Scientific Research in the Era of Managers
This article examines the introduction of business and marketplace aims and practices in Scientific Research. On one hand, such practices are examined as to how relevant they are with Scientific methodology, and in particular with assessment of Research proposals and administration of Research projects. Apart from methodology, this paper also examines the introduction of marketplace aims, and in particular the aim of profit. Several cases and studies are reviewed, in order to illustrate the effects of profit-driven Universities and Research Institutes in the quality of Research outcomes, as well as to the effects on Society as a whole.
1. Aim and Scope
The present article intends to examine the application of free-market and business practices in Scientific Research. The perspective is that of a Researcher, which moreover, is the author's status. The particularity of Scientific Research is related to the relatively inflexible way with which it is, or should be, carried out; its object is the natural world, whose function is very precise, and totally independent of the researcher's desires, convictions and the general social realities. According to Scientific methodology, the Scientist/Researcher has a duty to observe Nature objectively and submit to his observations. These observations do no other than tell us how Nature works; any subsequent steps are forced to take them into strict consideration, and any Research outcome has to obey them. Planning of observations by the Researcher, is simply not conceivable within this methodological context.
We have therefore described very briefly the limits within which Scientific Research, basic or applied, may operate.
On the other hand we have the world of markets, whose operation has varied significantly through time and space. This operation depends on technical, geographical and political considerations, prevalent ideologies, or even social circumstances and religion. It is also closely related to the political system of each society. Thus, numerous politico-economic systems of the past, like feudalism and then mercantilism, have been supervened by capitalism or socialism in modern history. Even those two systems have been applied in various flavors, ranging from Keynesian to neoliberal capitalism, and from social democracy to communism, thus reflecting the flexibility of the operation of markets.
Thus there is a marked contradistinction between the rigid methodology of Scientific Research and the varying modus operandi of markets.
We will examine Research within free-market practices for no other reason than this: capitalism is the ruling economic model today. Obviously for any point of criticism anyone could cite e.g., the shortcomings of real socialism. Though this criticism may be correct, it remains irrelevant in the present context, because as we said, the aim of this article is not a comparative study of economic systems, but the examination of the dominant and most relevant system today, capitalism. In any case, the author does not believe that the choice of socio-economic model is disjunctively "capitalism or communism", but such a discussion is beyond the scope of this text.
Quite often, Research is considered as just another economic activity. In the sense of resources expenditures (social, material, energy resources) for the production of a result (knowledge) through the recruitment of personnel (Scientists, Tecnhicians), this we could say may be the case. The problem, however, arises when Research is considered as just another business or commercial activity, and when knowledge is considered as just another commodity, like iron ore or tobacco.
About a century ago, Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen (1918) analyzed the developments in the USA of the early 20th century, based on his academic experience acquired at Johns Hopkins, Yale, Cornell, Chicago, Stanford and Missouri-Columbia Universities. In his essay "The Higher Learning in America: a Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men", he describes the invasion of businessmen and politicians in the governing boards of Universities and the mentality-shift from the search of knowledge to its transaction.
Acknowledging an absurdity, he writes that "Plato's classic scheme of folly, which would have the philosophers take over the management of affairs, has been turned on its head; the men of affairs have taken over the direction of the pursuit of knowledge." He considers that, as businessmen are inadequate in their education for Scientific Research, Researchers are equally inadequate in their education for business. He points out that business administration requires advertising-type investments (impressive buildings, presence in the mass media etc) that could be communicatorilly exploited to increase the Institutions' prestige, overlooking operating costs. Indeed, production of knowledge, is by no means an impressive process per se to the unskilled eye, and can do little for the "prestige" of the Institution. He also points out that, in this environment, only the Scientists who are most apt to the arts of enterprise, public relations and politics get to climb up the administrative hierarchy. The ones faithfully devoted to their stated function, i.e. the search of knowledge, are punished with limited access to the decision-making process and lower wages. The most distinguished Scientists constitute, by business standards, a necessary evil: "necessary" for the prestige they bring to their hosting Institute, "evil" because they disagree on principle with the business models of conducting Research. They will therefore, have to be stiflingly controlled not to stray from the sovereign business logic.
According to Veblen, the process of the quest for superior knowledge is by nature incompatible with that of the quest for profit, rendering their efficient coexistence in the same person or in the same Institution at least problematic: in the end the one will have to displace, or rather devour, the other. This opinion is not philosophical based on first principles, but empirical, based on facts and observations of everyday academic life. We have to note that when these views were expressed, the markets operated in a social context where certain other institutions, like community, country, church or family bared an important weight in policy-making processes. Right or wrong, many decisions took those considerations into account, sometimes counterbalancing pure capitalist doctrine.
Today, the erosion of many other institutions has led to dramatic changes in everyday life, on a global level. Scientific Research could not be left impervious to those changes, and these observations are even more relevant today. Herein, we will attempt to portray the current realities in the field of modern Research, which include the happenings in Universities, Research Centres and the Industry. We will also try to sketch out the paradigm shift from knowledge as an ideal, or as a stepping stone to personal and social betterment, to its conception as a commodity to be produced, bargained and traded for profit in the marketplace.
