Corporate influence on science is compromising its social and environmental benefits

Press Release, 12 October 2009
 

A new report reveals that the pressure for scientific research to deliver on short-term commercial aims is compromising its ability to yield social and environmental benefits.

The report ‘Science and the corporate agenda’ states that even tax-payer funded research is now less likely to work in the broader public interest. These findings are based on extensive evidence across five sectors: pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, military/defence, biotechnology and tobacco.

The report, from Scientists for Global Responsibility, documents how more than two decades of government policy has driven a corporate agenda into the heart of universities, undermining their openness and independence. It highlights damaging effects in individual research studies, in the agenda-setting process for R&D, and in the communication of science to the public. The effects include:
•    Research bias – Commercial funding frequently results in only those research findings favourable to the funder being reported. [3]
•    Distorted research agendas – Short-term economic goals often shape academic research priorities. Research with social and environmental goals is frequently marginalised. [4]
•    Covert funding of science communication – Interest groups, from climate sceptics to patient groups, have been funded to support an industry-friendly viewpoint.
•    Conflicts of interest – Academics are increasingly tied into commercial relationships that are not properly monitored.
•    Lack of openness – Commercial restrictions have become much more widespread and are impeding the free exchange of data.

The report makes a series of innovative recommendations, including:
•    Measures for improving the transparency of links between researchers, business, and lobby groups;
•    Ways to protect funding of blue-skies discovery and social and environmental research;
•    Proposals for reviewing the role of the university.

Dr Stuart Parkinson, co-author of the report, says “We have gathered extensive evidence of the damaging effects of the commercial influence on science and technology. Urgent action – by government and others – is needed to resolve these problems. Without this, efforts to tackle climate change, global insecurity and health inequalities will be undermined.”

Contact: Dr Stuart Parkinson (Tel: 07941 953640, e-mail: stuartp@sgr.org.uk)

Notes

1.    Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an independent UK-based organisation of ethically-concerned science, design and technology professionals. Founded in 1992, it has approximately 1000 members. For more details see: http://www.sgr.org.uk/
2.    The report is entitled ‘Science and the corporate agenda: the detrimental effects of commercial influence on science and technology’. It is 80 pages in length and includes over 300 references. It is written by Dr Chris Langley – author of the acclaimed SGR report ‘Soldiers in the Laboratory’ – and Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of SGR.
3.    One major academic study of the pharmaceutical sector found that commercial funding of research made the reporting of favourable results three times more likely than independently funded studies (p.26 of the report). 
4.    The report discusses examples in security, health, energy, and agriculture where the R&D which attracts the most resources is that which suits economic objectives rather broader social or environmental goals.
5.    Pdf copies of the report are available via the corporate science pages