- Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism
Readers of a certain age who have tracked the politics of the scientific enterprise in the United States will be well familiar with the clear-eyed and often witty observations of Dan Greenberg. Reporting for the weekly magazine Science during the 1960s, before launching his own independent newsletter, Science & Government Report, in 1971, Greenberg established himself as the bad boy of his generation’s science correspondents, specializing in the social dynamics of research and development, with an innate propensity to follow the money. Since he gave up his internationally distributed newsletter in themid-1990s, his incisive articles and opinion pieces have continued to appear in major magazines and newspapers. Despite his prolific output, many historians of technology and science are more likely to know him for his classic study, The Politics of Pure Science (first published in 1967, with a revised edition released in 1999), or his more recent Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion (2001).
Woody Allen famously joked that “eighty percent of success is showing up,” and Greenberg has certainly done this as an investigative journalist, having dutifully occupied a ringside seat while covering the growth and perturbations of American science over the past five decades. Simply being there was important, of course, but it was his independent toughness of mind and unfailing courage to speak truth to power that forged his reputation. In Science for Sale, Greenberg turns his critical faculties to the insidious ways that commercial values have come to infuse and shape academic research since the 1970s.
The selling of science has a long history, Greenberg concedes, but its pervasiveness and scale represent “a relatively new phenomenon,” one that “follows the modern ways of business, rather than the ancient ways of science” (p. 2). He makes clear that industry’s funding of academic research is a matter of economic calculation, not philanthropy. Likewise, he establishes that science’s insatiable appetite for growth virtually guarantees that the budgets for campus laboratories will perpetually fall short of what their investigators desire. As this recipe for change might predict, the commercialization of science has spiraled ever higher during the past quarter-century, and with that up tick, the reward system for academic investigations has tilted away from nonmaterial toward material compensations. Growing concerns about potential patents, licensing rights, and profits have seen the enshrined business tool of secrecy bleed into the communications practices of science, which had long espoused the virtues of openness. These and associated shifts, Greenberg argues, define the transition that spans “the old and new worlds of science and commerce” (p. 87). [End Page 821]
Science for Sale is divided into three parts. The first—and lengthiest—sets the scene, analyzing the changes that have taken place over the past generation and outlining the implications of commercialization on the scientific enterprise. The second incorporates crisply edited excerpts from Greenberg’s interviews with key participants in the academic-industrial interface, and the third examines how society might go about “fixing the system.”
As Greenberg explains, the “intimacy between academic science and corporate America is not optional. It is required by an act of Congress” (p. 50). The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, an amendment to the patent and trademark law, imposed on universities “and their scientists a duty to pursue licensing to industry as a condition of accepting government money for research” (p. 54). He has much to say about the proliferation, goals, and operations of technology-transfer offices in the nation’s research universities. Indeed, anyone studying the changing relationship between science and technology in the United States will find his assessment of these mandated offices highly enlightening in terms of understanding late-twentieth- and early-twenty first- century developments. His insights are especially great in dealing with the intricacies of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, making a strong case that the economic and social import of academic-business dealings are far more modest than their boosters claim.