Stem cell therapy, Commoditization & 'Placenta Stew'

Louis R Godena louisgodena at
Thu Oct 10 15:25:48 MDT 1996

Doug writes  (re my comments on the depersonaliization of science):

>Well, yes, on the one hand this is true, as is everything you said about
>commodification of life and human individuality. On the other hand, can one
>do science without at least some of this? Isn't this one of the classic
>contradictions of capitalist culture - that besides its alienating social
>effects, the objectification and de-individualization has also led to
>admirable scientific progress?...

Doug,  I fear,   misunderstands me.

I am not expressing outrage or decrying the debasement of previous values; I
am noting,  however,   that the commoditization of science is not a unique
transformation in this case (stem cell research and production),  but a
natural part of capitalist development.    I am more interested in examining
the consequences of this change for scientific activity.

For me,  the commoditization of science carries with it a number of
manifestations which I will (briefly) outline here:

can estimate with alacrity how long it takes on the average to develop a new
drug or computer,  with how much labor and at what cost.    Scientific
activity can thus be viewed as generalized human labor,  rather than as a
way to solve particular problems.

subject to costs of production,   interchangeability,  and managerial
supervision.   The division of labor within science has become increasingly
rationalized.    The creative parts of scientific work are more and more
restricted to a small fraction of working scientists,  the rest are
increasingly proletarianized,  losing more and more control not only over
their choice of problems or approach,  but even over their day to day
activity.     This fragmentation of skills,  and the resulting increase in
specialization is not derived from the normal intellectual needs of a given
field,  but from the vagaries of the cost accounting of capital.    It is
much cheaper to train one laboratory hematologist and one urinanalyst than
to prepare to medical technicians.    This of course leads to increased
alienation among scientific workers,  thereby necessitating greater
supervision.    This,  in turn,  results in greater bureacratization and the
creation of a conservative research culture which slows progress in
scientific research and discovery.

3)  SCIENTIFIC LABOR MUST ITSELF BE PRODUCED:  Universities and vocational
schools are under increasing pressure to produce scientists at a minimum of
time and cost,  turning the educational enterprise itself into an external
service for the personnel departments of private enterprise (some two-thirds
of all scientists working in the US are employed by private industry and
business).    This utilitarian approach produces "no-frills" scientific
workers--models of economic efficiency often lacking in the larger,  less
tangible skills necessary to produce first class or theoretical work.

One consequence is that the development of scientific technology is often
separate from the scientific research it is intended to serve.    The
technology is not directed toward finding the most efficacious to study
nature but at gaining profit from specific markets.

5)   INDIVIDUALISM:    Helps foster the common belief among scientists that
the properties of populations are simply derivable from those of the
uncharged atoms (genes) of populations or societies.   It also transforms
the subjective experience of career ambition into the invention of
selfishness as a law of evolution.

6)   ELITISM:     This assertion of the superiority of a small minority of
intellectuals often leads to the hubristic belief that the survival of the
human species depends on the ability of that minority to get its own way.
This elitism,  fostered by the economic relations of capitalism,  is
profoundly antidemocratic,  encouraging a cult of expertise,  an aesthetic
appreciation of manipulation,  and a disdain for procedures lying outside
the domain of academia.    The elitist view supports a mangerial approach to
the administration of intellectual life and views the cooptive
self-appointment of the academic and corporate elite as a feasible to run
human affairs.

7)   PRAGMATISM:   Narrows substantially the parameters of permissable
scientific (and political) discussion within an organization.    It means
accepting,  with little or no questioning,  the boundary conditions imposed
by commoditization and specialization.    Deviation from pre-existing
"norms" quickly assume the appearance of disloyalty.    In the pragmatist's
eyes,  strong feelings about,  say,   the injustice of social arrangements
are necessarily suspect as "ideological",  reflecting immaturity and

8)   SEPARATION OF THINKING FROM FEELING:  The dichotomizing of questions of
fact from questions of value,  leading to the failure to acknowledge the
social effects of scientific development and application.

9)   REDUCTIONISM:  The specialization of scientific labor and of command
functions from research creates a model of scientific organization that is
easily seen as a model for the organization of society.

These are a few of the issues I would like to see discussed here.    To me,
no more urgent task awaits the scientist or the student of science concerned
with the struggle for a facilitative and just scientific role in the modern

Louis Godena

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