One may consider such a paradigm shift as legitimate and reasonable. However, no matter how simple a proposition may appear at first sight, one must take the time to follow it to its logical conclusions before fully evaluating its desirability and legitimacy. When Euclid arbitrarily formulated his "fifth postulate" concerning parallelism, he not knowingly set the foundation for Euclidean geometry. It took, however, whole armies of mathematicians to fully work out all its logical consequences until this very day. He himself, probably could not have imagined how this single arbitrary postulate would give rise to whole branches of Mathematics, and how it would prevent the development of non-Euclidean geometries for many centuries.
Formulating arbitrary postulates is dangerously easy, while following their logical consequences is often hard, albeit important. This is why people often prefer the former to the latter. Herein we will attempt to follow the consequences of the "profit postulate", i.e. the tenet that knowledge is a commodity, and that its ownership, transmission and exploitation should aim to maximize profits.
3. Public Funding of Research Proposals on a Competitive Basis
What mainly determines the direction in which Research moves, or will move, is obviously the direction of the available resources. It is an obvious triviality to state that Research without resources is impossible, particularly so in the realm of Natural Sciences.
Today, Research is conducted by Public Academic and Research Institutions (PuARI), by Private such Institutions (PrARI) and by the Private Sector (i.e. Industry). Generally speaking, the PuARI receive regular subsidies from the state to cover their fixed expenses (wages, maintenance etc). Tuition fees or other types of income are possible and vary between countries. PrARI's are financed from their own resources (student tuition fees, donations, patent royalties etc). Finally, the Industry profits from the commercial exploitation of its products, through their sale (goods or services) and by exploitation of patent licenses. However, a funding source common to all these three categories of Institutions, are the subsidies issued on a competitive basis by states or supranational organizations (e.g. the EU) for the support of Scientific Research.
Past experience from the management of subsidies by the EEC or local governments, and the subsequent corruption and mismanagement scandals, led to the adoption of a subsidy management model by the broader public or private sector. The resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999, in the light of corruption accusations is a characteristic example. With the new management model, the state would never be guilty of corruption, but its mere victim.
3.1 Invasion of Business Terminology
A taste of the syntax of research proposals can be had on the R&D Information Service of the EU (cordis.europa.eu). Two recurring terms, used in their pure business sense are "competitiveness" and "innovation". That these words are used in their strict business sense may be understood from their definitions that one normally encounters; competitiveness may be generally described as the "the degree to which a country can, under free and fair market conditions, produce goods and services which meet the test of international markets, while simultaneously maintaining and expanding the real incomes of its people over the long term"(Sexty, 1998). With small additions we can also include enterprises, or economic areas (eg EU) in this definition. Respectively, "innovation" refers to the import of new products, techniques or technologies into a marketplace.
Reading ahead such a proposal, we encounter more terms stemming from the business "newspeak". Thus, the Researcher who draws up such a proposal, besides his/her research area and expertise, is expected to define a series of other parameters:
a) Objectives. Even before research has begun, one has to predefine its objectives, disregarding the fact that research outcomes are usually not predicted, or anticipated. Moreover, the Researcher should focus on these objectives ignoring eventual serendipitous discoveries. These presuppositions fail to take into account that prior knowledge of the outcome renders research unnecessary.
b) Deliverables. This is another term of real language, which in enterprise newspeak means "a thing able to be provided, especially as a product of a development process". The implementation of this term obviously ignores the fact that something that was initially considered as feasible, proves by experiment to be unfeasible, or excessively difficult and time-consuming. In essence, asking from a Researcher to outline the deliverables of his/her work, is like asking him/her to predict the behavior of Nature (which can be known only after the work is done), or simply to lie.
Even the structure of Research work is grouped according to strict business models:
c) Work packages. Another enterprise neologism (we could not find it in the Merriam - Webster Online Dictionary) which refers to the elementary pieces of work.
d) Timetables and milestones should be a priori defined, considering the course of work as predetermined.
In effect, the texts that are drawn up by Researchers are not scientific proposals, but essentially business plans. The objection to this invasion of marketplace terminology, lies in its unsuitability to describe the Research process. This process is often unexpected, erratic, including the element of inspiration, and its object is not strictly predetermined and measurable (e.g. like profit, which is the object of business). Quite often, the most fruitful Research was not that which led to the predefined goal, but that which led to something totally unforeseen, as we will see further on.
3.2 Invasion of the Theory of Economies of Scale
One method for funding research, is through large (national or international) consortia between Public and Private Research Institutes and the Industry. Such consortia can consist of up to several dozen groups in some cases. Their stated purpose is to create a "critical mass" around a certain "hot" topic of science, thus increasing competitiveness at a global level or creating social profit. Budgets for such consortia are in the order of millions of Euros, and consequently, thorough bookkeeping, precise organization charts, and correct administration (management) are considered of prime importance. And of course, which topics are "hot" is determined at a superior political and bureaucratic level, depending on which countries, industries and lobbies prevail.
