Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

Scientific Secrecy and "Spin": The Sad, Sleazy Saga of the Trials of Remune

Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

Scientific Secrecy and "Spin": The Sad, Sleazy Saga of the Trials of Remune

Article excerpt

Science is, upon the whole, at present in a very healthy condition. It would not remain so if the motives of scientific men were lowered. The worst feature of the present state of things is that the great majority of the members of many scientific societies, and a large part of others, are men whose chief interest in science is as a means of gaining money....--Charles Sanders Peirce (1901) (1)

[T]he present concentration of industrial interest in academic science is generating no small measure of concern about whether the academy is selling its soul.--Barbara J. Culliton (1982) (2)

Entrepreneurialism is rampant in medicine today.--Arnold Relman (1984) (3)

Entrepreneurial values, economic interests, and the promise of profits are shaping the scientific ethos.... These changes are reflected in excessive competition among scientists, reluctant to share data, and sometimes in fraud.--Dorothy Nelkin (1998) (4)

Today's universities are increasingly encouraging their scientists and doctors to be entrepreneurial and to commercialise their intellectual property. However, the collaboration between industry and academia ... can easily end in tears.--The Lancet (2000) (5)

[The industrialization of science] implies the establishment within academic science of a number of practices that are essentially foreign to its culture.--John Ziman (2000) (6)



The story is certainly a disturbing one: A drug company funds a large-scale clinical trial of its new AIDS therapy; when the results are unfavorable, the company tries to prevent their being published; when the researchers go ahead with publication anyway, the company seeks millions of dollars in damages; eventually, newspaper headlines tell us it gets "zilch," (7) but the arbitration proceedings are private, so beyond that we know--well, zilch. The same year, a multi-party suit is filed alleging that the company had manipulated its stock price by misleading the public about the effectiveness of the drug; (8) four years later, with this suit still pending, the company website affirms that "results of previous clinical trials demonstrate" that it "has the potential to slow the progression of HIV infection." (9)

Of course, viewed more closely, things are more complicated than they seem at first; and anyway, I don't want just to work up a good head of righteous indignation, but to offer something with real theoretical backbone. So the plan is to sketch an account of what science is and does that suggests how and why the ways in which scientific work is funded can distort or even block its progress; to put this theory to work in the course of an analysis of the troubled history of the trials, clinical and legal, of Immune Response's AIDS drug, Remune; and to conclude with some thoughts about industrial sponsorship of scientific research in the universities.



Science, as I understand it, is a federation of kinds of inquiry into natural and social phenomena, differentiated from other kinds of inquiry such as historical or literary scholarship primarily by the sorts of question that fall within its scope. (10)

An inquirer's business is to discover true answers to the questions that concern him; so his obligation is to seek out what evidence he can and assess it as fairly as possible. An advocate's business is to make the strongest possible case that his side's answer is the true one; so he will be most effective if he selects and emphasizes whatever evidence favors the proposition concerned, and ignores or plays down the rest. Strictly speaking, "disinterested inquirer" is a kind of pleonasm, and "biased inquirer" a kind of oxymoron.

Unlike advocacy, which starts from a proposition to be advanced, inquiry starts with a question. If the question can be answered by some familiar procedure, we simply follow that procedure: look up the number in the phone book, call the airline and ask, or whatever. …

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