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University policies notwithstanding, there is still secrecy in the academic environment with or without "outside' sponsorship. Consider,
for example, Watson's Double Helix.
In the "academic marketplace"
scientists often keep their ideas secret so that they may be accorded
the recognition usually associated with being the first to publish a new
idea or discovery.
Years ago when I was involved in "bench" research I
was involved in some pledges of secrecy that even excluded some members
do not divulge to their students the highly confidential information they
learn from their patients
information which guides their approaches to
therapy, approaches that the students are supposed to be learning.
type of confidentiality is, I believe, outside of the scope of this Sub
Do collaborations between academia and industry change the nature the Department of Agriculture, all major funders of scientific research,
Does the availability of money change the objectives of re
Again, I must answer yes.
This matter was also addressed by the Task
Force (pp. 6–7):
"But if there are considerable differences in the approaches of govern
ment and industry to supporting university-based research, they are not as
far apart as all that.
Some federal agencies subject grant research pro
posals to peer review, but the funds made available by (DOD and NASA) and
are not always subject to such review procedures. Furthermore, the con
tract research portion of federal grants, which is usually not subject to
peer review, can be as restrictive, in terms of the intellectual freedom
accorded the individual scientist, as industry contracts.
In such con
tract research grants, the research objective is specified by the govern
ment agency rather than by the university,
"Other restrictions also arise.
For example, the National Institu
tes of Health (NIH) provides most of the money made available for biomedical
research, money that cannot be obtained from any other source,
that the priorities of the NIH, which is subject to political pressures to
"cure" cancer or treat an epidemic, influence the priorities of the scientif
I ask you to recall the "War on Cancer" from the early 1970s and the
later high priority accorded to research and service in the field of mental
Also please recall my earlier references to the overall influence
of patronage on the arts, sciences, and universities.
Does industry disrupt research programs by suddenly withdrawing
support for them?
This question is closely related to the second question. Again, the
answer is yes. Again, I must say that in this respect industry does not
differ essentially from government or, for that matter, from other research
For various reasons, research sponsors may lose interest in
certain fields of research.
The reasons may be economic, political, or, at
Industry may lose interest in developing a drug owing to
reports of unanticipated and severe adverse effects or because some competitor
has developed what appears to be a superior drug.
In developmental and
applied research, it seems to me that industry and government are about
equally likely to withdraw support unexpectedly.
In basic research, on
the other hand, industry seems to me to be much more patient and stable
in its support of ongoing projects. Unexpected governmental actions may
threaten the stability of entire fields of research or, indeed, the entire
Consider, for example, the "impoundment" of research
funds in the early 1970s.
More recently, biomedical researchers felt pro
foundly threatened by directives issued by OMB to NIH.
In summary, the university in its evolving relationships with in
dustry is not presented with any challenges that differ qualitatively from
those with which it has ample experience.
The novelty in the challenges
is more in the magnitude and the pace of the changes.
Novel changes also
reflect the fact that universities are beginning to see the federal govern
ment as an increasingly unpredictable patron.
In their search for stability,
they are turning to industry and attempting to negotiate long-term support.
Is this bad?
I do not know.
On this point I am inclined to agree with
Leon Kass, the distinguished physician-philosopher at the University of
Chicago. Although I would have chosen a different metaphor, I cannot ex
press my overall attitude more concisely than he did in his 1981 essay in
"Academic scientists have for years played upon the public's
utilitarian concerns and always promised and even emphasized the probable
long-run practical benefits when seeking congressional support to satisfy
their own private curiosity.
Science, even university science, 18, to some
extent, a kept woman, and the question sometimes seems to be only who shall
keep her and what is her price.
Her virtue and her fruitfulness may not
suffer from wedding herself to industry."
If you think the "wedding to industry" is bad, then, in my view, the
best way to avoid it is to stabilize federal support for academic research.
If, however, you decide that there are specific problems requiring legisla
tive remedy, I urge you to identify the problems that you wish to fix rather
than the wrongdoers you wish to constrain.