So, it is publicly proclaimed that the philosophy behind these programs is "the more the merrier" with respect to the quality of results. This perception overlooks the fact that in such consortia, each research group usually tends to keep up its previous line of research with the allocated funds. Indeed, many groups enter such consortia by means of their laboratory and technical infrastructures, which however they often use for radically different Research (the way a film-maker and a reporter use a video camera in radically different ways). As expected, the participants usually refuse to change a lifetime's research direction, and instead, try with half measures to remain "within the frame of the project" so that they have at least some results to present (money being a strong incentive). This refusal is understandable particularly when we take into account that "hot" topics have been centrally planned at superior levels without serious feedback. At the same time, they continue (and understandably so) the research activities that made them successful in the first place. Thus, these consortia exhibit low cooperativity and interaction between groups, and as a result each of the participants does not understand most of the others' results which are presented during their annual meetings (the author has such personal experience). Unfortunately, all this worship of size has been solidified on the concept of economies of scale, in which a big industry can produce a product more competitively than a small one.
Moreover, such projects constitute a strong temptation and motive for those who want to make easy money by entering the new and promising "sector of subsidies". Ghost-companies can escape the controlling mechanisms and acquire enormous profits before being caught. Even when this happens the processes of removal from the consortium are so complicated that it may be preferable for the rest of the partners to conceal the whole matter. Experience has shown that at least European mechanisms demonstrate a marked unwillingness to deal with these cases. In a market milieu that gave rise to "rotten apples" such as Enron (see below), these cases cannot be afforded to be considered as "quirks" but rather as a natural consequence of the whole system.
Even when all these bad intentions are absent, mismanagement is likely to occur since the consortia coordinators are untrained in business practices like e.g. accounting. Even in the comparatively less bureaucratic environment of the United States (compared to the EU) with the NSF award system, these problems still arise. The "Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrological Science" (CUAHSI),8 a huge consortium of more than a hundred Institutes in the USA and abroad, has been funded with three awards by the NSF. When it was audited by the NSF for the funds it had received, it was found that "the accounting system was inadequate", "the personnel was not qualified for the task", the "NSF awards were mismanaged (thus increasing the administrative burden to the NSF)", and "some costs were questionable" (NSF Office of Inspector General, 2006). Hiring of external accountants was subsequently recommended.
But why is this practice pursued, when lots of Researchers channel their funding to unrelated Research? Why is it pursued the moment it creates such temptation for fraud? Why is it pursued when Researchers have such a hard time in administrating it? To start answering this, it suffices to say that the administrative burden of organizing and operating such consortia is unbearable for Researchers that wish to pursue their research work at the same time. The respective services provided by their host Institutes are rarely sufficient, so these will have to be undertaken by someone else, as we saw and shall see in greater detail.
3.3 Consequences of the Abovementioned Model
a) Control of Researchers
The institutions handling Research funding are usually staffed by civil service bureaucrats and former private sector executives. Generalizing the standards of behavior in the civil service and businesses, the bad faith of Researchers, is taken for granted. They should therefore be stiflingly checked in order to keep them from straying from their duties. They also consider that when they provide funding, they should tie the Researcher with a binding agreement, so that if he/she indeed strays from the agreed-upon project (or simply fails) the responsibility is exclusively his and not of those who approved the funding.
Currently, the whole system works under the tacit acknowledgement on the behalf of researchers that "to a large extent, our proposals contain inaccuracies, wishful thinking, boasting, and - occasionally - lies", and from the behalf of executives that "we know that, but in any case we are covered for the money we gave you, and you are the sole accountable". But whilst the average and honest Researcher is tied up by this agreement, the intentional racketeer can escape scot-free.
b) Directed Channeling of public resources
To applied Research: It is obvious that applied research is much easier to "fit" into the above mentioned business plans, since the Scientific problem has already been solved and only its application remains. However difficult that may be, technically speaking, it is more foreseeable, well defined, and constitutes the goal of the proposal per se. It would be an enormous challenge for anyone to draw up a proposal "to discover the mechanism of storage and transmission of genetic information in the cellular nucleus", and would most certainly attract the mockery of their peers for the proposal's megalomania. But from the moment the structure of DNA was solved, and its functional role ascertained, numerous biogenetics companies could conduct applied research and patent whole series of genes. Thus, under the current arrangement applied research is favored to the detriment of basic research.
To consulting companies: It is also very difficult for Researchers to successfully adopt a totally new way of writing, which on the contrary, is daily practice for any business executive. It is also a true feat for them to master the syntax and vocabulary of the calls for proposals. They are unskilled in the use of specialized communication techniques (internet presence, booklets, newsletters etc) that draw their origins from the advertising sector. Finally, they are unable to work out organization charts, which are typical skills of business executives or professional bureaucrats. Thus, they find themselves in the unfavorable position of having to learn a whole new "science", that of writing up proposals. Obviously, doing something like this would require that they leave their Scientific duties to second priority, since time is finite and no one can do both perfectly. Or, assign the whole task to external consultants. As is eloquently put in a Proposal Consulting firm's website: "Responding to a Federal or State RFP? Overworked? Understaffed? Facing a tight deadline? Or just don't know where to begin? NO NEED TO PANIC... Let an Experienced Consultant Assist You in All Aspects of Proposal Development". The "services" provided by such companies are not exhausted in the proposal write-up but may include lobbying. Indeed, companies providing "lobbying services" have been set up in Brussels and all over Europe, replicating the model imported from the USA, to harvest some of the resources that could otherwise be used to fuel Research itself.
