask, and how good is our analysis.