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Right sentiments, ridiculous generalizations

Posted by pbio on 07 May 2009 at 22:38 GMT

Author: Madhu N
Position: Scientist
Submitted Date: May 19, 2008
Published Date: 20-May-08
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

I applaud Professor Needleman's perspective in highlighting Dr. Rice's case. It is crucial that monetary forces do not prevail in the face of scientific truth, and that people's health and well being are not sacrificed at the altar of money. It is important to find out how Dr. Rice's views were held in contrast to the other four reviews so that a dispassionate examination of the facts can be made.

However, I have completely lost any faith in Professor Needleman credibility to espouse such an argument. In taking a stand supporting Dr. Rice, Professor Needleman has taken it upon himself to tilt against all scientists who do not reside in his ivory tower. To quote "most people who opted for a career in the laboratory understood that they were accepting a modest lifestyle. Industry scientists have a different value system."... and "I recite this sordid affair because it displays the ethical insouciance of industry, and of those PhDs who wear the caps and gowns of the academy, while they embrace the mores of the marketplace."

The implication could not be clearer - Any scientist who does not stay in academia has prostituted his or her science, and those in academia who have any corporate collaboration are about as low. To even suggest that all scientists in the industry have a different "value system" is laughable. Professor Needleman has forgotten the first of all scientific axioms - that an instance or even a few instances cannot be generalized into proof of a concept. As someone who stayed in academia for close to a decade before moving to large pharma just a few months ago, I am insulted that someone would choose to question my ethics based on the profit-seeking or non-profit nature of my employer. Such comments require resounding derision in their face.

By injecting personal prejudices, crusades and value-systems into what should be a revelatory article on the friction between scientific truth and monetary forces, Professor Needleman has converted this perspective into a rant against capitalism in general. Moreover, he also unwittingly projects an impression to the world in general that academia lives in an ivory tower. If I had seen this article a few months ago when I was in academia I would have condemned it as I have now. To blatantly accuse any non-academic scientist of unethical behavior and all corporate entities of greedy malfeasance needlessly injects rancor into this argument.

No competing interests declared.