Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism
reviewed by Paul Shaker - January 08, 2008
Title: Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism
Author(s): Daniel S Greenburg
Publisher: University of Chicago Press, Chicago
ISBN: 0226306259, Pages: 324, Year: 2007
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Some readers come to this book on science not from the sciences, but from other closely related fields such as government, higher education administration and the corporate world. Others will find their interest piqued as citizens, investors, or present or future medical patients. Science stands at the center of the modern Zeitgeist affecting many prominent spheres of influence and, as yet, shows little decline as we approach the post-modern era. Daniel S. Greenburg, respected, longstanding science journalist, travels among these varied realms to create the context for his analysis, subtitled The Perils, Rewards and Delusions of Campus Capitalism.
As a higher education administrator and student of education policy and politics, this reviewers approach to Science for Sale is informed by similar personal observations on commercial incursions into the public schools, most famously in the No Child Left Behind Act (Shaker & Heilman, 2004, 2008). The common theme of interest to non-scientists (and non-educators) is the aggressive introduction of marketplace value systems and methods of operation into societal realms that had previously offered alternative institutional homes for scientists and educators. For clarity, let Greenburg speak to this point:
The high standards of truthfulness and ethical compliance that are historically engraved into the scientific culture have no counterpart in business, government or other sectors of society. (p. 259)
This claim may reflect a pro-science bias in the person of a journalist whose career has been dedicated to the field. He may be too quick to dismiss altruistic businessmen, statesmen, and dedicated human service professionals, including teachers. However, Greenburgs apparent sympathy toward science makes the trenchant criticisms and revelations of the book more convincing. He writes as a sober admirer, not as a muckraking critic. Science for Sale also includes the voices of six key researcher/administrators who speak in chapter length interviews comprising a quarter of the book. Professor Timothy Mulcahy, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, affirms Greenburgs claims of commercial pressure on the academy by saying, Its when we evolve the culture where thats no longer recognized as a potential contrast in culture that I think we run [into] a problem (p. 235). Professor Robert Holton, whose work on Taxol has brought $200 million to Florida State University, offers this caveat, If youre going to do collaborative research with the industry, thats where you run into problems. I think we as academics should forget about the profit motive and go off and do what our curiosity inspires us to do (p. 186). In what may be a post-mortem for an era in science, David Korn, former dean of medicine and vice president at Stanford and current senior vice president for the Association of American Medical Colleges, writes, The reward system was geared to nonmaterial things. And I think that to an extent that does trouble me and maybe others a lot, that the reward system has swung toward material reward (p. 100). For educators, Nichols and Berliner bring this logic to our field in their critique of high stakes testing:
We cannot easily communicate the importance of learning for its own sake when we make learning into a commodity with a value or communicate that learning only has instrumental value. (2007, p. 170)
This erosion of values manifests itself in institutional and individual conflicts of interest resulting in distortion or suppression of commercially inconvenient research findings, promiscuous patenting and the erosion of the scientific commons, clinical trials artfully designed to produce favorable results for pharmaceutical manufacturers, concealment of financial dealings with industry by individual researchers and academic institutions (p. 268). This quick summary belies the magnitude of its import. Taken together the corruption of such practices debases the institution of science in a fundamental way. We have increasingly witnessed a similar erosion of academic authority in professional education by a different means, i.e., the creation of a parallel universe of think tanks, journals, websites, foundations and organizations that from political or material motives have sought to discredit those bona fide institutions that have over a century been laboriously built up by professors of education and other education professionals. In science the technique has not been primarily to bypass the establishment, except perhaps by launching industry-based or overseas-based clinical trials. Academic science is threatened through a takeover driven by the insinuation of vast sums of money, particularly in the area of medical research. The techniques of cooptation are legion and range from the overt, such as consulting fees, ghosted publications, and noncompetitive grants to the more subtle that can unconsciously warp clinical judgment such as sample drugs, expensive meals, travel funds, trinkets, and other gratuities (p. 267). The problem is pervasive among research institutions, including those outside the academy. In a detailed example, Greenburg explains how NIH itself in 2003 was caught up in the type of ethical misconduct it is expected to police.
The watershed legislation of tech transfer was the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. Although some argue the act merely affirmed trends already in place, the legislation is a convenient and heralded milestone in the evolution of corporate-academic dealings in science. One of its many effects was the exponential growth in all aspects of research administration, including technology management, institutional research boards, and government oversight such as the Office for Protection from Research Risks and the Office for Human Research Protections. In retrospect this tumultuous recent history has arguably created a rough balance between the forces of profit and those of honest inquiry. Equally important, with notable exceptions such as Vioxx, another result has been a minimum of pharmaceutical malfeasance and research fraud. Greenburg writes that in one seven-year period, one million scientific papers were published and only twelve cases of misconduct were documented (p. 261). Such data are employed to justify his overall analysis that wholesome developments now outweigh egregious failingsthough not by a wide margin (p. 258). This acceptance of self-policing by the field may, as noted above, reflect some pro-science tendencies on the authors part.
Professional educators will empathize with Greenburgs allegation that rankings are a key public relations vehicle for driving wrongheaded competition by universities. Academes pernicious enthrallment by the rating system of U. S. News & World Report is a disgrace of modern higher education (p. 278). In this we find another theme linking the pressures of corporatism through its values and techniques on non-profit entities in society. Market fundamentalism is shorthand for the ideology justifying the takeover of academic science, universities in general, public schools and other public goods by the for-profit sector. Science for Sale makes it clear that the powerful science establishmentextensive, self-assured, and culturally lionizedhas been pressed to the limit of its ability to retain integrity in the face of corporatism, especially when the source of funds and regulation, the federal government, is dominated by friends of Wall Street. The corrective steps prescribed by Greenburg have relevance for educators in general. They include openness in the conduct of contracting, research and dissemination; constant vigilance regarding conflicts of interest; and transparency in the functioning of journals and other arbiters of legitimacy.
A major contribution the author makes is to speak frankly of the distinctive nature of the academy in terms of its intellectual and spiritual heritage and how that distinguishes it from the marketplace (Tisdell, 2007). Should efforts to thoroughly infuse the so-called free market into universities and public schools prevail, these institutions will be fundamentally altered. They will cease to exist as we know them and resemble at best the for-profit vendors of higher education that we see currently on the scene. There will continue to be persons motivated by intellectual curiosity, aesthetics, and human service, and one suspects they will migrate to other sectors of society where mammon does not prevail but rather, where spirituality, of a non-religious character, guides daily life and professional practice.
Nichols, S. L. & Berliner, D. C. (2007). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts Americas schools. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge.
Shaker, P. & Heilman, E. E. (2004). The new common sense of education: Advocacy research versus academic authority. Teachers College Record, 106(7), 1444-1470.
Shaker, P. & Heilman, E. E. (2008). Reclaiming education for democracy: Thinking beyond No Child Left Behind. Routledge: New York.
Tisdell, E. J. (2007). In the new millennium: The role of spirituality and the cultural imagination in dealing with diversity and equity in the higher education classroom. Teachers College Record, 109(3), 531-560.