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Corporate-Sponsored Research Untrustworthy 206

capt.Hij submitted this interesting story about the growing amount of corporate-sponsored research at public universities. The Bayh-Dole Act (see here too), passed in 1980, allowed research performed with public money to be patented by private companies, so we're paying most of the bills, the companies are reaping all the profits and in the process, corrupting the research as well.
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Corporate-Sponsored Research Untrustworthy

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    i've worked at a major univeristy do drug tests for big companies, as well as tobacco firms. it's not that these firms are stifling the research that's coming out, it's more that they say where the research is going to go. unlike every class on research methods, most researchers nowadays do the experiments first and form their final opinions after they get the results. that way it looks like they knew what was going to happen beforehand, and are therefore worth the money they're getting paid. usually what happens is that a study is suggested. a hypothesis is formed. research is performed. if the reaserch backs up the hypothesis, so much the better. if it doesn't, time to come up with a theory that agrees with the data. when the studies are sponsered by major corporations, it just gets to that last step a little earlier. the researchers usually just end up doing research that will say what it is supposed to. they get published, and the company gets scientific data that backs up their point. the levels that statisical data can be massaged are amazing, and you can pretty much come up with whatever conclusion you want to if you're careful about how you run your ANOVA series.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Note I attend Stanford so I'm more familiar with it.
    Cisco was started to connect stanford computer networks together.

    Jim Clark developped chip design etc... for sgi while at Stanford...

    Netscape was also started by Jim Clark and was based off of Mosaic, another university funded project.

    And then there's sun. Which is more Stanford stuff along with using Berkeley BSD...

    The first chip that went into a Yamaha keyboard was developped at Stanford...

    I guess founding these companies and use of university researched information has been an "evil corruption" of the pursuit of public information :P

    If I were more knowledgeable, I would start listing off drugs which were researched with university money and then were developped and owned by drug companies.

    I wish slashdot would get over its leftist bullshit and stop ranting against evil corporations and "corruption" of public blah blah blah. I would also like a more balanced presentation of the situation than a concise and heavilly opiniated article.
  • This is nothing new. I remember reading an article on a .co.uk site (sorry, meant to bookmark the link but didn't) about an anonymous servey done on scientists which found that perhaps up to 40% of research done has misleading or worse results. This is a direct result of the privatisation of science. Scientific 'studies' have become an extention of the evil PR-firm propoganda machines.
    Anyhow, this link may be interesting: click here [i-sis.org].
    I hate to say it, but my general feeling about science is that professors (or whatever their tittle) are more often than not interested in enhancing their own ego & mana rather than actually discovering new things. Some genres of science are absolutely hostile towards new ideas, as some of us reading /. undoubtably know..

    pssst moderators, u keep giving my neat posts -1 redundant! :)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    But why are moderators using all their points to mod things DOWN??? Right now there have been 5 fps and they are all -1. Why dont you read the moderator guidelines - the main purpose of mod points is to make the more interesting posts greater, not to mod down (although it needs to be done at times, yes).

    Thank you for your concern, but I am able to skip over a fp without your help.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    research done with public money can result in patents for private corporations?

    It's a little different than that. This question implies that the results of a federally funded project might just be given to some corporate entity. What usually happens is that the faculty involved in the project recognize it as having product potential and tell the University administration (Technology Transfer or some such group). This group then seeks out potential corporate licensees-corps who would be willing to a) pay the University and researcher licensing fees b) pay the patent application fees and c) do whatever further development is necessary (eg regulatory approvals, ISO 9000, CE, UL) to make it an actual product.

  • Some people mysteriously have this idea that corporate-funded science is not real science at all, more along the lines of a division of marketing and spin control. They are raising the possibility that business may in some way be NOT AS TRUSTWORTHY as pure science, shocking as that suggestion may be.

    "Betty Dong at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered data that led her to question the effectiveness of a medication being used daily by millions of people. But when she went to report it, she was blocked for seven years by the company that paid for the study. "

    "David Kahn, another researcher at the same school, was sued last November for $10 million by the company that sponsored his study, after he published a report that the AIDS drug he was testing was ineffective."

    "Mildred Cho, a senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, took a different tack. Her 1996 study found that 98 percent of university studies of new drug therapies funded by the pharmaceutical industry reported that those new therapies were more effective than standard drugs. By comparison, just 79 percent of studies without industry financing found the new drugs to be more effective."

    Can we say "duh"?

    The question is, given the unarguable fact that business _is_ trying to muzzle and restrict science, what the hell are we going to do about it? I mean, other than give up entirely on the idea of having higher education and a scientific community that is worth listening to at all? It is one thing if _ownership_ of scientific discoveries gets concentrated in the hands of business. That is arguably bad, certainly slows progress and ties things up making them unusable to society at large. That's one thing. But surely suppressing scientific research and widely falsifying it and replacing it outright with spin and marketing is far worse? What are we going to do for _truth_ if the only permissible truth is that which is approved by its owners' marketing department? The role of spin and suppression in corporate science is a _lot_ more dangerous and alarming than the simple tendency of all corporate science to become private, withheld property.

    In science, it is one thing to lock up your findings and play it cagey. It's uncooperative, but that's a judgement call. But to intentionally lie...

  • Do you think they have a right to suppress truths that could incriminate them or damage their profitability?

    There's two issues here and only one is private ownership of scientific IP. The other is outright suppression of true but 'damaging' scientific IP, and that is IMHO the _really_ frightening aspect of all this.

    In the future (_this_ future), there will be no cure for cancer, or any sort of immunizing agents for terrible new diseases, or even a cure for RSI- but there will be an unending stream of patent medicines to treat such ailments, none of which actually work.

    This is no good. Profit maximizing IS NOT a recipe for societal health. The belief that it does equate to the ideal society is a religious belief based on blind faith.

  • I, too, would be happy to see the world being basically same as it ever was, flaws and all.

    The problem is, this is a trend with no obvious way to stop it, and the end point is NOT the same as things have always been. The end point is that releasing false results becomes _customary_, and that there are no significant research facilities left anywhere else to counterbalance that because they've been out-spent, out-publicitied, basically 'competed' into the ground.

    At that point, you no longer have access to anything but false results, and people are so used to doctoring their results to please their owners/employers that it becomes traditional and expected. As Mildred Cho found, 98% of the studies say, HEY, what a great new product! That's a transition period- the direction it's heading is that 100% of the studies back the pharmaceutical industry, that more and more and finally _all_ of the studies _are_ funded by said industry, and that there's nowhere else you can go where people have the often expensive facilities to conduct such research at all. That's the end of the road. We're NOT at the end of the road, we are in progress toward that end.

    How will you feel when 'false results' often happens? When it usually happens? When it always happens?

  • Let me put it this way: I reserve the right to be wholly skeptical of, say, 'government research' that shows that dismantling all of Social Welfare and eliminating taxes for the rich and for corporations will make society be wonderful through 'trickle down theory'. This is because I already know the government has an agenda- it _is_ made of the wealthy and it _is_ paid off by corporations and I don't trust it to have an unbiased opinion on the matter.

    However, the government does not have anywhere near as much of an obvious bias (yet!) regarding, say, drugs to cure cancer or 'fix' depression or make people lose weight. And corporate-funded research DOES have that agenda, to the extent that you're just about guaranteed to not hear a wrong thing about the damned product: if the antidepressant caused half the subjects to freaking drop dead and the other half to turn into giggling drooling imbeciles, all you're going to hear is "All subjects are no longer suffering from depression", that's where the money is. *G*

    Why shouldn't I like _some_ of my research to be government funded? Then I can look for private research on _government_ issues, and keep 'shopping' for a viewpoint that's not too heavily bribed and paid off. But leaving all research strictly to the specific corporate entities most interested in getting specific results is asinine, and that's increasingly what we've got.

