We have been having a lively interchange in the comments to this recent post (see Agriculture-Smagriculture below) and it occurs to me that many readers may not be aware of how much industry has inserted itself into the public research that affects our health.
The N.Y. Times ran an article that lays out many of the themes involved in this complex story in an article titled “Scientists Loved and Loathed by an Agrochemical Giant” by Danny Hakim. If you read that article, imagine multiplying that situation by a very large number and you will get an idea as to the breadth and scope of this issue.
One of the reasons behind the Republican effort to “shrink government” is that when the government supports scientific research it is in the public interest and has to let the chips fall where they may lack of bias (well, at least a minimum amount; it is not immune to corruption). When corporations sponsor public research it is often on a “if it is good for us, it gets published and if it isn’t, it doesn’t” basis.
Academics are often in a “must publish” situation, also called “publish or perish.” Even tenured professors can undergo a tenure review if they do not show a strong publication record. While that is rare, you are not going to get to full professor without a list of publications longer than your arm. So, corporations include “non-disclosure” clauses in their contracts for research to give them the right to publish or not. Their argument is that it is proprietary research and there is money to be made which they don’t want to just give to their competitors.
There is a movement afoot to have all publicly sponsored research made available to the public. (Hey, we paid for it.) Much of it is behind pay walls at US$35 per article, which I can attest is as good as being hidden. Combine that practice with corporate-funded research that counters a sponsoring corp’s interests getting buried, never to see the light of day, and you can see the public is pretty much kept in the dark.
Do realize also, that this is a selective use of scientists’ and their universities’ public images. Any research a giant corp wants done could be done “in house,” but by having a prominent scientist, working at a prominent university, doing the research, well, that gives the findings an imprimatur they can’t get from their own “findings.” Of course, if the research is damning, those imprimaturs work against them, hence the “contract provisions” giving them the power to publish … or not.
A crippled federal government, a la the one envisioned by the GOP, will not have the funds to sponsor the research we need done by neutral investigators who publish their works in somewhat accessible journals. It is not by accident that “Big Business” favors the party striving toward “smaller government.”