To rungs of senior Researchers: A Researcher's prestige constitutes the main bargaining chip for grant acquisition. It is generally more difficult for young Researchers to be entrusted with research funding, no matter how much zeal and talent they may exhibit. Of course, this situation is not unfounded: scientific experience is a major ingredient of scientific excellence, and of course, it is strongly correlated to seniority.
However, knowledge of the administrative apparatus is another quality strongly correlated to seniority, and it is primarily rewarded, often to the detriment of excellence. And incidentally, it is this same knowledge that is correlated with the setup of the previously mentioned large research consortia.
Although this reality varies greatly from country to country, common features are evident in countries like Japan, India and all over Europe. The German "habilitazion", is a characteristic case, and must be the most daunting period in a young researcher's career before being eligible for tenure; for six years they work under a Professor, from whom they are completely dependent for support. It could be argued that the United States are the most effective in fostering the vigor of the younger generations with Institutions like the Assistant Professorship.
It is consoling that some of these views start gaining impetus in Europe, but things move slowly. The "Junior Professorsip" introduced in Germany in 2002 to modernize current Institutions, was subsequently sidetracked by a court ruling (Parnes, 2001; Abbot 2004). More recent is the commitment of the newly found European Research Council (ERC), first chairman of which is professor Fotis Kafatos. As he puts it himself, the ERC should "...trust the young,... trust the individual, ... keep it simple".
4. Invasion of Marketplace Practices in Research
4.1 Invasion of Business Standards of Reciprocity
While the value and rewards of business activities may be easy to define (profit), calculate (in the balance sheet) and summarize (in the bottom line), the value of scientific research is difficult to determine; enormous and unforeseen profits can stem from fundamental and apparently not applicable research, or even from accidents. The discovery of vaccination by Pasteur (his assistant vaccinated chicken with spoiled cholera bacteria because he had gone on holidays), X-rays by Röntgen (he was experimenting with high-voltage electric discharges), superconductivity by Onnes (he was trying to prove the precisely opposite effect), the antibiotic penicillin by Flemming (he left dirty glassware in his lab sink, which molded), the anticancer medicine cisplatin by Rosenberg (accidental erosion of a platinum electrode in a colony of bacteria), vulcanization of caoutchouc by Goodyear, etc are characteristic examples. In these and other cases, either the obtained results (unforeseen discoveries), or the methodologies leading to them could not have been planned in advance. These results were often the fruit of blind chance or accidents, combined with big doses of insight and inspiration. This, of course, did not prevent them from creating huge profits for the society (social or material).
On the contrary, for a proposal to be financed under the current model, it should entail immediately applicable research with specific deliverables and timetables. The abovementioned concepts taken from the business world, are particularly devastating for the quality of research output, because they limit the scope of search by excluding fundamental research and by subsidizing research which leads to application of already established principles.
The unsuitability of the abovementioned evaluation standards, is rooted in the marketplace practice to plan and evaluate investments with a maximum five-year business plan (much shorter-term planning is encountered, depending on the type of business). This speaks volumes of the maturity and wisdom with which this system has been built. On the contrary, a scientific discovery may mature much later due to the very nature of the research process.
With rigorous application of these evaluation standards, certain scientists should be graded very low for the output of their research programs, since neither did they prove their initial hyportheses, nor did they stick to their initial line of research. Nevertheless, with their astuteness they changed the course of Science but also our lives.
4.2 The academic entrepreneurship
More and more, PuARI's and PrARI's are expected to draw up a Strategic Planning and Business Plans. This necessity ratifies the abovementioned perception that Research is not considered as simply an economic activity (at least in certain aspects), but a purely business/commercial one. According to this perception, and particularly in a period where the public expenses for research are decreased in a lot of countries, the Scientists/Researchers should find ways to sell their research product, should they wish to keep up their activities.
According to a recent tactic, they are prompted to found companies ("spin-offs" or "start-ups") in order to exploit commercially their research product, thus becoming businessmen and tradesmen. Enterprise spin-off is a usual practice for companies that want to become more competitive in a new sector. By founding a company which focuses on that sector, they attain higher specialization, independence, flexibility, and encourage risk. In this case, a business executive, a technician, or even a scientist working in the old company, should occupy a similar post within the new one.
Unfortunately however, the mentality on which a good researcher is "built", i.e. the objective observation of the world and quest for truth, is the precise opposite to the one with which a successful businessman or tradesman operate. In order for such ventures to be deemed successful, profits have to be made. And in order for that to happen, the researcher will sooner or later have to become skillful in the practices of trade, i.e. public relations, negotiation, disguise of the truth, or even deceit. These will serve to maximize profits, regardless of the real value of the "product". Failing to do so, loyal to his past training, may lead to failure. These tendencies, inherent in most of us, don't need to be institutionally boosted, particularly when we refer to people trained for the exact opposite purpose. This could be detrimental to the society that spent its resources to train them, just like instilling pyromania to fire fighters. We should ask ourselves why people who chose a particular profession, be obliged to switch over to a fundamentally different one. Perhaps, because their Academic freedom and tenure are dangerous acquisitions and should be crushed? What better way than to turn them into failed and indebted businessmen?