  • The real trouble is, in an environment with no restrictions and no rules, 'one bad egg' tends to be the player that WINS. Crime _does_ pay, cheaters _do_ prosper: this is why justice and the legal system are even necessary. When you have a situation where one of the players _can_ without penalty abuse power, there is no option for the others but to follow suit or be destroyed by their own inefficiency. The 'free market' has no interest in society per se: it is a system of belief under which the winner, by any means, _must_ be the most desirable player simply by virtue of having one. Much like an industrious mugger could be considered the finest citizen of a city because he has the highest income and is most effective at what he does...

    So attention has to be paid to the extremist fringes of the situation- to the corporations that _are_ abusing society. Not because all corporations are painted with the same brush by default- but because, if no other force prevails, the market will cause ALL the corporations to either become equally abusive- or die.

  • by Danse ( 1026 )

    Profit is not a "right" but if government policy prevents or diminishes the expectation of profit, investment dries up

    I'm not arguing this. I was simply stating that profit is not a right. Corps shouldn't be able to make the profits without accepting the risk.

    Under the public funding-public domain model, none of these patents would be valid. Chevy would have little incentive to improve their engine/suspension/etc system because, after spending $5,000,000 to perfect that system, Ford could put it in their car for just the cost of production.

    Now this is just wrong. First of all, if the research was done with public money, then the research belongs to the taxpayers, not any particular corporation. Chevy could use the research to develop a new engine. Perhaps they would be able to patent certain aspects of it as well since they would almost certainly have to figure out how to deal with many issues that come up during the development. If they didn't do anything during development that was worthy of a patent, then they don't deserve a handout. If they simply took what NASA gave them and tried to turn around and sell it, then we shouldn't be protecting them from competition. Surely you understand this?

  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @01:51PM (#137289)

    Surely they have a right to see a return on their investment?

    If by that you mean they have a right to turn a profit from their investment, the answer is a resounding "NO!"

    If I invest in the stock market, do I have a right to see a profit from it? Hell no. I'm taking a risk. As others have pointed out here, the trend is that risk is being socialized (i.e. they pass it on to us) while profit is being privatized (i.e. they keep the profits). If research is done with public funds, in whole or in part, it should not be patentable or copyrightable. It should be made available to the public that paid for it. Sure, corporations contributed to the development too, and they have as much right to the results as the rest of us. They just don't have a right to claim it as their own intellectual property and charge the public for the rights to use it.

  • What's so hard to understand?

    Corporations do not have feelings, or emotions. They cannot feel pain or pleasure. They don't perceive and don't care about the difference between "right" and "wrong". They are artificial entities.

    Sure, the people that work at these companies are moral, and have feelings, emotions, etc. They're generally decent and trying to make their living. But this rarely surfaces as part of the company as a whole. Good corporations will do whatever it takes to make as much money as possible. If they feel they can get away with resorting to illegal activity to do it, what would stop them?

    We're not ungrateful for the things that capitalism makes possible. Frankly, it seems to be the only system that applies naturally to human instincts. But that doesn't mean corporations shouldn't be held accountable for what they do. Falsifying research towards their favor is not an acceptable practice. They should be punished for this.

    When you meet something who is governed by one obsessive principle ("Make the most money no matter what!"), it's only natural to regard them with suspicion. The last thing you want to give to something like that is trust.

  • I could point out that before World War 2, most research in this country was privately funded; it was only during the "emergency" of the war and the following cold war that research was federalized.

    Federal research was very good at getting a man on the moon, but also very good at ensuring that manned space exploration would only be a matter of "flags and footprints" before the program was shut down and limited to Low Earth Orbit. Federally run research and the government contractors that are way too similar to old Soviet design bureaus are also successful at keeping the price of say, putting a pound into orbit is astronomically high.

    We have met the enemy, and he is us.

  • Or, you could see the need for the emergence of a third sector: the social sector, something Peter Drucker has been talking about in recent years.

    Government caters to a mish-mash of interests, so naturally the public sector can't cover everything. It's role is mainly political.

    The private sector is entrusted primarily with making resources productive in the process of serving consumption.

    The sector that's missing is the social sector: currently being filled by NGO's, churches, and loose social groups like the open source community...

    I think such a sector is going to become more important as our world evolves and becomes more complex.. Capitalism isn't going to be destroyed, it just needs to evolve into a form of post-capitalism...

  • Actually, their bias is not at all orthogonal, since Christian Science holds that all illnesses are in the mind.
    It is simply that the Monitor is able to restrain these religious biases from their reporting. Hopefully successfully.
  • Keep in mind that the corporations are paying for the research above and beyond tax dollars.

    I think perhaps the question is whether the price tag is too low, or they have too much control on what gets done.

  • But the thing about science is that it is self correcting. If I get a result that cannot be reproduced by others (remember "cold fusion"), then in the long run our knowledge will advance.

    However, this depends on open sharing or ideas and results, not hiding them from criticism.


  • Personally I'd like to see less military oriented public funds research and more commercial interests.

    But the biggest technological advances come from the military. Corporate interests always seek to get the job done cheaply. This usually just means tweaking existing technologies for more economical use. The military is always looking for the most significant advantage over the enemy, no matter what the cost. This means they are more likely to try new ideas without concern over cost or *immediate* benefit.

  • Why would we care about SAT scores? They have nothing to do with education. Actually, the Western concept of school (a teacher running kids down a conveyor belt of rote memorization) doesn't have anything to do with education either--but that's another story.

  • "In exchange for funding, Novartis
    would be allowed to sift through the
    research of the department of plant
    and microbial biology at Berkeley's
    College of Natural Resources -
    licensing up to about one-third of the
    researchers' output."
  • It doesn't matter whether it works, what matters is whether it pays. For example, it is much easier to run a study of a drug with the maker's cooperation, than for example, to run a compilation of statistics on complications from the drug after it is in general use. Case in point: phen-fen. And until such an independent study comes up, you're rolling in the dough, as is what happened with phen-fen.

  • Shareholders do. And it's one thing for
    a corporation to strike a deal with a
    public university such that it helps both.
    But for a corporation to use public-funded
    to corrupt the scientific community, and
    to silence research that may hurt its bottom
    line, is unacceptable.
  • The publicity of the gesture, and the shame it directs at the department, is worth more than the pittance sum the anti-tobacco forces would have recieved. It's a very effective gesture - which is why we have heard about it, rather than hearing about someone just donating prize money.
  • The tobacco companies systematically lied and repressed evidence about the dangers and harms of smoking. Even from a libertarianish contract-law-is-everything, when you lie and misrepresent in the process of selling a good, you've violated the implicit contract. And there's a huge difference between opposing the criminalization of drugs and supporting profiteering from promalgating addiction. And even then, nothing in the story that was cited had jack-diddly to do with The Gubmint oppressing poor helpless defenseless tobacco companies - it was about an individual's act of protest against his own department for taking the money.

    You know, there's something pathetic about the tone of your rhetoric, a really common tone among the rightish-wing of American yahoos. It's like the stockholm syndrome - the impulsive, knee-jerk need to defend the powerful against moral censure. I don't get it.

  • FOr one thing, the majority of lawsuits represent plaintiffs who became addicted to cigarettes during that window of history between when the tobacco industry knew about the dangers of smoking and when that information became available. Most of the rest are about those who were part of marketing campaigns targetted at youth. Even the most ardent opponents of the war on drugs would balk at the idea of the Medellin drug cartel advertising to children.

    And these lawsuits are themselves part and parcel of a culture that is compulsively reluctant to provide public health care services, which means that there's always an urgent motivation for locating blame elsewhere when possible. That's why you don't see these sorts of lawsuits in Europe - because people here battling emphysema and lung cancer - and the people insuring them - have every motivation to do so.

  • As shown by Microsoft (an honorable and trustworthy corporation) money cannot be made unless a company owns the patent. To let just anyone reap the benefits of this knowledge would simply result in low cost (low cost=low value) products.

    Do not allow ideas to die in the public domain. Patent them, defend them with lawyers, and lead consumers to improved lives with such products.

