[Marxism] McScience

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 25 08:06:44 MST 2004


NY Review of Books
Volume 51, Number 4 · March 11, 2004

Review
The Dawn of McScience
By Richard Horton

Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted 
Biomedical Research?
by Sheldon Krimsky
Rowman and Littlefield, 247 pp., $27.95

One of the most striking aspects of John Paul II's papal leadership has 
been his frequent and outspoken forays into science, especially the life 
sciences. His positions on abortion, sexuality, and contraception have 
alienated vast numbers of Catholics and non-Catholics. Many people had 
seen his tenure in the Vatican as an opportunity for progressive 
leadership on issues ranging from AIDS in Africa to the reproductive 
rights of women. They have been disappointed. But his staunch orthodoxy 
has had one unexpected, and some would say beneficial, consequence—a 
decisive opposition to the commercial exploitation of science.

In a letter to the apostolic nuncio in Poland on March 25, 2002, John 
Paul II condemned the "overriding financial interests" that operate in 
biomedical and pharmaceutical research. These forces, he wrote, prompted 
"decisions and products which are contrary to truly human values and to 
the demands of justice." His particular target was "the medicine of 
desires," by which he meant those drugs and procedures that are 
"contrary to the moral good," serving as they do the pursuit of pleasure 
rather than the eradication of poverty. In an especially thoughtful 
passage, he wrote that

"the pre-eminence of the profit motive in conducting scientific research 
ultimately means that science is deprived of its epistemological 
character, according to which its primary goal is discovery of the 
truth. The risk is that when research takes a utilitarian turn, its 
speculative dimension, which is the inner dynamic of man's intellectual 
journey, will be diminished or stifled."

Sheldon Krimsky, a physicist, philosopher, and policy analyst now at the 
Tufts University School of Medicine, puts it more bluntly. In Science in 
the Private Interest, a strongly argued polemic against the commercial 
conditions in which scientific research currently operates, he shows how 
universities have become little more than instruments of wealth. This 
shift in the mission of academia, Krimsky claims, works against the 
public interest. Universities have sacrificed their larger social 
responsibilities to accommodate a new purpose—the privatization of know- 
ledge—by engaging in multimillion-dollar contracts with industries that 
demand the rights to negotiate licenses from any subsequent discovery 
(as Novartis did, Krimsky reports, in a $25 million deal with the 
University of California at Berkeley). Science has long been ripe for 
industrial colonization. The traditional norms of disinterested inquiry 
and free expression of opinion have been given up in order to harvest 
new and much-needed revenues. When the well-known physician David Healy 
raised concerns about the risks of suicide among those taking one type 
of antidepressant, his new appointment as clinical director of the 
University of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health was 
immediately revoked. Universities have reinvented themselves as 
corporations. Scientists are coming to accept, and in many cases enjoy, 
their enhanced status as entrepreneurs. But these subtle yet insidious 
changes to the rules of engagement between science and commerce are 
causing, in Krimsky's view, incalculable injury to society, as well as 
to science.

full: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16954

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