At this point, it would also be useful to examine the effectiveness of the abovementioned ventures. In its 2001-2002 annual report, the Canadian National Research Council mentions that about 80% of spin-off companies do not survive more than a decade (NRC Canada, 2002). Respectively, the SINTEF report for the high-technology spin-off companies in Scandinavian countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden) reports that, depending on the country, a 40-50% mortality rate of such enterprises, is observed after the first year, with a four-year survival period being considered as a success! (Svein et al., 2003). Despite the high mortality of such ventures, the success stories are strongly advertised, with little mention to failures. One will have a hard time to come across such reports.
Concerning the business performance of Academic Scientists in Germany, a report of Fraunhofer ISI, and Söstra Forschungs, December 2005 to the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education, announces a disappointingly mediocre output, on average (Hemer et al., 2005). Supporting previous claims, the report determines that an important criterion for success is the network of social relationships of the founder; family ties, friends and social milieu (development of business/commercial skills). On the other hand, the lack of administrative skills, the poor knowledge of the market and the incomplete enterprising plan are reported as the usual handicaps despite the founder's high qualifications in the scientific/technical sector. Therefore, the report acknowledges the researcher's innate inability to undertake such duties, and the requirement of "non Scientific" dexterities as the key to success.
Confirming the abovementioned views of Veblen the report leads: "Scientists as dynamic entrepreneurs? The question arises from this survey, however, whether the popular ideal of a dynamic, worldwide active and mobile entrepreneur, willing and ready to take high risks, ever corresponded to reality and whether this entrepreneurial type corresponds to the mentality of German scientists in any case. (Anecdotal evidences from the USA and the UK suggest that this can be applied to Anglo-Saxon scientists as well.)."
4.3 Invasion of Private Funds in ARI's - the "Reverse Osmosis"
Up till now, we examined the invasion of business terms, models and practices in Research and the ARI's, partly with the purpose of extracting public funds to the Private Sector (see below). But let us refer to the invasion of businesses themselves in Research.
ARIs are slowly convinced (or rather coerced) to function as enterprises. As such, they produce a product (knowledge) which, according to the models of "free" markets and competitiveness, they sell directly, but also capitalize indirectly as "prestige". This prestige will be useful in selling their product more competitively, and so on. It's like the case of a motor company making race cars to win prestigious races, and using the acquired prestige to sell the production-line models more effectively. Part of the profits will be channeled back to race cars to produce more prestige etc. Thus ARI's should create lucrative and capitalizable knowledge.
It is private companies that will make this capitalization. These, propose the funding of particular research projects, scholarships, or even university chairs thus exploiting the Intitute's prestige. The Institute on the other hand makes a good profit from the prestige it created through research. The general mechanism consists in funding research that proves with Academic authority and seal of approval that the particular company's products are the best in the market, harmless to the consumer, environment-friendly etc. The company and the Institute will also agree on legally binding non-disclosure terms, meaning that even if the particular product is ineffective, or harmless, this may not be disclosed. Doing so entails the danger of prosecution of the Scientists and their host Institution, or even a job loss. So everyone is happy: the ARI's become "competitive" by business standards and the enterprises use the scientific "prestige" they just bought to better market their products.
A typical case is that of Betty Dong (University of California), who undertook the evaluation of the Boots company (later Knoll) drug, Synthroid. Her research showed that the drug that treated hypothyroidism was just as effective as its competition but twice as expensive, which would lead to an annual cut in health-care costs by $356 million if it was dropped. When she tried to publish the results in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the company accomplished to postpone the publication by activating a related non-disclosure clause in the contract, with the University siding up with the company. Only after publication of the story in the Wall Street Journal in April 1997, did the company consent to publication, with a two years delay. Even worse was the case of Dr Nancy Olivieri of the Hospital for Sick Children of Toronto. After testing Apotex's medicine, Deferiprone, on young thalassaemia patients, she discovered potential risks for their lives. When she notified the company of these results and moved to inform patients, the company terminated the trials and threatened to sue, indifferent of risks to patients' lives. When she proceeded to publish the results in The New England Journal of Medicine, the University undertook disciplinary actions against her, before restoring her in 1999, after a long battle (Thompson et al., 2001). These are just two examples whose characteristic trait was the integrity, persistence and idealism of the Researchers. For if truth shone in the end, that was not thanks to the system, but despite it (Klein, 2000).
Taking all this one step further, companies sponsor University chairs. Hence, alongside the Lucasian Chair of the University of Cambridge, (once held by Sir Isaac Newton, now held by Prof. Stephen Hawking), we now have the "Yahoo! Founders Chair" (School of Engineering at the University of Stanford), or "Lego chair" (Learning Lab, MIT Media Laboratory). Now the dependency has acquired a permanent base. As we see, this business conduct of Universities destroys the quality of research work, suppresses academic freedom and in certain cases is directly harmful to individuals or societies. Thus Academic Institutions, once servants of the public interest with their infrastructures and expertise, are gradually turned into "hired guns" to the highest bidder, deceiving and occasionally harming the very society that created and financed them (through taxes, tuition fees, grants etc).