    As a consumer, I am lost without such guidance in my life.
  • I'm always surprised at how subtle humor is treated around here. It actually IS on topic because of Microsoft's recent speeches against GPLed software. Free software and Free ideas, see the connection?
  • Well thank you Walter Cronkite. Your educated opinion on what is and is not news is both refreshing and fascinating.

    This may not be news in the traditional "Two children were found dead and partially eaten at a local bus stop today" sense, but to those of us who are or have been in an academic research role, this certainly is an interesting topic.

    Thank you for your support.

  • Please, show us how the budgets for the dept's of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education relate to SAT scores. Draw us a nice graph.

    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • I wish the government didn't care about the environment. They screw up everything they care about.

    Surfing the net and other cliches...
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:39AM (#137309)
    How can you reap profits AND corrupt research? I mean, if you get some students to develop something for you, if their research is bogus, then the product's not going to work, is it?

    Well, if you had bothered to read the article the answer would have been obvious. Allow me to recap just one of several ways research is corrupted by corporate influence:

    You are selling a drug to consumer that purports to offer some well defined benefit (relieving arthritis pain, for example). Your research, which is funded by the drug manufacturer, conducted in a scientific and unbiased manner, reveals that the drug is completely ineffective (in a double blind study, for example, you find the results to be no different among the test group as among the group given a placebo). By corrupting the results, cooking the data, and making the study confirm the effectiveness of the drug instead, continued sales (and perhaps even a growth in sales) is confirmed. The sponsor makes money, the researcher continues to get grants and "gifts." The only loosers are the public consumers and the scientific community. In other words, all of society with the exception of those perpetrating the fraud.

    A more far reaching example is the cooked research funded by oil companies which was designed to undermine arguments against green-house gas emission reductions (also cited by the article you failed to read). I leave the ramifications of treating such corrupted research as scientifically valid, and failing to adjust public policy as a result, as an excersize to the reader (hint: don't by low-lying coastal real estate).
  • The government, effectively, is a big corporation. Specifically, it's sort of a giantic insurance company.

    "Insurance" is basically a way of spreading risks - everyone who MIGHT be affected by a problem pools their money, and those random few who ARE affected get the money and/or its equivalent in resources to help deal with it...minus the administrative costs, executive salaries and perks, etc. You pay your "premiums" (taxes) for "Foreign Invasion Insurance", "Civil Rights Insurance", "Ability-To-Get-From-One-City-To-Another-And/Or-Mo ve Freight-Between-Them Insurance" (i.e. interstate highways), "Unemployment Insurance", "Criminal Activity Insurance", etc. etc. If, for example, someone burglarizes your house, "US Government Insurance Corp" pays for the attempt to track down and recover the stolen goods, to find the criminal, and penalize them, etc.

    The only problem many of us have with this is that we only have one insurance company to choose from, and in many cases we are required to pay for insurance we REALLY don't want ("Government-Buildings-Not-Having-Expensive-Enough -Art insurance","Media-Corporations-Need-More-Revenue-S treams insurance", etc.) and we cannot get the corporation to offer some types of insurance that we might actually want (e.g. "Corporate-Hijacking-Of-Fair-Use-Rights Insurance", "Personal Privacy Insurance", "At-Least-Equal[to Corporations]-Protection-Under-The-Law insurance" [under US copyright law, Corporations explicitly get a longer copyright term than actual human beings do, as I understand it...], etc.)

    The difficult part of the problem, as I see it, is getting as much power as is reasonable back down to the individual, rather than having to choose whether private corporations get more power or the gigantic government corporation gets more power. (Or, in the US apparently, whether you want to give still more power to "old-style" private corporations [e.g. manufacturing, power, oil, etc.] and the gigantic US Government Corporation, or to "new-style" private corporations [e.g. media companies and other "intellectual property" barons, etc.] and the gigantic US Government Corporation. That seems to be the choice between the two political parties who share the power here these days...].

    Don't mind me, just feeling cynical today...

  • You heard wrong. The stadium was built buy companies that came from out of town. The profit from building the stadium left with the contractor. The team may or may not have also raked in cash. And the local tax-payers ended up footing the bill.

    And I don't even know what city you are from. But I bet more than half of the cost was paid by people making less than the median income. I would expect that it would be something like 2/3 of the cost was paid by people making less than the median income. And I would also expect that nearly half of the males in that group supported getting the stadium.

    My expectations are based on how it worked out where I live. OTOH, we didn't have a vote on it. It was decided by a lame-duck mayor and city council.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • I don't care what the intentions of the law were. I care what it's results are.

    Perhaps they are mixed. Maybe. There might be some good to be found if one looked hard enough. As it is, it seems to me just another reason that we would be better off if all extant patents were immediately revoked, and all patent laws on the books were removed immediately. Then we could start from scratch.

    I think that the truely fundamental concept of a patent is probably more useful than harmful. But it is so terribly dangerous, that it needs to be handled quite carefully. And we seem to have turned it over to a bunch of incompetents who are being rewarded based on the number of patents they grant per day. The system was designed by a lunatic! The system was implemented by a blind moron. The system was evaluated by Dr. Fu Man Chu for how much sheer evil it would accomplish. And won a best in show medal, narrowly beating out UCITA and the DMCA. (But then the judge -was- a bit biased.)

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • But whoever ends up owning it, is does not become a part of the common intellectual heritage of mankind. So the University has defaulted on the job that it was originally awarded a tax exempt status to accomplish.

    This whole mess of garbage has been getting steadily worse for the entire period of time that I've been watching it. (I.e., since around 1960.) When I first noticed it, it was a trivial problem. Now it has grown to seriously undermine the reason for the university's existence.

    I won't work for a corporation for free, and I seriously object when my taxes are spend to constrain the freedom of ideas. And once the universities admit NDA's, then that's precisely what's happening.

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • > and (in my hometown) charging taxpayers the money to build an arena they don't want.

    "Want" is a side issue. It really chapped me to see how many cities' middle-and-upper classes voted themselves new stadiums at taxpayer expense at the height of the big-government-is-bad revolution.

    The message I got was, "We don't really mind taxes, so long you don't spend it on poor folk."

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:49AM (#137315)
    Last time the California power crisis came up here, someone quoted an editorial that hit the nail right on the head. Unfortunately I don't remember who wrote the editorial, but I remember well what it said:
    Our society is socializing risk and privatizing profit.
    This is just another example of the same lamentable phenomenon, and it's a predictable trend in a "democracy" where legislators are bought and paid for by lobbyists.

  • I have worked on the staff of a research institute associated with two NJ universities. I was involved in many different grant funded research projects and some of those were funded by private corporations (most of the research centered around computational modeling or GIS related work). I didn't do any of the research; I just assisted those that did.

    I can say, unequivocally, I was never a witness to any skewing of results of research to fit the agenda of a private entity that funded research.

    No PI would want to be stained as such, as this would destroy their reputation in the eyes of their peers! Who would hire a researcher that fudged their results? How could a PhD expect to earn a living if noone will work with or hire them? Most of these people don't make a whole lot of money to begin with! Their reputation is their number one marketable skill!

    I will say, that I am vaguely aware that when results were found contrary to the agenda of certain GOVERNMENT entities, that PI's would regret having to present their findings knowing it might have an impact on future grants (though still I don't know of anyone ever forging their work to change results).

    Of course there are researchers who purposely produce false results, and these researchers are paid with both private and tax dollars; there are jerks like this in every walk of life. But I highly doubt that research done for for profit entities is of any less value than research done for government dollars. My experience tells me so.

    Why is it that \. often posts anti-corporate pieces? How often do you see a \. story heralding free enterprise and for profit work? I know that most of the \. readers are young, so could it be that government schools are teaching our kids to distrust private business? Or are those attracted to \. are just generally leftists? I don't know but I refuse to let stories like these go by without a balanced opinion.
  • The link about the Bayh-Dole Act actually doesn't say anything about patenting by businesses. It says that "the university is expected to give licensing" not patents.

