I read ‘The secret ways of scientists’ with much interest and in principle I closely share the view expressed there. However, I am rather suspicious that such a view no longer reflects the truth. It appears to me that the tendency among scientists to start their own biotech companies may lead to a corruption of values and create a rather strange mixture of attitudes. The editorial states that ‘our collective behaviour is not that of a business […] nor is it the behaviour of sportsmen […].’ I cannot help but question this point of view. I think, starting a commercial activity, in addition to our academic or research tasks, inescapably includes to a high degree the danger that primary duties are neglected in favour of the development and promotion of the company—an obvious conflict of interest. Therefore, I wonder how far this statement can be relied on in the future. It is my opinion that university scientists and researchers have to make a decision to dedicate their time, efforts and energy to one of the two—‘money or the gruelling quest for answers’. To combine both is probably incompatible. On the other hand, if it were simply in the sense of true ‘sportsmanship’, I would not suspect incompatibility because sportsmanship seems more a feature of the personal character.
I also think that the involvement of an academic researcher in her or his company must become an obstacle when talking to the public. It will undermine the credibility of scientists making statements on their attitudes and behaviour as you have described them. In addition, the more recent developments related to gene technology, such as patenting, show that in fact, scientific results are often no longer generally available, except with delay—if at all. This will also have an effect on the credibility of scientists with the public, even if keeping research data secret were an attitude restricted to commercial researchers, which it is not any more.
I am not sure how to deal with such a situation because it reflects developments that we cannot—or might not want to—change.
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