Currently showing: Funding longer lives

23 Jun 13 13:11

We face enormous challenges: Sustainably feeding and powering 9 billion by 2050 while ensuring long-term care for a growing, aging population in a changing climate are but some of them. These issues are complex and often interconnected. They are increasingly global and affect and often go against many large multinational corporations' daily business interests.

Corporations, by nature, owe it to their shareholders to deliver (short-term) profits, sometimes at the expense of (long-term) sustainability. Most large corporations have powerful lobbies and spend millions to ensure governments that protect their business interests.

In order for us to find the solutions to these problems, we need objective research. And yet lately, a growing number of corporations have moved into academia, bought themselves research departments and also the best talent available. Moreover, they have proceeded to privatize this knowledge. Worst still, they now have a say as to what goes in public curricula, what gets published and ultimately, what is considered "scientific" and what isn't.

Many of our top Universities have entered into deals with large corporations, as the money involved is just too good to turn down.

Is it not time for us to review corporate charters? Should corporations not be asked to strive towards long-term sustainable solutions to these problems rather than short-term share profits for shareholders? And if so, would this entail? How do we make it in corporations'/shareholders' interests to think holistically about these issues and act in humanity's long-term interests?

This video looks into how research pointing to potential threats of GM foods is being stifled by leading institutions, governments and agencies acting on behalf of corporations:  Scientists under Attack - Genetic Engineering in the magnetic Field of Money

Category: Funding longer lives, Food security, Climate/natural disasters, Sustainable energy, Other

Location: South Pole Station, Antarctica


Gavin Montgomery - 24 Jun 2013, 9:45 a.m.

This is far from being a new trend. Big tobacco, for example, launched the Tobacco Institute in 1958, which lobbied for the industry, promoted smoking and published numerous white papers contradicting any scientific research claiming that tobacco was harmful to health. This 1972 letter from Horace Kornegay, then the President of the Tobacco Institute, to his vice-President Fred Panzer, demonstrates how they deployed this strategy:

There is a wonderful archive of tobacco industry blarney right here:

Big Oil has been present in schools for decades, holding real sway over public curricula. I am sure most of us can recall oil presentations in school growing up (I certainly can). Check out this wonderful piece of educational material produced in 1950:

Companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi have also infiltrated schools, using sponsorship to secure real estate for their vending machines, so that they can get to kids young. The food industry is particularly loaded with dodgy science, like all those studies out of Italy telling you that coffee is good for you, not to mention the many reports on chocolate and red wine which highlight the health benefits of resveratol while brushing over the consequences of all that sugar, fat and alcohol.

Anecdotally, when I worked as a journalist in London, I received regular press releases about male sexual dysfunction pertaining to be from concerned independent research groups that were clearly promotional material from a company eager to get their particular brand of blue erection pill made available on the NHS.

Ben Goldacre, meanwhile, is campaigning to improve the standard of science coming out of Big Pharma by forcing companies to publish all trial data rather than cherry-picking the studies that suit them. Essentially, drug companies choose which research to make available, often quashing studies that show their product to be ineffective or downright dangerous. You can read more on:

In 2009, the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a report illustrating the extremely lax standards of financial reporting and auditing of the clinical investigators who approve drugs for the FDA:

In February this year, they published final guidelines on the disclosure of financial incentives.
The important take away from this document is the term "non-binding". They've identified that the people who evaluate clinical trials and determine whether drugs are safe for human use could be receiving financial incentives from pharmaceutical companies and have issued guidelines to change that... but nobody actually has to follow them. For an example of how this standard of conduct has worked out in the past, just consider the Vioxx recall, where it appears that clinical data showing the drug caused heart problems was ignored:

That really illustrates the problem of corporate-funded science: it's hard to be objective when the evidence suggests that your multi-billion product really shouldn't go to market. There is too great an incentive to bury the truth and focus on the positives. At the same time, the consequences and costs of bad behavior rarely outweigh the profits. Merck set aside $950 million to settle Vioxx claims on reviews of $2.5 billion. No executives were jailed, so...

That is changing to some extent. Governments are wising up to the fact that corporate misconduct is a valuable source of revenue, as evidenced by the record fines dished out to companies like BP, google, HSBC, Standard Chartered, et al, in recent years. Social Media is also giving the public a voice and making it easier to raise awareness of misconduct. The price of misconduct is rising, and that is increasingly being reflected in shareholder value and insurance premia. The rise in ESG investing is one proof of that. I would like to think that the bang companies are getting for their spend on scientific marketing - that is, publishing to skew the debate - is also diminishing because they're losing credibility. That is probably naive.

Alicia Montoya - 25 Jun 2013, 6:04 a.m.

Fascinating! I guess the other side of the equation is also that Universities have always had corporate money (and before that, were even funded by the Church!) and yet great research has always emerged from them. Is man's quest for objective science stronger than any political/economic power that tries to rule over scientists and distort findings? Or is their real reason for concern? I mean, how many people had to die from tobacco before all the health warnings (and how come it's still legal today despite all the people it continues to kill)? The same is happening with new drugs, food, chemicals... Seems like it takes a lot of victims and scandals to get a drug/food removed. And more worryingly, when it comes to the climate, we don't have any to sacrifice before we get it right. What cost is skewed research and fake findings having on us and, more worryingly, is there a way back?

Nicola Oliver - 28 Jun 2013, 10:55 a.m.

The pharmaceutical industry have, without question, an incredibly important role in the development of innovative medicines, however, given the fact that the development of novel compounds are less and less frequent, the industry, it appears, does make use of the fact that all clinical trial data does not have to be published.
Further, some may question the need for a 3rd and 4th generation of the same drug which shows modest differences in effect.
A good place to start is to take one small step and add your voice here:

Alicia Montoya - 4 Jul 2013, 3:18 p.m.

Thanks, Nicola! Just signed and shared with my networks for them to do the same. I signed because we need transparency when it comes to drugs - the stakes are just too high. We cannot put profits in front of human well being. What does this mean for our corporate world? A complete shift in corporate incentives. How do we make human long-term sustainability their raison d'etre instead of their current one: short-term profits? If we crack that, we'll be a long way into solving many of our planet's big challenges, me thinks ;)

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