[sixties-l] For sale: US academic integrity

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Mar 13 2001 - 18:40:17 EST

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    CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ON THE CAMPUS

    For sale: US academic integrity

    http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/en/2001/03/11academic

    Private enterprise is much taken with education, especially the
    universities. In the United States the race to get hold of academic
    disciplines that bring in the money has already increased conflicts of
    interest between research and business. Under cover of a 'marketplace of
    ideas', the logic of the market could turn academics into entrepreneurs and
    endanger the unity of our universities.

    by IBRAHIM WARDE *
    March 2001

    In November 1998 the University of California at Berkeley signed a
    controversial agreement with Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant and
    producer of genetically engineered crops. In exchange for $25m to its
    Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (DPMB), the university would grant
    the firm first right to negotiate licenses on about one-third of the
    department's discoveries (including the results of research funded by state
    and federal sources). Novartis would also be represented on two out of five
    seats in the department's research committee, which determines how the money
    is spent.
    About half of the faculty members of the College of Natural Resources, of
    which the DPMB is a part, expressed concern that the deal would erode
    Berkeley's commitment to "public good research", and 60% feared it would
    impede the free exchange of ideas among scientists (1). California state
    senator Tom Hayden declared that the deal "raises significant questions of
    whether biotechnology research primarily serves the interests of
    corporations and marginalises potential academic critics at the expense of
    free inquiry and unfettered research".
    Yet, by and large, the deal represents the new model of cooperation between
    corporations and universities. Since California's Proposition 13, which
    froze property tax and started a widespread "tax revolt" in 1978, state
    funding for education has started to decline. Changes were afoot at the
    federal level, too. In 1980 the US Congress, concerned about declining
    productivity and rising competition from Japan, passed the Bayh-Dole act,
    which for the first time allowed universities to patent the results of
    federally funded research. Subsequent legislation further encouraged
    corporations to fund academic research - through tax breaks among other
    things - and universities to licence their inventions to corporations.
    With the end of the cold war, universities suffered more public cuts. Thus
    in 1987 Berkeley, which was once funded almost entirely by the state of
    California, saw the share of public funding fall to 50% of its overall
    budget, and to 34% in 1999. Buildings erected in the 1990s, such as the one
    housing the business school, were financed exclusively by private donations.
    The Haas family (heirs to jeans makers Levi Strauss) was its most generous
    benefactor, and saw to it that the school bore its name. A number of major
    corporations endowed faculty positions. Even the dean holds the position of
    "Bank of America dean". The state-of-the-art building of the Haas School of
    Business is plastered with corporate logos and all its rooms - and even the
    tables and chairs - are adorned with plaques commemorating their donor - a
    company, an alumnus or a graduating class.
    The market-model university
    This is the world of what Harvard professors James Engell and Anthony
    Dangerfield call the "market-model university", where departments that make
    money, study money or attract money are given priority (2). Increasingly,
    universities are becoming two-tiered institutions with rich departments and
    poor departments, academic superstars and an academic underclass.
    For advocates of this new partnership, such as the Business-Higher Education
    Forum, a lobbying coalition of corporate and academic leaders, there is a
    long list of reasons why tearing down the walls separating the universities
    from the marketplace is a win-win proposition: corporate donations help
    build modern laboratories and finance cutting edge research; business can
    innovate while giving academic scientists a greater share of the financial
    rewards; corporations more than make up for the shortfall in public
    financing; students benefit through a variety of trickle-down mechanisms
    such as scholarships and research opportunities; corporate funding enables
    scientific breakthroughs, such as finding cures for deadly diseases, which
    benefit society as a whole; and the public at large, and even the
    government, benefit from attendant economic growth, increased corporate
    taxes, and individual and corporate philanthropy.
    Not everyone agrees with this proposition (3). One scientist says that "the
    increasing pressures on universities to get into bed with industry are not
    always resulting in a good night's rest for either partner". Others, like
    Ronald Collins, director of the Integrity in Science Project at the Centre
    for Science in the Public Interest, have argued that "science is losing
    credibility ^ Conflicts of interest, biased studies and secrecy are
    undermining science's reputation and its truth-seeking objective.
    Scientist-consultants who are paid by industries but who serve as faculty
    professors frequently testify before Congress and federal regulatory
    agencies without pausing to reveal their industry connections. Science
    departments in public universities enter into multimillion dollar contracts
    with private corporations, yet few details are revealed about the nature of
    such agreements. Medical and other science journals all too frequently
    publish articles without adequately disclosing even major conflicts of
    interest" (4).
    Similarly, in his most recent book, Robert Reich, minister of labour in the
    first Clinton administration, criticises the impact of the "era of the good
    deal" on the world of education (5). The quest for knowledge, disinterested
    research and intellectual curiosity have become secondary. Heads of
    universities are now assuming the role of travelling salesmen and are judged
    primarily on their fund-raising abilities. Students at the most prestigious
    colleges see their studies as an investment that will open the door to
    networking and huge salaries.
    It was once assumed that funding came with no strings attached. But in a far
    cry from the old model of philanthropy, corporations now expect to get their
    money's worth - and then some. The logic of the "market-model university"
    assumes that whoever is paying the piper should call the tune. Recipients
    are expected to become apologists for donors (6). Nike recently announced
    that it would withdraw millions of dollars in financial support from three
    universities (Michigan, Oregon and Brown) because student groups had dared
    criticise the company's wages and working conditions, especially of
    children, in their factories in some of the world's poorer countries.
    He who pays the piper
    In the 20 years since the Bayh-Dole act was passed, industry funding for