4.4 Invasion of communication practices
In the way an enterprise in a competitive environment has to convince the wide and unskilled consumer audience for the necessity of its product and for its superiority compared to the competition, Scientific and Research communities have been indoctrinated with the conviction that they should perpetually advertise the necessity of scientific Research as a whole, but also the exceptional research record of their Institutions compared to the rest.
Thus, large expenses on new building infrastructures and decoration of surrounding areas are preferred over expenses on the maintenance and sound operation of existing infrastructures. Costly meetings, receptions and exhibits for the general public or superior administrative officials, consume funds that could be utilized for proper staffing of Institutions with permanent scientific and technical personnel. Expenses on publicity through the mass media, the internet or leaflets are preferred over investment in purchase of books, subscriptions to scientific journals, or instruments.
The most common excuse is that society, which invests in the Research process, has the right to be informed of the results of its investments. Of course, taking into account the ease with which the unskilled public can be deceived, this excuse can only be considered as a pretext. Such shows rather resemble bands of touring illusionists or publicity stunts, than substantial educational attempts. Such attempts would require a more selective and in-depth presentation of a given subject, to a more suitably prepared audience, e.g. fellow researchers, specialized professionals, postgraduate or pregraduate students, or even school pupils within the framework of school courses. Certainly, however, such ill-prepared events are hardly ever effective.
4.5 Invasion of Outsourcing Practices: Casualization in Research and Teaching
A direct consequence of the cutbacks in national budgets for Science and Research is the implementation of outsourcing practices in Universities and Research Institutes. "Outsourcing" is a common business practice, by which a specialized subcontractor undertakes part of a project, in order to carry it out at a lower cost. Lower costs may stem from economy of scale considerations (i.e. subcontractors can afford to maintain costly equipment, due to its intensive use and early recoup of its cost). However, lower costs also stem from using cheaper workforce, like third-world workers, or temporary personnel, the latter being more pertinent to our case.
Tenured (permanent) personnel enjoy certain privileges like sick leaves, maternity leaves, sabbaticals and a somewhat larger freedom of expression, while additionally, they have the incentive to form Unions and Syndicates. They therefore cost more and are more difficult to control. In contrast, temporary personnel, deprived of all those privileges, is more "cost-effective" and therefore the best choice for a profit-oriented University or Research Institute. It is graduate or postdoctoral personnel that mostly undertakes these duties, being ranked as "students", despite their degress (BSc, MSc, or PhD).
Anecdotally, we may cite a study carried out in the University of Pennsylvania in 2005, which revealed (Kehoe, 2006) that only 10 % of recitation sections, 33 % of laboratory sections and 40 % of actual lectures and seminars were taught by tenured personnel. The rest was left to Adjunct Faculty, Lecturers, Postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. Similarly in Yale, an Ivy League University, while tenured personnel has remained steady (325 tenured faculty members in 1993-95 and 324 in 2000-01), the number of non-ladder faculty has risen sharply from 123 in 1993-94 to 165 in 2000-01 (Hansen, 2002). This situation is not endemic in the United States, since similar tendencies have been described, e.g. in Australia (MacDonald, 2004).
4.6 Knowledge as a Commodity
When in 1907 F. G. Cottrell, of the University of California, came up with an electrostatic precipitator, he responded to a serious health issue of the San Francisco Bay area: tall smokestacks of the region's industries polluted the air, creating an unhealthy atmosphere for which all citizens complained. Cottrell refused to take any profits of his invention, stating: "I wanted nothing in the way of financial profit from it myself, but did want a fair share of any profits which resulted from the invention to come directly to the University." (Cameron, 1952; Matkin, 1999). However, like Veblen, he too was concerned with the eventuality of a profit-driven University: "On further reflection, however, Cottrell decided not to involve the university because he believed that it was inappropriate for universities to compete in the marketplace and that concern for profits might cause universities to let their research be controlled by corporations." (Matkin, 1999).
The passage of time bent that mentality, and progressively Universities started to patent the knowledge they created. In the beginning this was to assure that it would be widely available to the general public and profit society as a whole (e.g. the production of synthetic insulin by F. G. Banting and C. H. Best). This is reminiscent of the copyleft later described in the GNU manifesto. However, the conditions during the Great Depression, led Universities to request that profits be made from their Researchers' discoveries, until they emerged from the crisis. Since Universities were public, their profit was in some sense public as well. However, this development explicitly introduced the idea of the enterprising University in practice.
During the recession of the 70's, funding became again a major issue. Along with industry's revamped interest in new discoveries, patent policies began to change. "For instance, a contract, negotiated in secret between Monsanto and Harvard in 1974, which provided Harvard with $23 million in research and other support related to discoveries involving the tumor angiogenesis factor (TAF) blocking agent, produced a dramatic change in Harvard's policies. The university's original policy, adopted in 1934, required Harvard to dedicate discoveries concerned with "therapeutics or public health" to the public interest. Monsanto understandably was not willing to provide support under this policy, so Harvard changed its policy in 1975." On the other hand, the Federal State, main contributor of Research funding, demanded to have a say about, and a share in, the exploitation of Research results. These confronting views brought about a standstill in the commercial exploitation of research results, since private corporations declined to invest in products for which they would not have the subsequent monopoly through patents. Typical were the cases of drugs, whose development and trials are extremely costly. Such undertakings can only be justified in terms of profit when the company retains exclusive
patent rights for many years.