  • by Misha ( 21355 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:42AM (#137318) Homepage
    i happen to work in corporate research at a big computer company, and while i am still in school, it is certainly NOT true that corporations can ][w]easily patent university research in exchange for funding.

    academic research/work belongs to the students and the university, no matter who pays for it. at some universities student rights come first, at others vice versa. But a third party always comes last.

    When I worked on a project at school (Cornell) which was supposed to be used by my current employer, they first had to modify our work agreement and run it by their lawyers twice or thrice, before finally seeing that the university copyrights were preserved. the project was funded by both university and corporate sides, btw.

    in short, it depends on the university whether the fruits of academic labor will be given up for a few million funding. that much I know. but you can count on both interested parties will try to tear a larger piece of ownership for themselves, so the article, IMHO, is just taking a singular case where Berkeley decided to waste its own funding and forfeit a few of their own patents.

  • http://www.avert.org/virus2.htm

  • by Penrif ( 33473 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:56AM (#137320) Homepage
    Surely they have a right to see a return on their investment?

    Sure, they typically get to have some researchers look into a topic they want them to look into. That's all fine and good. They paid some people to think about something. Great. Peachy.

    Where we get into trouble is when companys try to pay people to think about a topic in a certain way. Like say you're a researcher and some company pays you to evaluate product X for them. Product X happens to suck, so your evaluation comes out bad. Has the company seen a return on their investment? Probably not. Is that the researcher's fault? Absolutly not, they got what they paid for -- someone to evaluate their product. Just because I may invest in some stock doesn't mean I have a right to a return on it, it could lose all value. But, I got what I paid for, right?
  • Do you think Monsanto is going to select a project demonstrating the dangers of genetically engineered crops? Do you thing Pfizer is going to finance a study to prove that Americans are over-medicated?

    Actually, I do. These corporations give tons of money to environmental organizations, which fund the very research you're talking about. In fact, corporate giving is very much (three to four times as much) tilted towards giving to left-wing causes. Makes sense, naturally. They hope to placate the leftists that are skeptical of corporations in general.

  • "[Companies are] socializing risk and privitzing

    AFAIK: this quote comes from a book by John
    Kenneth Galbriath called "the culture of
    contentment". Well worth checking out. He has
    another famous book from the 1950s called "the
    affluent society" which is great too.

  • Do you suggest all science be funded by the government, to prevent untrustworthy research from corporations? Do you suggest that government research would provide trustworthy results? I suggest you go read some of the studies on recreational drugs funded by the government to see just how unbiased and uninflucenced by the agenda of the day government funded research can be.

    -- Greg
  • "If the patents were not in place, the discoveries would not lead to aggressive products in the market, since no one will fund a company based on public domain IP."

    False. Many companies make generic drugs based on formerly patented drugs. They even make money that way.
  • Your use of Prozac was a bad example. It showed that drugs can be successful if patents are granted. We already knew that. The question at hand is whether *unpatented* drugs can be successful. The Polio vaccine is an example of *this* - unpatented drugs solving the problems they were intended to. There have been other examples of this, including a better way of making Penicilin, a Malaria vaccine, and more.

    So, your thesis that temporary monopolies are necessary for the production of good drugs is false.
  • by pq ( 42856 ) <rfc2324&yahoo,com> on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:55AM (#137326) Homepage
    If Corporation X payes college Y to do research in Z, not only does the college have more funds to spend, the researchers get to do interesting work.

    Bingo: you've nailed the problem exactly. The stuff the researchers get to do is selected by the company. Do you think Monsanto is going to select a project demonstrating the dangers of genetically engineered crops? Do you thing Pfizer is going to finance a study to prove that Americans are over-medicated? When you control the questions that can be asked, you've undermined the very basic idea of unfettered inquiry.

  • by jazman_777 ( 44742 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @11:01AM (#137327) Homepage
    I studied at a well-known eastern U. What the heck, let's name names, Georgia Tech. It's a corporate research empire. Most profs are spending their time writing proposals and trolling for grants from industry and gov't. The profs are paid on a percentage of the grants they pull in. After a coupla years, that is their only income. And the undergrads are always grumbling about not getting good prof time. For the profs that are good at it (i.e., the entrepeneural types), it's a nice cash cow.
  • "Pfizer marketed the heck out of it to give it the prominent place in the market it has now."

    "But if initial intellectual property is not patented, corporations will not aggressively push the products into the marketplace."

    This begs the question of whether marketability should really be the end goal of research. As you say yourself, prozac might not be as ubiquitously used if it were not marketed and "aggressively pushed". But you fail to answer whether this is a GOOD thing or not. Would an equivalent product have taken prozac's place? Your argument is that if prozac hadn't have been patented Pfizer wouldn't have been able to accumulate should a large amount of marketing money to market it. This says NOTHING about the quality of the product. Your assumption seems to be that producing products should be the end goal.

    "But if initial intellectual property is not patented, corporations will not aggressively push the products into the marketplace."

    So what? Prove this is a bad thing. Prove that doing the reverse is a good thing. You're not saying anything.
  • by meepzorb ( 61992 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:52AM (#137341)
    Well (1) The U.S isnt a democracy, it's a Republic and (2) the modern limited-liability corporation as legal construct didnt exist until the mid-1800s: The Founders were mercantilists who tended to be suspicious of any accumlation of power, public or private.

    Without ARPAnet (gov't funded research), TCP/IP (gov't funded research), small cheap microprocessors (gov't funded research), or the web, for that matter (Berners-Lee was on a project paid for by supercollider funds... surprise surprise, gov't funded research) there'd be no Slashdot, either.

    Corporations are useful constructs for production and the accumulation of wealth. Once they leave that realm and begin interfering with culture, politics, technology and science, they have overstepped their bounds and are an obstacle to progress.

    I may need to eat, but I refuse to lick the hand that feeds.

  • I work for the government so I looked it up in the Federal Acquisition Regulations, based on the law. If a patent results as a result of a government funded research program, the person or corporation who performed the research gets the patent. The government has an unlimited license to use the patent for government purpose. If someone or some corporation has an interest in the patent, they need to contact the patent holder for a license.

    It is my belief the intent of this is for the government to hold a minimum number if any of patents. I'm not sure if a government employee gets a patent if he created the patent on government time with goverment resources (I didn't look this up). I do know the government employee will get money if the patent has commercial uses. The government is not in the business of holding patents. If a patent with commercial potential is created with government money, the government will not get in the way of the patent holder. This is typical of how the government deals with Intellectual Property. The government will want free use of Intellectual Property for government uses but otherwise it doesn't care.

    Don't forget a patent, (just to show my government background) unless the patent deals with classified information, is public information.

    My own personal viewpoint on Corporate-Sponsored Reasearch is it has been around as long as science has. Very few scientists or inventors have been rich enough to fund their own research. To say this is a new phenomenon is to be ignorant of scientific history. One astronomical bit of history showing this point is the planet Uranus was originally named after the King of England by the discoverer, William Herschel. I would say he was trying to curry favor. As it was, the King was at least cognizant of the Herschel and named him Royal Astronomer or so I believe.

  • I studied at a well-known eastern U. What the heck, let's name names, Georgia Tech. It's a corporate research empire. Most profs are spending their time writing proposals and trolling for grants from industry and gov't. The profs are paid on a percentage of the grants they pull in. After a coupla years, that is their only income. And the undergrads are always grumbling about not getting good prof time. For the profs that are good at it (i.e., the entrepeneural types), it's a nice cash cow.

    I graduated from Georgia Tech and have worked at two other univerities in faculty positions. I want to point out to everyone that research (and money) are the defining factors in academia nowadays. Among the things that I've observed:

    (1) At most schools, excellence in teaching is a distant third in your evaluation by your peers, after total research funding and number of publications. You are encouraged not to devote too much of your time and effort to teaching, particularly if you don't have tenure. Mediocrity is sufficient. As we say in academia, "Good teaching will not help you, but bad teaching can hurt you."

