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.
Twenge is not a lone outlier; an analysis for this article found that several well-known academic psychologists do paid speeches and consultancy work and don’t declare them in their research papers. Many editors and psychologists say that this is fine and is standard behaviour. They argue that this kind of income should not count as a COI and that psychology should not be held to the norms of medical science. “Speaking fees and consultancies would not be obvious conflicts of interest, unlike, say, evaluating a drug produced by a company in which one holds stock, since there would not seem to be incentives aligned with making one claim versus another,” says Steven Pinker, a well-known author and psychologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who can also be booked for speaking engagements.
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