    academic research has increased eight-fold and the number of patents
    produced by universities has gone up 20-fold. Universities themselves are
    beginning to look and behave like for-profit companies. Every research
    university has a technology-licensing office whose purpose is to maximise
    returns from royalties. In the last few years a number of universities,
    including Stanford and Chicago, have established internal venture-capital
    funds to bankroll commercially promising research. With the promise of new
    "delivery" systems for education (on-line and distance learning),
    universities are also racing to establish joint ventures with for-profit
    companies. In the words of Berkeley Public Policy professor David Kirp, "the
    hoary call for a 'marketplace of ideas' has turned into a grotesque double
    entendre" (7).
    A logical consequence is the appearance of a new academic type: the
    professor-entrepreneur who uses his academic affiliation as a launching pad
    for lucrative ventures. Despite full-time academic appointments, such
    academics often spend most of their time working on their private projects.
    Another unseemly aspect is the tendency to privatise revenues and socialise
    expenses (through the use of university administrative resources as well as
    "free" student labour). Yet though academic departments and students are
    often short-changed in the process, most universities look the other way.
    They look instead at all the financial possibilities that come with
    high-visibility academic stars - from the "overhead" paid to the university
    out of grant money to present or future gifts or bequests from such
    professors to their institutions.
    Perhaps the major problem with conflicts of interest involving academics who
    have a financial stake in the outcome of their research is that it distorts
    the policy process. Increasingly corporations operate under cover of
    "non-profit research organisations" which provide the much-needed "plausible
    deniability". Thus, at the time of the Microsoft trial, "independent"
    research institutes secretly funded by the software giant churned out
    "studies" meant to influence the public as well as the courts (8). And by
    looking at research on the health impact of tobacco, the "science" behind
    global warming or breast implants, or the effectiveness of a drug, we can
    see that it is not unusual for sponsored academics to fudge the data,
    suppress unfavourable evidence, and otherwise "torture the numbers till they
    confess" (9).
    An illustration of the policy impact of sponsored research is the case of
    University of Florida criminology professor Charles Thomas who for 20 years
    was the relentless advocate of prison privatisation. He had testified before
    Congress on the merits of full-scale privatisation, and his "expert" views
    were frequently quoted in major newspapers and moved the stock value of
    corporations involved in running jails (10). He turned out to have been on
    the payroll of private corrections companies all along, and was also as a
    significant shareholder in those companies. In January 1999 he received a
    $3m consulting fee over the merger involving Corrections Corporation of
    America. Following an investigation by the state of Florida Ethics
    Commission, he "denied wrongdoing" and offered to pay a $2,000 fine.
    Academic disciplines that should in theory be concerned about the relations
    between universities and the marketplace pay scant attention to these
    issues. Departments of education are busy exploring the latest educational
    fads. The humanities, obsessed by multiculturalism, have "deconstructed"
    such concepts as "truth" and forfeited their right to defend disinterested
    inquiry. The social sciences are mostly preoccupied with quantification and
    abstraction. Business schools are cheerleaders for whatever generates
    profits.
    So by default it is within the sciences themselves - and in publications
    such as the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) or the Lancet - that the
    most thoughtful research on conflicts of interest and other ethical issues
    is taking place. A worrying development occurred when the Los Angeles Times
    revealed that 19 out of the 40 articles published in the last three years in
    the "Drug Therapy" section of the NEJM had been written by authors with
    financial ties to drug makers. The NEJM is hugely influential, and it had
    taken a strong stand on medical ethics and established stringent ethical
    guidelines for its contributors. It was only after the Los Angeles Times
    report that the soul-searching began and an internal inquiry was held. Then
    it emerged that reviewers of new drugs had disclosed financial ties to the
    NEJM editors. It has been suggested that it was simply not possible to find
    reviewers without ties to pharmaceutical companies. At all events, Marcia
    Angell, the outgoing editor-in-chief of the NEJM, published an editorial
    decrying the growing conflicts of interest in academic research institutions
    throughout the country (11).
    The world of science is now going through what business schools did in the
    1980s. A Stanford business school professor recalls that "in the early 1980s
    the faculty here started getting snotty comments about how they were
    contributing to greed on Wall Street and training modern day pirates and
    buccaneers. After a while it got hard to laugh off. So the faculty said
    'Hey, let's just put an ethics unit in the curriculum. That'll shut
    everybody up'." Now we have ethics galore - ethical guidelines, ethics
    courses, ethics seminars. They may not have not stopped the more doubtful
    practices, but they have guaranteed that science can proceed with a clear
    conscience.
    ------------
    * Professor at the University of California, Berkeley; author of "Islamic
    Finance in the Global Economy", Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2000
    ------------
    Footnotes:

    1)Eyal Press and Jennifer Washburn, "The Kept University", Atlantic Monthly,
    Boston, March 2000.
    2) James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield , "The Market-Model University:
    Humanities in the Age of Money", Harvard Review, May-June 1998.
    3) David Weatherall, "Academia and industry: increasingly uneasy bedfellows",
    Lancet, London, 6 May 2000.
    4) Ronald Collins, "Assuring truth in science a must", Baltimore Sun, 29 August
    2000.
    5) Robert B Reich, The Future of Success, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2001 (289
    pp, $26).
    6) See "The fine art of giving", Le Monde diplomatique English edition,
    December 1997.
    7) David L Kirp, "The New U", The Nation, New York, 17 April 2000.
    8) New York Times, 18 September 1999.
    9) Marcia Angell, Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical Evidence and the Law
    in the Breast Implant Case, W W Norton, New York, 1997 ; Ross Gelbspan, The
    Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up, the Prescription, Perseus
    Press, Los Angeles, 1998.
    10) See Loic Wacquant, "Imprisoning the American poor", Le Monde diplomatique
    English edition, July 1998.
    11) New England Journal of Medicine, Boston, 24 February, 22 June and 13 July
    2000.



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