    (2) Academia is pretty strongly divided into "have's" and "have-not's". Professors with lots of research money can buy out of their teaching duties, can pay themselves summer salary, and can support lots of graduate students who write papers. Professors without money can do none of these things. They are punished by the administration with the most undesirable service and teaching duties, and are often scorned by their peers who bring in research money. (Unfortunately, most "have's" eventually turn into "have-not's" as their research specializations become mainstream technologies and cease to be funded by the government.) That's why you see so many bitter, burned-out older faculty at most schools.

    (3) The amount of money that companies funnel into universities pales in comparison to the money that the government spends. Most schools have been sucking at the government teat for so long that their undergraduate and graduate curriculums have been reshaped to train students to become potential graduate research assistants, not private sector employees. The U.S. government has literally transformed engineering and computer science curriculums in the past 20 years without fully realizing it.

    (4) What few companies understand that most universities don't worry if students are employable or learn subjects relevant to the workplace. We faculty have to worry about our own government-funded research programs, and if you don't give us money we can't waste time on you. Once the government decides not to fund a particular research area, it disappears from academia as faculty bail out for industry jobs or retire.

    (5) The fact that UC Berkeley sold so much of its research background rights for so little money is a perfect example of the incompetence of most university technology transfer offices. On one hand, the OTT wants to own or control all of the IP produced by the faculty, just like a private corporation. On the other hand, too often they wind up either ignoring the IP, ignoring the companies that want to license it, or giving away too much for too little money. Many years ago, faculty were free to create their own companies and profit from their inventions (e.g. Silicon Valley). This was A Good Thing for our economy. Nowadays most schools are so paranoid about another Netscape or Microsoft "escaping", that they've effectively made it impossible for faculty to be entrepreneurs.

    (6) IMHO, more corporate money in universities is a good thing, at least in engineering and computer science. It encourages faculty to teach courses and do research that is relevant to industry. Without it, entire teaching disciplines are fading away at most schools, solely for lack of government funding. For example, if you're a EE, try finding a senior elective in transistor-level circuit design at your school. If you're lucky, you'll find an older faculty member (50+) who may still teach it. Companies are dying to hire circuit designers even now, but most schools have abandoned microelectronics and circuit design as unfundable specializations.

    Students at schools like Georgia Tech may complain about the lack of attention they receive from faculty, but in fact they are really better off than they realize. A top ten school can at least hire lots of faculty and offer a wider range of courses and facilities. The nightmare situations occur at smaller schools that try to act like bigger research schools, but wind up doing poorly at both research and teaching. You can complain about professors being research and money hounds, but in fact that is exactly what we are hired to do nowadays.

  • Not only do corporations pay taxes, but they also make major contributions to the institutes doing the research.

    Right, but let's say Corporation Z pays University Y a sum of money equal to X to do research R for T length of time. When R is D at cost of X plus additional tax money, then why should Z have exclusive rights to R? U C what I mean?

    "Everything you know is wrong. (And stupid.)"
  • I have to agree with you. A lot of people benefit from this. Besides, without the Bayh-Dole Act, how would any of this government-funded research (still 92%) get put to market? The Government would own all the IP.

    The real benefit of this act is that it gives the researchers the ability to make some money off of their own ideas. Better them then some suit who has no clue whats going on, right? The professor I work for (I'm a graduate student) has made a fair hunk of cash off of a research project that he did as a graduate student. I've seen how much work he put into it, and along with how much it has helped out the research community, he more than deserves it.

    There are several other professors in our department that have taken their ideas to the corporate world as well, most of them successfully. One of them (ArborNetworks [arbornetworks.com]) was recenty featured here.

    The problem is not with the Bayh-Dole act, but with the ridiculous deals like the one at Berkeley mentioned in the article. They're seriously abusing the system. The goal of the act was to allow businesses to emerge out of the research community. The goal is not to have the researchers bought and directed by a company, when they don't even know what's going to come out the other end of the research!

    If you want research lackeys to do what you want and to give up all their IP rights to you, hire your own.

  • 1) It's called the NSF. A very very big general fund. (The article says that 92% of research is still gov't funded...) You're only supposed to use it on research needs, either materials, or for paying grad students to help you out (but not professors)
    2) They don't do royalties. Instead, your donation back to them is this: They get rights to use the technology you developed for free and forever.

    The royalties idea is an interesting one - research perpetuating research. Unfortunately, because of the huge scope they deal with, *enforcement* of the royalties would cost more than you'd make because of legal fees I think...

  • I don't know about you, but I'm reading /. right now, not \. (backslashdot?)

    And, while I'm at it - I agree. There are jerks who ruin it for others, but the whole peer review of work thing makes forged results a really dangerous career move.

  • Shouldn't we also be suspicious of corporately sponsored media outlets publishing articles condemming sponsored research?

    Of course! If it could be showed that effective and accurate research can be done with corporate sponsorship, then the media might get held accountable for all the FUD they monger.
  • Really think so? Maybe you should read this [corpwatch.org].

    "Of the U.S. corporations on the list, 44 did not pay the full standard 35 percent federal corporate tax rate during the period 1996-1998. Seven of the firms actually paid less than zero in federal income taxes in 1998 (because of rebates). These include: Texaco, Chevron, PepsiCo, Enron, Worldcom, McKesson and the world's biggest corporation--General Motors."

  • But if you were required to sign an EULA like agreement which gave your employer or university full patent and intellectual property rights then your screwed. Basically it belongs to them and they can patent it. Many universities do not use the NIH policy because its too liberal in the eye's of corporations.

    First of all, only inventors can patent something. A university is a non-entity when it comes to getting patents granted. Universities routinely control the licensing of a patent. They almost always give a percentage of the royalties to the inventor, or else there would be no patents filed. Patenting something takes time and effort, and if an academic scientist is not paid, he will not patent. He establishes his livelihood through publications, not patents. Patents are like icing on the cake - good if you can get it, but you keep your day job either way.

    At corporations it is different. The corporation creates a job agreement in which generation of patents is part of the scientist's job, and it is expected the scientist will not be paid extra for it. Still, most reasonable corporations reward in the form of bonuses and promotions those scientists that create worthy patents. They do this because they want to create incentive. In fact, the entire patent system is created on the premise of incentive to the inventor.

    In a university I bet the dean will say sign this agreement that is for ABC corporation and not under the NIH and forfit all rights or you wont get any credits and wont graduate. If your were in that situation which option would you choose?

    This does not EVER happen. This sort of conflict of interest is the stuff by which deans are ejected from academia. Grants at academic institutions are simply not allowed with patent strings attached. If they were, the scientist would effectively be an employee of the granting agency. And believe you me, academic institutions have a substantial financial incentive to retain their own employees.
  • This begs the question of whether marketability should really be the end goal of research. As you say yourself, prozac might not be as ubiquitously used if it were not marketed and "aggressively pushed". But you fail to answer whether this is a GOOD thing or not. Would an equivalent product have taken prozac's place? Your argument is that if prozac hadn't have been patented Pfizer wouldn't have been able to accumulate should a large amount of marketing money to market it. This says NOTHING about the quality of the product. Your assumption seems to be that producing products should be the end goal.

    Actually, I didn't make assumptions, and I didn't speak to the issue of whether our current IP system is worthwhile.

    Prozac is the best treatment of depression that is widely deployed. It is not the best treatment of depression. However, it is better than almost all widely deployed treatments before it. It has helped MILLIONS of depressed people get better. If it were not patented as it was discovered, it is a certainty that MILLIONS of depressed people would have used less efficacious drugs with worse side effects.

    In my mind, that is a very good thing indeed. You can easily point at other really crappy products and say that marketing should not make the product widely deployed, but the fact exists that this is the world we currently live in. If an inventor wants his invention to be widely deployed, he needs to establish IP and get lots of marketing money behind it.

    The ingredients are :
    1) worthhwile IP
    2) strong IP protection
    3) strong financial backing in the form of marketing and sales

    1) is always necessary. 2) and 3) relate to our current marketplace, and for most products I do not see any way around it. There are of course useless products that are made successful through good marketing tactics (Windows comes to mind), but that doesn't take away from the argument that improvements to the consumer come from all three.
  • Actually, Pfizer invented an ugly, smarmy way to extend its Prozac patent. It repackaged prozac in a pretty pink and green capsule, and named it "sarafem."


