Research Projects

The Edmond J. Safra Research Lab is currently conducting a five year project to study institutional corruption. The Lab currently supports a large number of projects that investigate the nature of institutional corruption through a variety of different contexts.

Anatomy of an Organization: an Ethnographic Approach to Understanding the History and Ethics of the American Psychiatric Association

Although all medical specialties have come under scrutiny for financial conflicts of interest, the field of psychiatry has been at the epicenter of this "crisis of credibility" (Fava, 2006). Researchers, investigative journalists, and policy makers have raised questions about the extent of industry influence on the diagnostic and practice guidelines developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).


Abigail Brown's primary project at the Lab is to write a book, using archival firm evidence and other historical methods, to trace the development of the financial statement auditing profession into an entity that could fairly be describes as one suffering from institutional corruption. Parallel to the main book project, she is writing a series of economic articles that develop rigorously the theory that provides the foundation for the book's analysis of qualitative data.

Conflicts of Interest and the Potential and Pitfalls of Disclosure

Professionals are often influenced by conflicts of interest when they have a personal, often material, interest in giving biased advice. Although disclosure (informing advisees about the conflict of interest) is often proposed as a solution to problems caused by such conflicts, prior research has found both positive and negative effects of disclosure.

The principal investigator of this project is Sunita Sah. Sunita's interest in disclosure or sunshine policies is to understand when they work and when they do not.

Corruption and Justification in the Ghost Management of Medical Research

Professor Sergio Sismondo has been working to detail the key mechanisms by which which pharmaceutical companies establish dominance over particular areas of medical knowledge. He has been looking at, for example, the ghosting of articles for medical science journals and at drug companies' recruitment and management of physicians to serve as "key opinion leaders". In his project at the Safra Center, he is studying how people justify their work to manage medical knowledge, as well as at how physicians and researchers justify their involvement with the drug industry.

Creative or Corrupt? How Wikipedians Decide If a New Contribution Is "good" or "bad"

Creativity is the introduction of a novel and appropriate idea or product into a community that transforms the community in some way. Corruption is the decay or redirection of community resources away from a community's purpose toward a self-interested end. Both creativity and corruption alter the possibilities available to later community contributors. In an empirical study of seven contentious Wikipedia pages, Fellow Seana Moran explores: How does the editing community decide, at the time a novel contribution is made, whether it is creative and should be kept, or corrupt and should be removed or blocked? How long does this evaluation take? What evaluative criteria are used?

Cultural Cognition and Public Campaign Financing

Working in conjunction with the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, the Cultural Cognition Project is conducting an empirical investigation of how cultural cognition influences perceptions of the desirability, efficacy, and importance of public financing of political campaigns. "Cultural Cognition" refers to a set of psychological mechanisms that motivate individuals to fit their beliefs about policy-consequential facts to their preferred visions of the ideal society. Concepts and methods featureing cultural cognition have been used to understand public disagreements over myriad issues, from gun control to climate change.

Did Campaign Contributions and Congressional Corruption Lead to the Global Financial Crisis?

Surveys show that the majority of people believe Congress is rife with corruption (e.g. World Values Survey 2000). Despite this public consensus, scholarship on the topic is quite mixed, largely because most studies employ a "market model" in which desired policy outcomes are assumed to be purchased by contributors (Gordon 2005). A "social model" better captures the reality-a reality in which desired policy outcomes are gifted via an ongoing friendly, albeit corrupting, reciprocal relationship (e.g. Clawson, Neustadtl, and Weller 1998; Gordon 2005).

Ethical Nudges

The principal investigator of this project is Sreedhari D. Desai. In this project, Sreedhari and her colleagues use laboratory and field experiments to investigate the role of ethical nudges, or non-coercive ways of leading people down moral pathways. In one segment of this project, they investigated how displaying cues such as moral quotations at the bottom of emails and pictures of moral leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi can trigger implicit psychological processes such that people feel discouraged from behaving unethically.

Following the Money? Lobbying and Congressional Staff Careers in Washington, 2000-2010

In the last two decades, the lobbying industry has assumed a central role among Washington’s policy-making institutions. Importantly, a large fraction of lobbyists employed in the Federal industry have experience in government positions, especially posts in Congress, the White House and leading executive agencies.

The movement of political staffers from roles in the government to lucrative jobs in the lobbying industry is often described as a ‘revolving door’.

Legal Ambiguity and Organizational Noncompliance

The principal investigator of this project is Yuval Feldman. The focus of this research is to understand the psychological processes that mediate and moderate the effect of ambiguity in law on rule-following behaviors of individuals in organizations. Although recent research suggests that when people face ambiguity, they may be more likely to rely on their own self-interest to guide their behavior, either deliberately or unknowingly, this project will demonstrate that in an organizational context, the picture is more complex.


