|SCIENCE AND CENTS|
October 20, 1997
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Questions answered in this forum:
What exactly can scientists patent? Should we limit people's right to patent discoveries? How do you balance the need for long-term research versus the need for profits? Do politics affect scientific activities? What are the underlying economic and institutional issues? Viewer Comments.
February 24, 1997
Scientists clone an adult mammal for the first time.
January 1, 1997
Paul Solman reviews a banner year for gene research.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Science.
Biotechnology Industry Organization
Tim Blenkinsop of Milwaukee, WI, comments:
I think science as an overall entity is not being panged. What it really comes down to is who wants the money. If that is why the scientist is doing his/her research, then the tip is: Patent. The unavailability of open discussions does slow down the improvement of hypotheses, but it all comes down to utility. What is our goal? Make as much money as we can at the price of scientific improvement, or are we out here to extend our present knowledge of the environment. I have a hard time thinking an increase of corporate money into scientific funding as a bad thing. It gives us the availability of resources needed to improve our data. So if one is worried about his/her ideas being stolen, then be careful, but if you are working for the science, you will get the funding so don't worry.
Felicia E.H. Luburich of E. Brunswick, N.J., comments:
If a person is working for a university and makes any kind of a discovery it belongs to the university. In that case if a patent is taken out the income from it should go to the university. If a person is working for a private concern then the patent should belong 1. to the concern or 2. to the concern and the discoverer, depending upon what legal agreement was made when this person started to work for that particular concern. I believe that is how things usually work and it should not be any different for biomedical research. This is one reason why the government should fund so much basic research, with the understanding that all monies from the results go back into education and further research. Did anybody out there see the PBS program called "The Accent Of Man?" It was spectacular. It helped to explain why Germany became so pre-eminent. They made money on their discovery of fertilizer and analine dyes and poured it back into education and science. Do people ever take lessons from history?
Robert Oberlender, PhD, of South San Francisco, CA, comments:
In my experience with university-based drug research and the crass commercialization of medicinal products, I believe that the influence of BIG money does much to inhibit the free flow of ideas and the rigorous debate that is critical to science. I would go further to state my belief that the American scientific ideal, as expressed in the life and work of Thomas Jefferson, has become impossible in the capital-obsessive environment that dominates modern life. Please reassure me that the beauty of the free flow of ideas can survive this Age of Avarice.
Peter Dorman of Lansing, MI, comments:
Most of the attention has been placed on the natural sciences, but there is ample evidence that special interest money has undermined the social sciences as well. My own field of economics is rife with corporate sponsorship. The tobacco companies pay prominent economists to advance the idea that risk levels in society are optimal because they are freely chosen by rational workers and consumers. Private utilities pay other economists to argue that even 100% monopoly may not be an impediment to competitive efficiency. Even foreign governments have gotten into the game. The government of Japan, for example, pays economists to argue that Japanese trade policies are reasonable, and that aggressive trade-opening policies for the U.S. are not. What's the problem here? Obviously, the views that are bought and paid for are not necessarily wrong: they must stand or fall on their own merits. Sponsorship by third parties is not necessarily wrong either, particularly if all sides to a dispute are able to promote "their" research. What is unquestionably wrong is the secrecy that attends this sponsorship. Fellow economists, journalists, and the general public have no convenient, accurate source of information on who is being paid to say what. The solution is transparency. Universities and professional societies should require that economists -- and all other researchers -- disclose their outside sources of funding. This information should be available to anyone who wants it. Letting the sun shine in is always the first and biggest step toward eliminating corruption.