Some star psychologists don’t disclose in research papers the large sums they earn for talking about their work. Is that a concern?
Generation Z has made Jean Twenge a lot of money. As a psychologist at San Diego State University in California, she studies people born after the mid-1990s, the YouTube-obsessed group that spends much of its time on Instagram, Snapchat and other social-media platforms. Thanks to smartphones and sharing apps, Generation Z has grown up to be more narcissistic, anxious and depressed than older cohorts, she argues. Twenge calls them the ‘iGen’ generation, a name she says she coined. And in 2010, she started a business, iGen Consulting, “to advise companies and organizations on generational differences based on her expertise and research on the topic”.
Twenge has “spoken at several large corporations including PepsiCo, McGraw-Hill, nGenera, Nielsen Media, and Bain Consulting”, one of her websites notes. She delivers anything from 20-minute briefings to half-day workshops, and is also available to speak to parents’ groups, non-profit organizations and educational establishments. In e-mail exchanges, she declined to say how much she earns from her advisory work, but fees for star psychologists can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars for a single speech, and possibly much more, several experts told Nature.
Twenge’s academic papers don’t mention her paid speeches and consulting. Yet that stands in stark contrast to the conflict-of-interest (COI) guidelines issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), an influential organization whose standards have been widely adopted by many medical and some psychology journals. Those guidelines say that such ‘personal fees’ should be declared as potential COIs in research papers because readers should be made aware of any financial interests that they might perceive as potentially influencing the findings.