Yet another of the issue that I-SIS has been campaigning against is going mainstream. "Is the university-industrial complex out of control?" asked a recent editorial in Nature (Jan. 11, vol. 409, 2001), the top science journal in the UK.
"Links between academia and industry are of increasing concern to academics and to society at large." Academic excellence is being replaced by entrepreneurship - now positively encouraged by government in most industrialised countries. Faculty members of the University of California have been responsible for founding one third of all the world's biotech companies.
What do researchers and universities get out of the industrial ties? Access to industry facilities and databases come top of the list, and of course, financial support for research and opportunities for academics to tap into the market. The downside is a loss of academic credibility and freedom.
Actually the benefits for academics are overstated. The facilities and databases are only of use if the academics' research is in certain fields dictated by the corporate agenda. And funding for researchers is ungenerous to say the least. The take over of U.C. Berkeley's Department of biosciences by Novartis for a paltry sum of $5 million a year over 5 years is a case in point. Novartis gains a seat in university and departmental research committees and restricts academic freedom to discuss the benefits of the deal. It amounts to indentured labour for academics already selling their souls.
And what remedy does Nature suggest? A list of sensible things. These include: vigilance and the ability and determination to speak out; transparency over conflicts of commitment; transparency over conflicts of interest; the need to debate the issues at the national level and dangers highlighted; the obligation on the part of industry to help sustain public trust. All very well, but how to create the conditions where such sensible things could be done.
Perhaps the last paragraph is the most substantial:
"And regional and national govern-ments, although encouraging the university-industrial complex, must keep watch over its development. They must above all underpin the social value and accountability of public universities with strong financial support." (italics ours) It is a matter of restoring democratic control of science to scientists and civil society.
For more on this, read "The New Thought Police", this issue