Elected officials collect large sums of money to run their campaigns, and they often pay back campaign contributors with special access and favorable laws. Fellow Daniel Newman is co-founder and executive director of MapLight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization revealing money's influence on politics. MapLight serves journalists, issue-oriented nonprofit groups, and interested citizens, providing in-depth information about lawmakers, votes, and special-interest influence.

Medical Trainees and the Pharmaceutical Industry: a National Survey

Recently, policymakers in the US have become concerned about the relationships between medical trainees and pharmaceutical industry representatives, because such interactions may affect trainees' professional development and their future prescribing practices. Lab fellow Kirsten Austad's project involves investigating the extent of trainees' contacts with pharmaceutical industry representatives, as well as the impact of these interactions on trainees' attitudes about pharmaceutical policy issues and knowledge about evidence-based prescribing.

Obstruction to Truth: Institutional Corruption in Academia

Academic researchers operate within a unique economy where the goal is to seek and teach the truth about our universe, not to generate profit; indeed, ideas (not money) are the currency of exchange. As such, corruption in this context can be thought of as anything that prevents researchers from discovering the truth or anything that takes away from the public's opinion of the veracity of research findings. Alek Chakroff and Brandi Newell are collaborating to investigate the subtle and often unintentional cognitive biases that can lead researchers away from the truth and, more specifically, towards confirming their own ideas or "pet theories."

Patient Advocacy Organizations

Dr. Susannah Rose's primary project at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics has been to develop an empirical research study aimed at assessing the nature of institutional financial conflicts of interest among patient advocacy groups in the United States. During her first year as a residential Lab Fellow at the Safra Center, Susannah finished a paper that reviews the literature on patient advocacy groups, which describes their significant role in shaping health policy in the U.S. and provides recommendations for helping advocacy groups better manage institutional conflicts of interest. In this paper, she argues that maintaining and enhancing trust and institutional trustworthiness are important targets for policies aimed at managing financial conflicts of interest.

Political Money and the Crisis in Political Representation

In this project, Paul Jorgensen will conduct an empirical and normative project investigating how the industrial structure of the American economy influences the partisan control of Congress and the public policy emanating from this legislative body, from 1990 through 2010. The specific questions guiding this research include: (1) what are and what explains electoral and lobbying coalitions between organized interests and political parties across time, which are defined broadly to include all types of campaign contributions, lobbying contracts, and contents of congressional member stock portfolios, and (2) what are the legislative and economic effects of these coalitions across time?

Regulatory Capture and the NRC

Observers raised concerns over the effectiveness and the independence of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission long before the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan this past spring. President Obama, for one, said the agency has "become captive of the industries that it regulates" while on the campaign trail in 2007. But the Japanese nuclear disaster has focused a new spotlight on the commission and its ability to effectively oversee nuclear safety.

The Economy of Influence Shaping American Public Health and the Environment

The principal investigator of this project is Sheila Kaplan. The EPA has a vast mandate - protecting air, water, land and people from pollutants. But year after year, through both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses, strong economies and weak ones, the institution fails the American public in many ways. The evidence abounds. Reports by the Government Accountability Office (formerly the General Accounting Office), EPA's own Inspectors General and the media have long documented EPA's inability to guard Americans from toxic chemicals, mining waste, leaking Superfund sites, greenhouse gas emissions, contaminated water, air pollution and other hazards.

The Perils of Imagining the Unethical Road Not Taken

In this project, Daniel Effron and his colleagues examine a psychological process that allows people to act unethically without feeling unethical. When people reflect on the unethical road not taken - that is, the misdeeds that they refrained from committing in the past - they feel more justified in acting unethically in the future. Thus, situations that draw people's attention to these unethical roads not taken can inadvertently increase the incidence of unethical behavior.

The Pharmaceutical Industry, Institutional Corruption, and Public Health

Professor Marc Rodwin’s project grows out of his previous two books on physicians’ conflicts of interest.1 One source of these conflicts of interest is physicians’ financial relationship to pharmaceutical firms. As an Edmond J. Safra Research Lab Fellow, Marc Rodwin is analyzing the legal, financial, and organizational arrangements within which the pharmaceutical industry operates. These sometimes create incentives (for drug firms and their employees) that conflict with the development of knowledge, drug safety, the promotion of public health, and innovation. They also make the public depend inappropriately on pharmaceutical firms to perform certain activities and this leads to institutional corruption. In a series of articles he will analyze the pros and cons of various options for reform.

The Political Economy of Pharmaceutical Corruption: How to Reconcile Profits and Public Health in the Pharaceutical Sector?

Professor Marc-Andre Gagnon investigates how the innovation system in the pharmaceutical sector is broken. In the last 15 years, fewer new drugs have arrived on the market, and the vast majority of them do not represent any therapeutic advancement as compared to what already exist. However, promotional expenditures surged during that period and, according to dominant pharmaceutical companies' annual reports, they are gaining record profits in spite of the lack of therapeutic innovation.

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