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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Saturday, May 08, 2004


People get paid for doing research? Say it ain't so!
Shannon Brownlee of the Washington Monthly is all up in arms over the idea that biotechnology companies involve themselves in... biotechnology. She's horrified that "More than 60 percent of clinical studies--those involving human subjects--are now funded not by the federal government, but by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries." The horror!

Brownlee has two complaints: one, researchers should be required to disclose any financial ties they may have to relevant companies when they publish in a scientific journal. Fair enough, that's a legitimate concern and it should be dealt with. But her real problem is that people actually get make money off of research! She thinks that the private science industry shouldn't be involved with... science, apparently. Her solution:
It's tempting to wonder what medical research would look like if universities and medical associations and editors of journals stopped talking about how to manage conflict of interest and started thinking about how to expunge it. Just say no. Proponents of Bayh-Dole will object, claiming the pace of medical advances will slow to a crawl, but bear with me for a moment and just imagine a different universe. Let's start with the medical schools"those temples of higher learning. They would be the first to cast out the drug merchants. Hospitals would pay their medical residents a decent wage so they can afford to buy their own beer and pizza. FDA advisory panelists who have a financial stake in the drug being considered would not be allowed to vote. And if the journals stopped publishing papers and editorials penned by academic clinicians with conflicts of interest, authors would be forced to choose between taking scientific credit and taking the money.
Only that's not what would happen. The thousands of respectable scientists working in private industry would simply start their own journals. Unless Brownlee wants to outlaw Science Not Approved of by the Government, the fact is that science is going to keep being done by people who aren't at a university or hospital. Researchers would leave governmental institutions in droves, fleeing to private research where they would have ample resources to do research.

Conflicts of interest are of legitimate concern--but they always have been. No one can spend as much time immersed in the discovery of the double helix as I have recently, and come out thinking that there used to be this Golden Age of science, when the private biotechnology industry was nonexistent, and scientists worked solely for the good of mankind. Please. Scientists always have a conflict of interest: they want their experiment to work. And the idea that without private industry money wouldn't be a tainting factor is patently absurd. It always takes money to keep research going, and whether that money is from the government or from investors makes very little difference. Researchers still have to prove their worth. Always have, always will. There's been an amazing revolution in biology in the past 50 years, but human nature still remains the same.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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