If, for example, you wish to
interdict the conduct of "secret" or "classified" research in universities,
then do so.
But do so consistently. Proscribe all such research whether
it be sponsored by industry, government, or others.
Such an approach
would be more consistent with the doctrine of "equal protection of the laws"
than would be the alternative approach
to develop legislation governing
the conduct of industry in order to foreclose "classified" research in
Mr. VOLKMER. Thank you very much, Dr. Levine.
STATEMENT OF DR. THOMAS H. MURRAY, ASSOCIATE PROFES
SOR, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, INSTITUTE FOR THE MEDICAL HUMANITIES, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MEDICAL BRANCH
Dr. MURRAY. Mr. Chairman Volkmer, Congressman Packard, Congressman Traficant, and staff members, thank you for this chance to come and speak with you and for giving me the opportunity to practice public philosophy.
From a science of no particular commercial importance, biology has become the ticket for entry into the biotechnology lottery, with its prospect of sudden, possibly enormous wealth. It would be surprising indeed if biology could avoid the tremendous pressures and potential dislocation that such a prospect inevitably brings.
I want to talk about three general questions: First, what are the values at stake in biotechnology's impact upon the traditional exchange of information among researchers? Second, what are the value implications of biotechnology's influence on the nature and direction of scientific research? And third, what conflicts of interest has the commercialization of biology created for scientists, if any?
Well, the idea that the quest for scientific truth should be conducted in the open as a public process dates back as far as ancient Greece. It's not a new idea. They may have understood the concept of science differently from us, but they knew that the search for knowledge was most likely to be successful and effective when new ideas were proclaimed publicly and defended against criticisms.
This tradition of openness contrasted with the earliest traditions of technology, which also existed back then, where knowledge was very closely held precisely because it was a source of income and social standing and had to be kept secret.
The linking of science with openness and technology with secrecy remains important to this day. Wide and prompt sharing of information among scientists promotes progress in at least two ways. It helps scientists make the most efficient use of their time by informing them what avenues or methods are likely to be productive and which ones dead ends. It also spurs competition for priority of publication by letting scientists know that other researchers are hot on the same trail.
One of the difficulties in discussing the impact of biotechnology's commercialization on openness in science is the almost complete absence of good social scientific data on the question. On the other hand, there is a generally shared conviction among those within and outside of biology that commercialization has, in fact, dampened the sharing of information among scientists. There are many anecdotes confirming the impression that scientists have become less willing to share fully the details of their work-if they will talk about it at all.
What causes this turn to secrecy? Some university-based researchers have contracts with commerical firms that contain specific provisions giving the company control over publication of the results of research. If there is a problem here-and I think there is-it is the universities that are most at fault.
Corporations have an understandable interest in secrecy, but universities ought to have the gumption and clout to resist pressures to cloak scientific research in secrecy, and I think Dr. Levine has just mentioned one case. At Yale they don't permit that. I suspect Stanford doesn't permit it either. And it's up to the universities to do that job.
The second cause of secrecy is implicit. For example, wanting to enter the biotechnology lottery, scientists might be tempted to hold onto an idea that might have commercial value and wait to sell it to a corporation or perhaps even start their own company.
One of the outcomes of these forces is that some scientific work gets taken out of the mainstream of scientific communication, so instead of being published in the “New England Journal of Medicine," a purported discovery might first be announced in the prospectus of a new biotech firm.
There is a potentially serious problem here for the control of quality in science. With all of its imperfections, the system in which scientists' work is reviewed by their peers remains the most reliable way to tell good work from poor. Commercialization and secrecy may lead to more research evading peer review with lowerquality research and a possible erosion of public respect for science as results.
In sum, though the precise evidence is lacking, secrecy does appear to have increased as a result of biotechnology. Secrecy is in direct opposition to openness, one of the central values in science. There are significant public interests in maintaining openness in