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The Commodification of Academic Research

Science and the Modern University

Edited by Hans Radder

Publication Year: 2010

Selling science has become a common practice in contemporary universities. This commodification of academia pervades many aspects of higher education, including research, teaching, and administration. As such, it raises significant philosophical, political, and moral challenges. This volume offers the first book-length analysis of this disturbing trend from a philosophical perspective and presents views by scholars of philosophy of science, social and political philosophy, and research ethics. The epistemic and moral responsibilities of universities, whether for-profit or nonprofit, are examined from several philosophical standpoints. The contributors discuss the pertinent epistemological and methodological questions, the sociopolitical issues of the organization of science, the tensions between commodified practices and the ideal of “science for the public good,” and the role of governmental regulation and personal ethical behavior. In order to counter coercive and corruptive influences of academic commodification, the contributors consider alternatives to commodified research and offer practical recommendations for establishing appropriate research standards, methodologies and institutional arrangements, and a corresponding normative ethos.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Cover

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pp. iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

Writing the preface to a book is always a pleasure, since it means that a large and prolonged project almost has been completed. My first systematic engagement with the commodification of academic research was prompted by the reading of two illuminating books. The first was the 1997 edition of the volume Biotechnology, Patents and Morality, edited by Sigrid Sterckx; the second was the 1999 Dutch-language ...

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1. The Commodification of Academic Research

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pp. 1-23

Since the 1980s, most universities in the Western world have experienced substantial changes as a consequence of an ongoing process of commodification. Commodification affects a variety of aspects of higher education, such as research, teaching, administration, and even such nonacademic activities as the intercollegiate sports programs of U.S. universities. This book focuses on one of these aspects ...

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2. The Commercialization of Academic Culture and the Future of the University

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pp. 24-43

In the spring of 2007, many professors at the University of California at Berkeley were distressed about that university’s selection as the site for a $500 million research institute on biofuels to be funded by BP, the mega-energy corporation (Blumenstyk 2007). Their demand to institutionalize faculty oversight of this major academic-industry collaboration replays a controversy at Berkeley over its 1998 ...

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3. Knowledge Transfer from Academia to Industry through Patenting and Licensing: Rhetoric and Reality

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pp. 44-64

This chapter addresses one aspect of the question of the actual versus desirable sociopolitical organization of academic science in modern societies—the aspect of patenting and licensing activities of universities. Academic patenting and licensing activities have massively increased since the 1980s in the United States and the 1990s in Europe. As this trend is clearly impacting the dissemination of ...

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4. Financial Interests and the Norms of Academic Science

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pp. 65-89

Modern science is a business: a big business. Every year, private corporations, government agencies, universities, and private foundations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on research and development (R&D). The amount of private money invested in science has risen steadily since the 1980s and has outpaced the amount of public money spent on science. Today, about 60 percent of the world’s ...

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5. One-Shot Science

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pp. 90-109

People often fail to worry about commercial sources of research funding. Perhaps this is because they take it to be part of the “discovery” side of science. That is, commercial interests are seen as the source and motivation of new ideas, nothing more. The real testing and justification of such ideas is independent of their noble or unsavory origins. The discovery-justification distinction is old and perhaps even a ...

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6. The Business of Drug Research: A Mixed Blessing

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pp. 110-131

Decades ago, in the 1970s and 1980s, the idea that science should be “socially relevant” had broad support, also among (university) scientists. Scientists should leave their ivory tower, stop doing science only for the sake of science, become aware of the impact of their research on society, and let the needs of society deter-mine their research agenda. Critical scientists worked together, for example, with ...

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7. The Commodification of Knowledge Exchange: Governing the Circulation of Biological Data

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pp. 132-157

Philosophers of science tend to focus their attention on the conditions under which scientific knowledge is produced and applied. This chapter considers instead the conditions under which knowledge is exchanged in science, with particular attention to the boom in bioinformatic resources characterizing contemporary biology and medicine. I show how the ongoing commodification of the life sciences ...

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8. Research under Pressure: Methodological Features of Commercialized Science

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pp. 158-186

Application-dominated industrial research is often claimed to suffer from superficial and biased judgments and to have lost its epistemic reputation. The commercialization process is said to lead to a biased research agenda, keep public science out of corporate laboratories, and induce methodological sloppiness. My thesis is that the impact of commercialization on the epistemic quality of scientific ...

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9. Robert Merton, Intellectual Property, and Open Science: A Sociological History for Our Times

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pp. 187-230

Let us start with a remarkable letter from the famous chemist (and economist) Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, written at a crucial juncture of the French Revolution when the Jacobins set out to reorganize or abolish the Academy of Sciences ...

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10. Mertonian Values, Scientific Norms, and the Commodification of Academic Research

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pp. 231-258

In the course of the past decade, the commodification—and more specifically the commercialization—of academic science since the 1980s has been explored and a variety of studies of this phenomenon have become available.1 To be sure, science at large has always included research primarily carried out for its economic benefit, especially since the second half of the nineteenth century. Just ...

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11. Coercion, Corruption, and Politics in the Commodification of Academic Science

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pp. 259-276

Commercial ventures between university researchers and private companies have become a matter of widespread debate. Advocates of such ventures usually present university-industry partnerships as benefiting the general public. They promise new technologies and consumer products that will stimulate the economy, and thus eventually benefit everyone. Even a prominent critic of commercialization ...

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12. Capitalism and Knowledge: The University between Commodification and Entrepreneurship

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pp. 277-306

Critiques of capitalism come in two kinds. I shall begin by presenting them in the spirit in which they are normally discussed. One kind attacks capitalism in practice. It is associated with Joseph Schumpeter, who targeted the monopolization of capital for stifling the entrepreneurial spirit, capitalism’s very soul. The other critique is older and goes deeper, attacking capitalism in principle. It is associated ...

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13. Viable Alternatives for Commercialized Science: The Case of Humanistics

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pp. 307-336

In this chapter I try to heed Hans Radder’s suggestion, formulated in the introduction to this book, to address “viable alternatives for commercialized science.” To this end I focus on humanistics as a new discipline, situated at the crossroads of the social sciences and the humanities. This discipline tries to connect two different types of questions. On the one hand questions in the domain of existential ...


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pp. 337-340


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pp. 341-350

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822977582
E-ISBN-10: 0822977583
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822943969
Print-ISBN-10: 0822943964

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2010