This was resolved with the Bayh-Dole act in 1984, which explicitly encouraged the ownership and marketing of the results stemming from publicly funded University research. Nowadays, Universities operate patent offices, or cooperate with spin-offs dedicated to the marketing of their research results. Often, the intellectual property rights are shared with corporations that have contributed a part of the research funding. "Universities that are lucky enough to generate a big hit have to be willing to sue and to defend themselves aggressively against the suits of others. [...] As universities walk in the marketplace they will surely get mud on their boots, and they are likely to exchange their traditional image for a more business-oriented one." (Matkin, 1999).
The most important aspect of these developments is the nature of the produced knowledge. Whenever fundamental research is involved, we have to keep in mind that the impact of the generated knowledge may be colossal for the society as a whole. Today, biotech companies patent parts of the human genome, or substances from plants long used for medicinal purposes. If such preexisting "inventions", of such fundamental importance may be patented, we should feel lucky that the discovery of the DNA occurred in the early 50's, when researchers were less prone to patent parts of living organisms. If they did, then the exploitation of any kind of genetic treatment could arguably be granted to a single organization and inaccessible by most.
This claim cannot be easily dismissed as excessive. Merz et al. (2002) reported that 30% of 119 surveyed USA research labs studying haemochromatosis (a disease affecting thousands with northern Europe descent) aborted clinical tests, because the gene believed to be responsible for the disease was patented by Bio-Rad. This was not just an isolated incident. During the 8th year of the publicly-funded Human Genome Project (HGP), Celera biotech company, announced the implementation of a new and faster technique that would finish the genome mapping before the HGP effort was through. They promised to share data and not to patent more than 100-300 genes. However, only the HGP pooled its data, which Celera exploited, without however sharing theirs. Within less than a year, more than 6300 patent applications had been filed for various genes by Celera and other companies. Although such ventures entail the danger of the monopoly of knowledge on socially vital issues, they may even stifle research instead of stimulating it. A patented gene loses interest for anyone else but the patent holder, thus diminishing the probabilities of a practical use being produced. The very founder of Celera, Craig Venter admits in Forbes (26 June 2002): "The natural tendency I have found in the business community is to block things, to keep things secret, to try and tie up everything whether they understand it or not for commercial advantage." As the article reads on: "All of the cholesterol drugs known as statins work by blocking the same drug target, a liver enzyme (enzymes are a kind of protein). But some of these drugs are more effective than others, and that is reflected in their sales. Lipitor (Pfizer), Zocor (Merck) [...] Pravachol (Bristol-Myers Squibb) [...]. Baycol, a variant developed by Bayer, was withdrawn from the market after it was found that it caused dozens of deaths. If one of these companies had been allowed to patent a gene for the enzyme the statins block, the others would have likely been asked to look elsewhere for drugs." C. Venter adds: "Blocking another biotech or a pharmaceutical company from trying to come up with a cure for disease really does block research and the public loses. Why should one company say that's their unique source of biology?"
A conclusion to be drawn from this description is that matters do not seem to have evolved from a long and premeditated plan of making the private sector the sole owner of the most recent knowledge. Although this tends to become the reality today, we should rather consider this as the logical consequence to specific causes. The first is having conceded that Universities and Research Centres should be run for profit. The second concession, stemming from the first, is that knowledge is a commodity to be produced and sold. Indeed, if Universities and Research Centres should sell something, what else could they sell? Accepting these premises will sooner or later lead to the current situation.
5. Epilogue: Systemic Breakdown
In March 2006, Sussex University, UK, announced the closure of its Chemistry Department, and its replacement by a Department of Chemical Biology. The decision was justified by vice-Chancellor Alasdair Smith as dictated by the high maintenance costs of a Chemistry Department and a decreasing number of Chemistry students. Despite the falseness of this latter allegation (the number of applicants had increased from 150 to 350 over previous years), the vice-Chancellor spoke a word of truth: it is expensive to sustain a Chemistry Department, and it definitely is not profitable. Indeed, Universities in the UK have been running on an increasingly profit-oriented manner as Veblen had noted for the American Universities of the turn of the 20th century. Now, cheaper and more profitable (not to mention fashionable) disciplines are promoted, like psychology, political sciences, communication, economics, etc. Chemistry is not a current buzzword, it certainly is very expensive, so it deserves to be axed. In addition, in compliance to the progressive outsourcing of several industrial activities to countries like India and China, the teaching of the respective Sciences may well follow.
Finally, the Department was saved. The prior decapitation of a number of Chemistry Departments (Exeter, Dundee, Surrey, King's College, Queen Mary's) had awakened public opinion. Also the high grade in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE rating of 5) was a very compelling factor to saving the Department. But a critical factor was the lobbying of students, industrialists, Members of the Parliament, the Royal Society of Chemistry and Faculty. Among those was Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel laureate of Chemistry for the discovery of fullerenes and a partially retired Professor of that Department. At the wake of the announcement of this decision he had made his resignation available to the Department.
