disinterested science

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Thu Jul 30 03:41:17 PDT 1998

Michael Perelman wrote:
>I am surprised that nobody has mentioned the fact that more and more,
>science has been corporatized, with scientists hewing the corporate line
>and sworn to secrecy. I had a section discussing this trend in my new
>book, Class Warfare in the Information Age (St. Martin's 1998).
>I am now looking through Krimsky, Sheldon. 1996. "Financial Interests of
>Authors in Scientific Journals: A Pilot Study of 14 Publications." Science
>and Engineering Ethics, 2, pp. 395-410.
>Scarey stuff. In any case, the idea of disinterested scientists searching
>for truth is becoming less and less reflective of reality.

I think that ever more extensive and intensive commodification of the work of academic scholars is facilitated by changes in terms of academic labor. More and more, researchers are encouraged to see themselves as 'independent contractors' in charge of production as well as marketing, luring 'investments' from the government, foundations, and most importantly corporations. Those who do not (or due to the nature of their research cannot) do so are considered 'unproductive.' This change is reflected in not only the discourse of administrators but also often the terms of employment.

In a very real sense, it is anachronistic to call today's institutions of post-secondary education 'universities,' for aspects of 'universality' (or even pretensions to it) have become stripped of them. More and more, different departments, programs, research centers, and so on seem to be taking on the characteristics of different branches of diversified corporations, with 'unprofitable' ones being subject to contraction or even abolition while 'profitable' ones becoming ever more capitalized.

Brett Knowlton wrote:
>On a related topic, I would also like to see more of a balance between
>"hard" subjects like math, science and economics and "soft" subjects like
>English and philosophy and humanities in general. All of the prestige in
>universities these days are in the "hard" departments - all the research
>dollars flow into these depts., creating higher salaries, better
>facilities, and the humanities get starved. This focus on "practical"
>subjects (ones that make it easy to get a job after graduation) is going to
>impoverish our society intellectually and make people even more docile in
>the face of economic exploitation.

Can't agree more, though I would say that not all hard science departments seem to be benefitting from their 'prestige'; it seems applied sciences such as engineering, computer science, and bio/pharmaceutical sciences are hotter than math and physics.

And an unfortunate thing is that the humanities in general are being asked to justify their existence in terms of how 'practical' they are. Such a justification is impossible to produce, if college teachers in the humanities are in any way honest about what we do now or hope to do.


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