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Science Sets us Free?

STEVEN R. VAN HOOK
Walden University

August 2, 2002

 
Hoffinger (1998) suggests that unfettered knowledge "should enhance our freedom and improve human life by emancipating us from oppressive forces: material, political, psychological, and ideological" (p. 547).
 
Perhaps this would be true, if indeed scientific repositories of knowledge were also free from those oppressive forces as well (especially material and political forces), which--at least witnessed by current events--they are not. Too often the practice of science is co-opted by funding dictates of corporate interests, ploys for political and military advantage, researcher aspirations for recognition and advancement, and simple base greed.
 
Let's examine a few timely headlines:
 
Pharmaceutical companies have been chastised by the Federal Trade Commission, which has called on Congress to revise patent laws to prevent brand-name drug companies from delaying the research, development, and sale of low-cost generic drugs (Pear, 2002).
 
Blumenstyk (2002) reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest is decrying that too many academic bioethicists have "financial ties to the very companies whose ethics they evaluate, but few policies govern how those ties are disclosed or managed to avoid conflicts of interest." That center claims that "bioethics centers and journals are 'behind the curve' in developing policies on disclosing and managing conflicts that arise from consulting, advisory, and financing arrangements that bioethicists have with biotechnology, pharmaceutical, chemical, and other companies."
 
Kristoff (2002) reports how internal Army documents on the U.S. biodefense program describe how researchers are serving "germ warriors" in the C.I.A. and the Defense Department who decided "without bothering to consult the White House to produce anthrax secretly and tinker with it in ways that arguably put the U.S. in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention."
 
Pollack (2002) details how scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook constructed a live polio virus from scratch, synthesized from chemicals and publicly available genetic information. This work was financed by the Pentagon as "part of a program to develop biowarfare countermeasures."
 
Saletan (2002) describes how political pressures from the Bush administration is helping to mold the recommendations of the Council on Bioethics, which recently endorsed a ban on cloning to produce children. An administration official concedes this is "consistent with the president's core view, which is that all human cloning is wrong and should not be authorized."
 
Apart from corporate, government, and military pressures on scientific research, scientists pressure themselves toward questionable research ends. A recent news item (Johnson, 2002) reports that scientific misconduct resulted in flawed research that caused an international team of scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California to withdraw the claim that it had discovered a new element.
 
Brainard (2002) details how at least one institution--the Institute of Medicine--is calling for university scientific researchers to work harder to "educate faculty members and students to help deter scientific fraud." This should be done by creating voluntary programs to promote "integrity of research and stop scientific fraud, which includes plagiarism and fabrication of data."
 
The last news item above may be the most damning of all: if organizations of researchers are calling for determent of scientific fraud within their own ranks, surely something must be amiss.
 
References
 
Blumenstyk, G. (2002, June 12). Bioethics centers criticized for lack of policy on their own industry ties. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 12, 2002, from http://chronicle.com/daily/2002/06/2002061202n.htm
 
Brainard, J. (2002, July 18). Institute of medicine urges colleges to improve research integrity. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 18, 2002, from http://chronicle.com/daily/2002/07/2002071801n.htm
 
Hoffinger, R. (1998). From Weber to Habermas. In E. Klemke et al. (Eds.), Philosophy of science (pps. 539-549). New York: Prometheus Books.
 
Johnson, G. (2002, July 14). Lab reports misconduct in claim of new element. New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2002, from http://www.nytimes.com
 
Kristof, N. (2002, July 19). Case of the missing anthrax. New York Times. Retrived July 19, 2002, from http://www.nytimes.com
 
Pear, R. (2002, July 30). Patent law change urged to speed generic drugs. New York Times. Retrived July 30, 2002, from http://www.nytimes.com
 
Pollack, A. (2002, July 12). Scientists create a live polio virus. New York Times. Retrived July 12, 2002, from http://www.nytimes.com
 
Saletan, W. (2002, July 16). Bush's mutant cloning report: The political manipulation of Bush's bioethics council. Slate Magazine. Retrived July 16, 2002, from http://www.slate.com
 

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