    But this new use comes with a new claim. The new claim is the ability to treat PMDD, and Pfizer will have a monopoly on that market.

    However, its monopoly on the use of Prozac for depression is ending very soon. And generics containing the same chemical (named something other than the trademarked prozac) will be very broadly dispensed.

    Patents can be extended by new discoveries or new claims. However, that does not affect the expiration of the patent on the previous invention and its claims.
  • by blakestah ( 91866 ) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @11:29AM (#137362) Homepage
    "If the patents were not in place, the discoveries would not lead to aggressive products in the market, since no one will fund a company based on public domain IP."

    False. Many companies make generic drugs based on formerly patented drugs. They even make money that way.

    Right. Take prozac as an example. Its patent protection has expired. It has made about a zillion dollars for its company (Pfizer, I think). Knockoffs will come next year, and make a few million.

    However, to support my argument, if prozac had never been patented, it would hardly be used now. And no one would be making much money off it. Pfizer marketed the heck out of it to give it the prominent place in the market it has now. And if it were not for that, generic knockoffs would be nearly worthless too.

    So, yes, there is some place for public domain products. But if initial intellectual property is not patented, corporations will not aggressively push the products into the marketplace.
  • by blakestah ( 91866 ) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:42AM (#137363) Homepage

    Once research is published, it establishes prior art. Only the authors may apply for patent coverage, and they must apply within a year. It is often the case that a head scientist will prefer to submit the patent first. Other scientists on the project will be hurt by such a maneuver. Without it, there will be a compromise in the establishment of intellectual property. This intellectual property will make money for the university and for the inventors.

    For other issues, there are NEVER patent strings attached to research dollars. If a company funds research that is done at a university, the university will control the patent licensing. Often the university feels it is in their best interests to license exclusively to the corporation that funded the research, but the university chooses to do this because it will generate the most revenue. And patent licensing from universities is all about making money.

    It is quite a natural act that public university research leads to discovery that is patentable, even if not intended. If the patents were not in place, the discoveries would not lead to aggressive products in the market, since no one will fund a company based on public domain IP. So, universities choose to allow patentable research, and they profit from it substantially.

    Even public grants allow this to occur. NIH has a policy that allows any grant to create patents, provided that the patent application is disclosed to the granting agency. As long as that step is fulfilled, the patent is invented by the researcher, and its licensing is controlled by the university.

    It is in the scientists best interests to patent his discoveries. Although he can make money from that, he cannot control how the patent is used. In this way the scientist is dissociated from the revenue generation portion of the patent process. The royalty checks come in, and it is kinda like being paid for something you did a long time ago and rarely think about anymore.
  • ...The government! The government has found a way to provide corporate welfare with the corporations taking the brunt of the bad press involved. Also, with this extra boost in funding for universities, the government saves itself from having to invest in more research/education.
  • Religious belief is the antonym of scientific rigor. They are diameterically opposed.

    Those who claim to be christian scientists are by definition not scientific.

  • by DaveWood ( 101146 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:57AM (#137366) Homepage
    OK - research done with public money can result in patents for private corporations? You've got to be kidding me.

    Who signed that one into law?

    Don't tell me for a minute the corporations "deserve" it or are "entitled" to it. I even saw a comment by someone who said that because corporations "pay taxes" and "contribute" to public universities, they "deserve" to patent public intellectual work.

    What a crock. Taxes buy you a lot, but they do not buy you the right to plop your private toll plaza on the brooklyn bridge. Or at least they didn't used to. Contributions to the institutions of higher education are philanthropy - or at least that's invariably what these large corporations' tax accountants tell us.

    Patents are very delicate instrument for encouraging research and thought. They have been greviously abused in the past 50 years - beneficiaries of their protection would of course love to skew their protections much farther towards themselves than was originally intended, and they have succeeded smashingly, so that patents are as often a threat to innovation and scientific development as not.

    I say as an executive at a corporation and a scientist, there is absolutely no reason why public research should result in private patents. Public research, _because it results in the free exchange of ideas and results_ is the heart and soul of scientific endeavor. When it doesn't, there is no point in maintaining the farce of calling it public.

    You will of course be frightened by people who say stopping this practice will reduce research and hinder science, but this is, of course, bullshit. Good science happened before it, and will happen after it ends. Allowing patents to shut off whole lines of inquiry for the paltry benefit of a corporation's profits is the real, vast danger looming opposite that paper monster.

  • Bingo: you've nailed the problem exactly. The stuff the researchers get to do is selected by the company.

    This is a very interesting problem. I was sitting here thinking about it trying to figure out a way around this problem, but as I stated before, it ends up being really, really tricky.

    My first solution had the corporations putting the money for research into one giant slush fund for the university and then research projects would pull money out of that, but it would be spread around for all to enjoy as well. The only problem with this is that corporations wouldn't do it, because there was no way to gauruntee that the projects they wanted funded would get funded.

    The exact opposite of this would be to allow the direct corporate funding, but I think that is just begging for corruption.

    So that led me to the hybrid system, take a bit of both worlds, and implement a shared profit system. If company A wants to fund research B, then they can give B as much money as they want, except that 50% of the money that they give the project will be put into the "slush fund" for other projects to pull some much needed funding out. All rights of the knowledge gained should be public knowledge (assumption: if company A wants the research for their own, then they should hire their own damn researchers to do it in their own damn labs).

    There is alot of work that could be done on this, but the idea is a start.

  • 1) The government generally gets a royalty-free license to the any patent deriving from government-funded research. Lots of patents begin with a "the government may have certain rights in this invention" with a citation to the grant number.

    2) The government makes its money by taxing the corporate profits and other economic activity arising from the invention/patent. The point of the current proposed legislation is to get a bigger "cut" of that activity. I think that's misdirected -- the government should be investing in basic science, which generally would not necessarily have any detectable income stream. Once the government starts worrying about its "traceable" cut, it will only fund applied research. Ick.

    3) Having been a science graduate student at a major research university, my reaction to the various forms of whining about "freedom", "strings", "deadlines", etc. Grow up -- you are living off someone else's money. You are a serf to your research advisor anyway. I don't see the point of whining about responding to corporate demands rather than getting the research published in time for the next (public) funding cycle. When you finally get your Ph.D., finish a post-doc or two, you can choose whether you jump for public-funding reviewers and senior faculty, or your corporate manager. Until then, why sweat the difference?

  • by carcass ( 115042 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @05:01PM (#137370) Journal
    Yes, I agree that there are very serious potential conflicts of interest in privately funded research. However, we need to consider the extreme costs involved with much scientific research today. It's not like programming, where you can buy a cheap used pentium box, slap linux on it, and create the next wonder drug or super-nano-wonderplex machine. You need to buy facilities, scientific equipment, feedstocks, raw materials, labor, and a whole bunch of stuff that isn't free.

    We as scientists and engineers must ensure that unbiased peer review continues to be the self-policing that we need.

    Also, how long is it going to take before people start realizing that companies go into business to make money? Companies need to be able to protect their innovations with patents so that they can make at least some money before the first wave of almost-copies comes out.

    I agree that privately patenting ideas that came about through public funding is a little questionable, but we have to allow some of it so that these companies will have some impetus to do the research and development in the first place. How far do we go, is the question: can you imagine every company that got the first money to make its killer product from some small business loans subsequently having to surrender its IP to the public domain? You might as well work for some huge conglomerate with R&D might rather than scramble to start a small company and get nothing in the end.

    However, there _are_ serious questions that need to be asked and answered regarding such use of public funds. Also, scientific journals need to have very strict criteria for publication. Peer review and full disclosure of interests may be a good start, but journals must stop short of rejecting all privately funded research or run the risk of censoring some very good research.

    Scientists need to solve this problem themselves, since if it's left to the legislators (read: lawyers) the policing of scientific research will become a stifling bureacracy.

