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Research Agenda Distortion
Industry-sponsorship of research can have an effect on what research topics are pursued, and how resources for research are allocated. This raises the possibility of a conflict between what problems researchers should be spending time and resources on, and what problems they do work on as a result of industry-sponsorship of research. The general phenomena of neglecting the first kind of problem in favor of research that is in the interest of industry sponsors is known as “research agenda distortion.” The items below discuss specific instances of this problem. Where to start depends on the interests of the reader. Readers interested in neglected diseases should start with Flory and Kitcher; those interested in translational research with Maienschein et al, and those interested in the phenomenon as a whole with the article by Reiss.
DeWinter, Jan. “How to Make the Research Agenda in the Health Sciences Less Distorted.” Theoria 27, no. 1 (2012): 75-93.
DeWinter links issues about research agenda distortion to the commercialization of biomedical research, and discusses (and criticizes) arguments in the pieces by Reiss, Kitcher, and Pogge listed below. The heart of this article is a proposal for a kind of global institute modeled on the US National Institutes of Health, which would provide funding (in the form of research grants) for research to tackle problems for which the current institutional structure of research provides little or no incentives. He provides support for this proposal by looking at ventures that (he believes) are currently successful, and analagous in important respects to his proposed global institute.
Flory, James H., and Philip Kitcher. “Global Health and the Scientific Research Agenda.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 32, no. 1 (2004): 36-65.
Pogge, Thomas. “Montreal Statement on the Human Right to Essential Medicines.” Cambdrige Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 16, no. 1 (2007): 97-108.
Reiss, Julian, and Philip Kitcher. “Biomedical Research, Neglected Diseases, and Well-Ordered Science.” Theoria 24, no. 3 (2009): 263-282.
These articles deal with a particularly pernicious form of research agenda distortion, the incentives problem for neglected diseases. Pogge gives background on the problem, and the role of patents and the commercialization of research in generating it, as well as an argument from the human right to health-related resources against this kind of research agenda distortion. Flory and Kitcher and Reiss and Kitcher consider another argument against it, both drawing on the norms of scientific research and the obligations of researchers to the public.
Maienschein, Jane et al. “The Ethos and Ethics of Translational Research.” The American Journal of Bioethics 8, no. 3 (2008): 43-51.
Marks, Jonathan H. “Expedited Industry-Sponsored Translational Research: A Seductive But Hazardous Cocktail?” American Journal of Bioethics 8, no. 3 (2008): 56-58.
Woolf, Steven H. “The Meaning of Translational Research and Why It Matters.” Journal of the American Medical Association 299, no. 2 (2008): 211-213.
These pieces all consider translational research, the transformation of “basic” science into therapeutic technologies. Maienschein et al consider the push towards translational research, and the social factors responsible for the push, and argue that this push undermines the norms of “basic” science. Marks’ piece, which is a comment on Maienschein et al, stresses the risks associated with expedited translational research through university-industry partnerships. Woolf argues that there are multiple meanings of the term “translational research”, and that the commercialization of biomedical research results in a loss of focus on a very important sense of “translation”, which is the use of research in ensuring that all patients get the very best care.
Reiss, Julian. “In Favour of a Millian Proposal to Reform Biomedical Research.” Synthese 177, no. 3 (2010): 427-447.
Reiss covers a lot of ground in this article, but a very important strand here is a good argument (often in the background of discussions of industry-sponsored research, but not always articulated) that research agenda distortion through industry-sponsorship is contrary to the norms of scientific research, norms which he sees as broadly “Millian” (“Millian” as in “John Stuart Mill”, meaning committed to open communication and to a democratization of the process of determining what research should focus on.)