Rewarding Money-In Instead of Knowledge-Out

27 Nov 2015

The New York Times, this week: “Coca-Cola spent $1.5 million last year to support the group [‘Global Energy Balance Network’], including a $1 million grant to the University of Colorado medical school, where the nonprofit group’s president, James O. Hill, a prominent obesity researcher, is a professor.”

Why do medical schools allow this kind of corporate funded “research”—the kind of science that is so bought, it isn’t really science? At what point do we acknowledge that universities—even public universities—are becoming scientific temp agencies for industry?

Need an objective-sounding Ph.D.? Or better yet, an M.D.? Rent one from academia!

University administrators no longer really pretend to be interested in the production of useful new knowledge, except maybe for the front cover of their fundraising glossies. Now it’s “how much money are you bringing in?”, which means the faculty are treated as car salesman with monthly quotas to reach.

This—this—is how you get dangerous medical science, dangerous environmental science, dangerous social policy: turn what was supposed to be about knowledge in the service of humankind into marketing “research” for industry.

Galileo’s Middle Finger, p. 258: “Even for the tenure-track faculty, in the last twenty years, universities have shifted firmly toward a corporate model in which faculty are treated as salespeople on commission. ‘Publish or perish’ was the admonition when I was in graduate school, but today the rule is more like ‘external funding or expulsion.’ … Our usefulness is not measured by generation of high-quality knowledge but by the volume of grants added to the economic machine. This means our work is skewed toward the politically safe or, worse, the industrially expedient.”

If we’re going to stop this, it’s going to take more than rejecting “science” that’s bought by industry. It’s going to take shaming university administrators who think such bought “science” is morally acceptable.

Which I suppose means convincing them bought “science” is bad for the brand? (Sigh. How did we let the rot get so deep?)