  • by vex24 ( 126288 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:29AM (#137378) Homepage
    At my University it seems to be completely true. I know several graduate students who struggle to make deadlines set by their corporate sponsors (not their advisors!) and have trouble getting funded without essentially being paid for results by corporations. Add to that the fact that most of this research is "delayed" in being released to the public until the company can apply for patents, and it makes you wonder how "public" our public universities really are...
  • Having done my graduate work at a major research university, I'd have to say that such universities are really research institutes that run a school "on the side". If you're a grad student, that's great, because you'll wind up learning far more from your projects than you will in the classroom. But, you will be faced with time pressures to complete projects, no matter who the patron is -- government funded research also has deadlines, checkpoints, and progress reports to write.
    As to intellectual property, whoever pays for the research should reap the rewards. We the People pay for government-funded research, which is why the public owns the intellectual property for those projects. But, when a for-profit company is the patron, you'd better believe that they have every right to the ideas, work product, and patents that come out of it.
    In recent years, corporate funding has been used to supplant declining technology research funding from the federal government (oh yes, thank you Al Gore for axing the research budget). Thus the patent issue has arisen, mostly in engineering research. Frankly, if you don't like patents, don't take the research money. But then you can most likely forget about studying engineering. Go study poetry instead, which is (of course) funded by university indirect fees on research...
  • How is it wrong if Novartis is paying them $25 million over 5 years. Sounds like the University made a deal with $$$ in their eyes while not consulting the faculty. Bad UC!

  • I wonder what the other side has to say about it? It sure doesn't seem very defensible. I'm pretty suprised about the Berkeley deal. I've always thought of that bunch as pretty independent and above such foolishness. Seems like a simple money-grab. disapointing to say the least.
  • You can't hear me but I am clapping right now.
  • A right to a return on their investment? Yes.

    A right to sponsor research and then try to silence the researchers when the results say something they don't like? No.

    The problem comes when you start mixing public & private funds along with public and private interests. If I, BigRichCo, decide to fund research at a private institution with my private dollars, then yes, I can expect a certain degree of control over the results. However, if I then start funding research at a public institution / university with private dollars, that's where a conflict of interest comes in.

    Research done at a public institution should be publicly held and publicly available, no strings attached. If you don't like it, start a private research lab.

  • by PopeAlien ( 164869 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:40AM (#137389) Homepage Journal
    Would you be interested in buying some of my Miracle-Oil? It increases sex-appeal by 300 percent, increases cash-flow by 270 percent and makes your teeth shiny white.

    This has all been proven by our many scientific lab-tests, and you can benefit from this research for only $19.95 a bottle.

    Note: ClemCo's rigorous commitment to quality and value has resulted in the jealous former researchers who claim that this product is ineffective. This is not true, and to prove it we are bringing legal action against these ingrates. We stand by our record, and are proud of our achievements. We will be judged only by God Almighty, and not government regulatory agencies, disgruntled employees or consumer advocate groups.

  • One UK university recently took lots of cash from a tobacco company. Amusingly a student who got a major prize from that department publicly turned it down at the prize giving.

    Which is plain silly.

    what the student should have done was donate the money to the arch foe of the tobacco company. Say a public action group, or something.

    How many people here would take a grant from Microsoft, and donate it to the EFF, or what ever?

    What a minute ...

    never mind ...

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • How can you reap profits AND corrupt research? I mean, if you get some students to develop something for you, if their research is bogus, then the product's not going to work, is it?

    Or are corporations actually going so far as to force universities to stifle their discoveries that would revolutionize an industry and allow real innovation to take place, thereby obsoleting the considerable investment made in older, inferior technologies?

  • by Deanasc ( 201050 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:59AM (#137400) Homepage Journal
    I paid for all my research out of my own pocket. Fortunatly I'm an undergrad and my research was something I could do on my own. The only thing the college had to buy for me was a couple tanks of Hydrogen and Helium for the Gas Chromatography machine. Had I accepted corporate funds from an oil company for my research I'm positive they would not have approved of my conclusions. Had I accepted private funds from Greenpeace or MassPIRG then my conclusions although support their general philosophy would have been suspect.

    What we need is a general fund for researchers to draw from with only one limitation on how the funds are spent with the benefits to go directly back into the fund. IE royalties on cool technologies which can be made into products by the man should go back into the fund. After a few years I predict the fund could support itself and turn a profit for all Americans to share.

    That one limitation would be for spending the funds on research only. Not on salaries or university overhead but on materials and equipment to further science.

    Just my opinion.

  • You said "That said, my greatest shock at seeing how real science is done was the dependence on tin foil. It's unreal. You rap your device in tin foil and you can get an order of magnitude improvement."

    Yes that's true. It's called a Farraday Cage. It's the first thing they teach you in Instrumental Analysis. Works wonders. Nothing ruins sensativity in your equipment like having an elevator in your building. The cage just reflects some of that stray energy from the giant dynamo pulling the lift.

    Now the fact that we all know about Farraday Cages in science makes it prior art for shielding peoples heads by wraping their cell phones in tinfoil. (or their heads in tinfoil if they're from California.)

    The thing is Farraday gave this research away and the world is a better place for it. If he had a NDA with Nokia or Motorola we'd all be paying extra for the tinfoil liscence at Safeway.

  • by Deanasc ( 201050 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @11:32AM (#137402) Homepage Journal
    That's what I mean. Something like the NSF that does make a profit and is self funding after a point. The NSF is afterall drawn from our taxes every year. There's no reason that it couldn't be self funding. Corporations also have to keep an eye on enforcement of royalties. They seem to be able to keep a lid on things.

    NSF is good but could be better.

  • by Phillip2 ( 203612 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:28AM (#137408)
    Hmmm. This is quite an old story. There were a series of letters about it in nature six months ago.

    There are plenty of other examples. One UK university recently took lots of cash from a tobacco company. Amusingly a student who got a major prize from that department publicly turned it down at the prize giving.

    As for most of us who have seen the number of NDA's increasing, the patent clauses entering into out contracts, and the number of letters from lawyers suggesting that we talk to them before we talk to our colleagues its definately no surprise. Its not much good for science either, but he who pays the piper....


  • Corporations aren't entirely evil, you know. Sometimes, the people involved in them actually want to provide good products and services that help others while helping themselves. That's not wrong, is it?
    Of course. And a good number of the radicals responsible for the French Revolution just wanted to topple a absolutist, abusive monarchy. The fact that they then ushered in one of the most bloody periods in European history doesn't mean their intentions weren't good.

    I don't doubt that there are corporations who want to do good out there. I also don't doubt that a fair number of them actually do. And unlike a number of my fellow leftist / socialists, I take a much more traditionalist approach to my creed, in that I view capitalism and corporatism as neccessary, ultimately for the reasons you state: it builds a strong industrial / informational infrastructure that non-market based systems can't.

    However, the fact remains that one bad egg tends to spoil the batter. Corporations have, and corporations will, continue to abuse their power, and that's something I cannot, in good conscience, endorse. Like any large concentration of power, corporations are given to corruption. And the market has been shown to be sluggish, at best, in responding to social pressure, and outright unconcerned with anything other than the majority (often at the expense of the minority). Ultimately, I have more faith in a democratic governmental system than a free market system in addressing problems, be they evil or just mistakes. I'd rather have a democratic government addressing my needs and concerns than the whim of the market.

    Obviously, since I do live in America, and recognize that most people don't agree with me. But hey, what are you going do? I'll just be sitting here, agitating as best I can, until I can make everyone agree with me. Or until Bill Gates wills me his entire fortune. Either one, really. ::grin::

  • Not only do corporations pay taxes,

    This is what most politicians would like you to believe. Actually, corporations pass the taxes they "pay" right on down to the common man in several ways:

    • Lessening the amount of stock dividends paid out to people that have invested in the company.
    • Charging more money for their products.
    • Paying their employees less.

    Corporate taxes are really just another way to tax regular people, but the sheep like it better when you say, "We're going to lower your income taxes, and tax those mean corporations instead!! Hardy har har!!"


