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Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research

by Sheldon Krimsky (Author)



Editorial Reviews

From the New England Journal of Medicine, November 13, 2003
The title of this book may scare some readers away. They shouldn't let it. Even
as it takes an uncompromising stance on the need for scientific integrity,
Science in the Private Interest is carefully researched and presents arguments
from all sides of the issues under discussion. Case studies sprinkled throughout
the book demonstrate that the main characters -- universities, large companies,
and some academicians -- at times cloak monetary and career-advancing priorities
in scientific clothing. Yet most of the pages of the book are not exposes of
biomedical wrongdoing but explanations of the laws and regulations that govern
how academia and industry interrelate. In Science in the Private Interest,
Sheldon Krimsky explores how scientific discoveries made within academic walls
can be translated into better lives for members of the general public. Without
the profit motive to stimulate private investment in discoveries with potential
application to human need, laboratory breakthroughs might be confined to the
pages of a prominent or obscure journal. Yet that same profit-oriented motive
introduces a new set of priorities, motivations, and cultural norms into
university laboratories and academic investigations. One university official is
quoted as saying, "The only thing wrong with tainted money is there t'aint
enough of it." Is there a way out of the dilemma? Can corporate funding be made
available to translate biomedical advances into beneficial products without
allowing the money to distort the purity of scientific inquiry? In an important
contribution to scholarly inquiry into university-industry collaboration,
Krimsky considers the work of sociologist Robert Merton, who in the 1930s
proposed a series of standards by which science should be evaluated. Merton
suggested four norms of science. "Universalism" refers to the objective nature
of science that transcends national, cultural, or institutional boundaries.
"Communalism" stands for public ownership of the fruits of scientific
investigation, holding that each scientific advance is built on past discoveries
and should not become the private property of a person or institution. Merton's
third norm is "disinterestedness," requiring scientists to perform and to
interpret their work "without considerations of personal gain, ideology, or
fidelity to any cause other than the pursuit of truth." Finally, Merton calls on
scientists and their institutions to practice "organized skepticism," suspending
final judgment on a discovery until all possible facts are at hand. Krimsky uses
these standards to evaluate the state of scientific inquiry in the current era
of growing private funding of universities and heightened corporate influence
over academic behavior. He struggles with the applicability of Mertonian norms
to modern reality. For example, is communalism (public access to scientific
knowledge) an absolute yardstick of scientific integrity, given that industry
has a reasonable right to patent products (a process requiring secrecy) that its
funds help to develop? What kinds of discoveries merit the overriding of
communalism? Is it proper to patent objects that already exist in nature, such
as genes? Or should knowledge be treated as private property only for such
inventions as the vacuum cleaner and the hepatitis B vaccine? This book is
worthwhile reading for anyone interested in biomedical innovation. Thomas
Bodenheimer, M.D.

Book Description
University science is now entangled with entrepreneurship, and researchers with
a commercial interest are caught in an ethical quandary. Science in the Private
Interest investigates the trends and effects of modern, commercialized academic science.


Product Details

Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.; 1 edition (August 28, 2003)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 074251479X

 

 

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