As reported in the Guardian (March 12, 2006) "Kroto, who was 'close to tears' at the news, said he would send back his honorary degree and insist the university take his name off its 'propaganda'. 'They always trumpet the fact that they have Nobel laureates,' he said.". Kroto, in his honour, incarnated the "necessary evil" described by Veblen. "Necessary" for the prestige he brought to his hosting Institution, "evil" for his inconformity with business practices for conducting Research.
What is the lesson, however, to be learnt by the fact that a core science like Chemistry, withers away in Great Britain, a major industrial power, a G8 state, and cradle of the Industrial Revolution? And above all, one of the champions of modern capitalism? Could this latter attribute be the cause rather than the contradiction? The cause that brought it to such an embarrassing position similar to which no country of (the otherwise failed) real Socialism was ever in? The deregulation of the energy market in California brought about a huge crisis in 2000-01 spearheaded by Enron. Flagrant speculation on the energy markets, coupled with numerous blackouts during "maintenance" of the energy plants in the middle of the summer, brought a crisis unanticipated in the most technologically advanced country of the world. All these were proven to be caused precisely by the introduction of deregulated free-market practices, under the terms dictated by Enron's lobbying. As S. David Freedman, then-Chairman of the California Power Authority testified before the Senate Committee of Commerce: "There is one fundamental lesson we must learn from this experience: electricity [...] is a public good that must be protected from private abuse. [...] And a market approach for electricity is inherently gameable. Never again can we allow private interests to create artificial or even real shortages and to be in control." (Freedman, 2002).
A similar situation, though way more flagrant and catastrophic, was observed before and after the Katrina hurricane, which devastated New Orleans. The absence and inadequacy of the Federal State apparatus was such, that led thousand of civilians of the richest and most powerful state, to death, despair, agony, poverty and humiliation. It was painfully proven that wherever and whenever the public sector is absent, for one reason or another, Public Safety cannot be safeguarded. It was proven that the greatest power that has ever existed, and the most prominent proponent of modern capitalism, could not take care of its own without an adequate and strong Public Sector.
At this point and after this analysis, we have to reiterate the conclusions that stem therefrom:
A) Methodologically speaking, Scientific Research is a highly inflexible and unpredictable activity, since its object of study is the physical world, which has a "will" of its own, and outside that of the Researcher. Thus, the standards for assessment of Research proposals, and the practices of Research projects administration should shift from the typically business/managerial ones. Due to their distinctly different origin (the marketplace), they are highly incompatible with Scientific methodology.
B) Scientific Research is a critical activity for any Society, in the same sense as Public Health, Public Education, Social Security, Public Safety, Justice, etc. These activities are (or should) be competently carried out on public expenses for the benefit of the Society as a whole. Their subjugation to business practices and profit considerations is detrimental not only to their quality but also to their social outcome. As far as Scientific Research is concerned, ineffective (or even fraudulent) consortia, inadequate basic Research, omnipresent consultants, failed spin-offs, dangerous (or even criminal) research practices, privately owned knowledge and untaught sciences, gradually become the rule as these practices are pursued. These are the logical consequences of the "profitability postulate" we set out to explore at the beginning.
As Pierre Bourdieu (1995) put it: "Research activities, in art as well as science, need the state to exist. To the extent that, grosso modo, the value of works is negatively correlated with the size of the market, cultural businesses can only exist and subsist thanks to public funds. Cultural radio stations or television channels, museums, all the institutions that offer "high culture," as the neocons say, exist only by virtue of public funds-that is, as exceptions to the law of the market made possible by the action of the state, which alone is in a position to assure the existence of a culture without a market. We cannot leave cultural production to the risks of the marketplace or the whims of a wealthy patron".
If we accept the deep social impact of the acquisition of new knowledge we could draw a parallel with other socially sensitive activities, like Public Safety: if we find it unacceptable to have pay up the firemen before they start putting out the fire that is burning down our house, why should Scientific Research be left in the realm of sheer profit?
 Innovation: "Introduction of a new idea into the marketplace in the form of a new product or service or an improvement in organization or process" (www.business.gov/phases/launching/are_you_ready/glossary.html)
 New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1998, http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutwords/deliverables) .
 Work Package: This is a generic term for a unit within a work breakdown structure (WBS) at the lowest level of its branch, not necessarily at the lowest level of the whole WBS. (Ohio State University, Project Management Network Glossary, http://oit.osu.edu/projmanage/glossary.html).
 Examples of such large-scale consortia funded by the EU under the Framework Programs are known by the acronyms of STREP, IP, TMR, NoE etc. Each has its own stated aims and purposes, and the interested reader may look into each in detail. However, their common trait is large size and dispersion of partners.
 Since, differences may occur between different countries or organizations (like for example between the EU and the USA) in the precise deployment and organization of these consortia, we will not go into these particularities in detail. What we will try to do, however, is to examine the common traits and practices.
 In the European parlance these are called "Technological Platforms"
 To avoid advertising for this form the name is omitted. However, the source may be verified by inclusion of these words in an Internet search.
 See here.
 Institution Scientific and Industrial Research of Norwegian Technological Institute: a organism with 2000 workers and offices in five countries (www.sintef.no).
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