  • While I agree with most of what you said, the one issue that's glossed over is: who pays for this stuff?

    *ALL* technology as we know it today comes from governmental/military impetus of some form or other. (Yes, there are rivulets of innovation, but in a National Security State, they only go so far before they feed back into the Great River of the State.) If we are to suppose that government is funded by the People for the People's best interest (an extremely iffy proposition, admittedly), then your tax dollars and mine are funding ALL research, and its fruit, such as it is, should belong to *all* of us, not just the lucky few who have brothers at Lockheed or Raytheon. As we've seen, though, it doesn't work out this way, and I'm sure many are ready to scream at the top of their lungs that it *shouldn't* work that way.

    (Incidently, the system as it now exists is known as the "Pentagon System"; see Chomsky for more details.)

    Which brings me to the title of this response: who is really naive--the person who goes to college to get an education, winds up with an indoctrination and their "IP" taken away, or the person who believes that educational institutions are anything other than the farming grounds for the next generation of commissars? Put another way: does the germ warfare scientist group up thinking they're doing right by the world by cooking up batches of super anthrax and smallpox?

  • Universities fatten up so much on these deals that I doubt they'll never agree to move away from the slop pit. The schools get all kinds of goodies (think of all those shiny new labs that they like to show parents).

    Professors get their egos stroked by working with these firms, in addition to improving their post-academic job prospects. They gladly participate in this research because it will win praise from the university president. ("Atta boy, Bob!")

    After they've bitten the apple, is there any going back?
  • If we are suspicious of the agendas attached to corporate-funded research, shouldn't we be equally suspicious of government funding? If you don't think that the bureaucracy that decides who gets government research grants is subject to the same group dynamics (including self-preservation to the point of viciousness) as any other, you're kidding yourself.
  • Say what you want about their religion, but ask any shortwave enthusiast and they will tell you that when it comes to strong, unbiased, professional reporting, The Monitor is world-class. Everything I've heard indicates the same for both their print and on-line publications. I've been listening for years and consider CSM to be, if not totally perfect, one of the least biased, best sources of news information in the world.
  • Um, these students/researchers aren't somehow brainwashed to prefer work for corporations over standard academic research. There's nothing being put in the water to make this happen. The fact is, corporations throw more money (or other enticements) into this than public forums do. And it's not likely that stopping them from doing so will magically make all sorts of public-domain research start happening again. It is not a zero-sum situation where removing one competitor will make the other competitor more successful somehow. Universities and academic foundations need to realize that they need to COMPETE with private industry if they want researchers to keep their findings in the public domain. I certainly am not going to expect a corporation to just give away the results of things it has driven or funded; that's just not how it works, nor is it how it was ever expected to work. That's the whole point of academic research in the first place.
  • by drew_kime ( 303965 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:41AM (#137433) Journal

    How can you reap profits AND corrupt research? I mean, if you get some students to develop something for you, if their research is bogus, then the product's not going to work, is it?

    Well, if you had bothered to read the article you would have seen:

    Betty Dong at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered data that led her to question the effectiveness of a medication being used daily by millions of people. But when she went to report it, she was blocked for seven years by the company that paid for the study.

    David Kahn, another researcher at the same school, was sued last November for $10 million by the company that sponsored his study, after he published a report that the AIDS drug he was testing was ineffective.

    So yes, Universities are being forced to stifle information showing that new products and techhnologies are ineffective, or at least less effective than existing ones. The products don't work, but no one's allowed to say anything about it.

  • > Do you think Monsanto is going to select a
    > project demonstrating the dangers of genetically
    > engineered crops?

    No, there are plenty of charlatans screaming into the media mike about that already, trying to get their names in print to eventually become paid talking heads (free appearances, but boy do they help your book deal). Like the FDA and drugs, stopping or vastly slowing progress will cause, by vast delay or complete omission of implementation, many more continued problems than new problems might introduce. Remember, millions of people starving somewhere else is politically preferrable and not directly traceable to actions preventing what might have been whereas a few heart attacks or cancers out of millions here in this country is a massive tragedy that demands action now! Now!

    > Do you thing Pfizer is going to finance a study
    > to prove that Americans are over-medicated?

    I would argue we're undermedicated. I can't get any speed-like weight loss drugs, safe and effective, not because I might get addicted, but because existing addicts might illegally get ahold of them.

  • by Nurgster ( 320198 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:33AM (#137446) Homepage
    I mean, get real.

    Not only do corporations pay taxes, but they also make major contributions to the institutes doing the research.

    Surely they have a right to see a return on their investment?
  • by kaszeta ( 322161 ) <rich@kaszeta.org> on Wednesday June 20, 2001 @10:48AM (#137447) Homepage
    s for most of us who have seen the number of NDA's increasing, the patent clauses entering into out contracts, and the number of letters from lawyers suggesting that we talk to them before we talk to our colleagues its definately no surprise. Its not much good for science either, but he who pays the piper....

    Indeed, you've hit the nail on the head here.

    To maintain and increase the level of technology in our society, it requires research. Research, unfortunately, costs money.

    In recent history, many of our larger corporations did much of their R&D work in-house (GE's R&D Center, Bell Labs). And it made a lot of sense to do so, since one of the best ways to make your R&D work profitable is by keeping it proprietary and licensing it. So if your R&D is in-house, it's easier to keep your company secrets secret.

    On the flip side of things, Universities traditionally did governmentally and tax-funded research. The important distinction is that, in general (yes, there are a lot of exceptions), Universities worked on basic theoretical research, while Corporate R&D departments generally worked on more applied research.

    So what happened? A number of things---Public university funding spent on research declined (whereas money spent on instruction and administration has skyrocketed, but that's another topic), while in the corporate world many R&D departments were gutted since they weren't percieved as being short-term profitable (to look at my previous examples, we all know what's come of Bell Labs, and GE's Corporate R&D center is more of a engineer support center than an R&D center now). But companies still need research, and Universities still need money. The solution of both sides' problems was to have more company-sponsored research.

    Alas, the result is that much of our tax money goes, indirectly, to supported corporate R&D work. At least we still have one useful byproduct: universities still produce trained graduates. But unfortunately recent developments, such as the increase in NDA's, and assignment of patent rights to companies, aggravate the situation. As the original article pointed out, for many universities patent income is significant, and now that is being eroded.

    Yes, it is an old story, but still one worth examining.

  • The unamed university I attended received a *lot* of external funding. Some public, some private, while it is possible for research to be corrupted by commercial interests, its been corrupt for all time. Scientists may be idealistic, but science is not. The best thing about science is its open review process. But the things that science concentrates on have always been at the command of industry and government.

    The use of public money to fund private patents is a good debate. But there are many examples of good companies taking the patents and taking the research much further with private money to actually get the job done. Just look at http://www.eink.com as a good example of what can be done with a patent that started out at a University.

    Personally I'd like to see less military oriented public funds research and more commercial interests. It always seemed strange to invent technology where the whole purpose was for it to never actually get used (the idea of defense).

    --my opinion, which is subject to change if I learn more
  • Though the headline implies a study of corporately-biased research (leading to a conclusion of bias), the article is merely speculative, rehashing arguments about academic freedom in a corporately sponsored research environment. These arguments are certainly not news.
  • we elect others to make decisions for us within the boundaries of the Constitution

    You mean "we" choose 1 of a handful of preselected individuals to make decisions for us. Freedom of choice, bah! There is no freedom of choice for the important things. It's all an illusion. 31 flavors of ice cream, 2 parties. 100 types of toilet paper, 3 nominees.

    America sucks.


  • "A more far reaching example is the cooked research funded by oil companies which was designed to undermine arguments against green-house gas emission reductions"

    This research is sponsored by a company that benefits from a specific outcome of this research. This specific examples can not be used to say all funded research is biased, as a lot of research (e.g. drug research) is to get to *a* solution, no matter which one
  • preach it!

    It surprises me how people who work and live in an environment that grew mightilly through the lack of government interference can be so nostalgic for the heavy hand of big brother.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.