Academic journal article Stanford Law & Policy Review

Combating the Funding Effect in Science: What's beyond Transparency?

Academic journal article Stanford Law & Policy Review

Combating the Funding Effect in Science: What's beyond Transparency?

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Professional ethics in government and in fields such as law, engineering, and accounting have evolved to protect the public from employee abuses and misconduct. Among those protections are rules that define, manage, or proscribe conflicts of interest. The term "conflict of interest" has been defined by Thompson as "a set of conditions in which professional judgment concerning a primary interest (such as a patient's welfare or the validity of research) tends to be unduly influenced by a secondary interest (such as financial gain)." (1) Before 1980, little if any attention was given to conflicts of interest in science and medicine. Beginning around that time, a major shift was taking place in sector boundaries affecting the media, finance, banking, medicine, and academia. The missions of distinctive sectors of our society were blended or superimposed onto one another. This has led to a fusion of sector goals and the creation of hybridized institutions. As examples, the entertainment and news sectors have, at times, become indistinguishable; banks and investment houses have begun adopting each other's roles. And, more to the point of this Article, universities have been investing in for-profit enterprises started by their faculty. The new partnership between academia and business was reinforced by the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. (2) Under the new law, universities were accorded intellectual property rights from any discoveries that were made under government grants. Business and academia became intertwined through a mutually reinforcing body of legislative acts fostering technology transfer. These changes were the cultural counterpart to what was happening in the biological sciences when species barriers were broken with the discovery of recombinant DNA molecule technology. (3) The well-established biological boundaries that distinguished different life forms and the special features that distinguished socioeconomic institutions were disappearing. The new blended institutions of academia raised questions about changes in the normative framework that guided research practice and the commercial ventures within academic-clinical medicine. Mark Cooper argues that the commercialization of the university affects the faculty's choice of research problems "by shifting the focus of academic life scientists to a greater interest in research that generates patents or commercializable findings and away from research based on scientific curiosity and potential contributions to scientific theory." (4) The Bayh-Dole Act, along with a series of new federal laws, state economic development initiatives, and Presidential executive orders supporting university-industry partnerships, provided incentives for the development of a new class of entrepreneurial faculty who held onto their academic positions while setting up independent companies.

This Article examines the evolution of the public's concerns over conflicts of interest (COIs) in science (including medical science and the practice of medicine). I discuss the ethical foundations of COIs and the remedies that have been proposed by government, academic institutions, journals, and professional societies to address these concerns. The "funding effect" in science, an outcome in which commercial sponsorship of research influences its findings, will be explored. The role of transparency as an antidote to conflicts of interest will be examined. Also, the Article will identify initiatives designed to prevent and proscribe conflicts of interest rather than accepting them as inevitable and adopting transparency as the primary response. The thesis of this Article is that disclosure of a conflict of interest is a necessary but not sufficient response to address the most serious problems arising from blending academic science with commerce. I shall argue that when the autonomy of the scientist, the independence of the university, or the public's trust in academic research is compromised, conflicts of interest should be prohibited. …

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