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The all-too-human failings of scientists
I believe all too often, that ethical conduct is swept away due to greed. This editor hits the nail on the head in bringing to light some of the issues that plague the scientific community. I personally have witnessed this type of behavior.
BioEdge, May 12, 2012
FROM THE EDITOR
The novelist Sinclair Lewis is little read nowadays, even though he was the first American to win a Nobel Prize for literature. From what I can recall, he was hardly a great stylist, but he did have a knack of being at one and the same time a snooty critic of and naïve enthusiast for the Zeitgeist. In one of his novels, Arrowsmith, an old German professor gives a paean to scientists as the only true seekers after truth:
“The normal man, he does not care much what he does except that he should eat and sleep and make love. But the scientist is intensely religious--he is so religious that he will not accept quarter-truths, because they are an insult to his faith. He wants that everything should be subject to inexorable laws… He is the only real revolutionary, the authentic scientist, because he alone knows how liddle he knows.”
Much of that respect lingers on. Thundering “The Science Has Spoken” is a common way of cutting off debate on public policy issues like evolution in schools, climate change and stem cell research. However, unknown to Sinclair Lewis’s epigones, many thoughtful scientists are worried about the progress of science. Even though the scientific method is universally accepted as one of mankind’s greatest achievements, it has been bruised by the all-too-human failings of scientists themselves: greed, aggression, fraud, and so on.
This week we report on alarm bells being rung in the scientific establishment. The implications for bioethical debates are pretty obvious. We should bow to science but we need not kowtow when research seems to support unethical behaviour. http://iai.asm.org/content/80/3/891.full
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Here's another thought provoking article from BioEdge
Should Big Pharma fund bioethics?
by Michael Cook | 12 May 2012
Gadfly: a person who annoys or criticizes others in order to provoke them into action (Oxford English Dictionary). There is no better word to describe Carl Elliott, a University of Minnesota bioethicist who is probably the profession’s most savage critic. In his column in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, he returned to a favourite theme: the dangers of cosying up to the pharmaceutical industry. He complains that too many bioethicists are being funded by Big Pharma, which Dr Elliott tends to describe as a Mafia network.
The target of his wrath is the 2012 Pfizer Fellowship in Bioethics, which was awarded to Lynn Schuchter of the University of Pennsylvania. The US$100,000-over-two-years fellowships are for investigation of ethical issues -- including conflicts of interest. Dr Elliott helpfully points out that her project is sponsored by Ezekiel Emanuel, the new head of medical ethics at UPenn and a former adviser on health policy for the Obama Administration. He writes:
“If there is anything surprising about the upsurge in pharma-funded bioethics, it is that it has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in criminal behavior by the pharmaceutical industry: fraud, illegal marketing, ghostwriting, tax evasion, kickbacks, and bribery…
“Apparently, many bioethicists see nothing unseemly about sharing in profits generated by criminal activity. In fact, the bioethicists working with industry are often among the most prominent in the field. If anything, an association with the pharmaceutical industry has become a mark of professional success. What does this say about the future of bioethics?”
Dr Elliott’s on the pharmaceutical industry is clearly tendentious. But he is one of the few bioethicists to question the Olympian objectivity of the profession. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen?" It’s good to have a few guys like him around.
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