#67 Science and Academia (2002)

[Yet another misread of history, government, and science. At the time I wrote this, it seemed logical to conclude that if nations with socialized medicine were devoid of creativity that the socialized medicine was the problem. How that I possess an Australian fake hip and a German heart stent, I realize that those nations are simply more conservative than the U.S. and didn’t jump into the business until their products were sorted out, unlike our medical system that leaps first and thinks later.]

All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

Recently, I stumbled upon an article, by a person who I respect greatly, Dr. Richard O'Connor, calling for a different way for drugs to be developed and tested.  His motivation was, in part, due to the disclosure of the close, financial link between drug companies and a physician, Dr. Martin Keller of  Brown University, who is a recognized "expert" and is a clinician whose research is most commonly cited as the justification for an entire group of medications.

The Boston Globe found that Dr. Keller received more than a half-million dollars in "consulting fees" from the companies whose products he's "tested."  The Boston Globe reported that the doctor didn't bother to report "his relationships to these companies" to the medical journals that published the results of his clinical trials.  Personally, I'm not convinced that medical journals are more ethically bound than physicians, but I could be wrong.  This kind of conflict of interest is as common in medical research as misspelled words in a personal letter from G.W. Bush. 

Dr. O'Connor's conclusion from this un-shocking discovery is that taxpayers and patients should consider changing the way medical products are developed.  He states that he's "willing to pay a lower price and a higher tax, and let the government fund research.  Profits and healthcare are a dangerous combination."   That's probably a logical conclusion, based on a belief in government funded research and the hope that medical research is done, primarily, to benefit humanity. 

Unfortunately, that hopeful vision is probably unfounded.  If government funded medicine were capable of producing worthwhile research, Europe's various socialized medicine systems would be the source of an occasional breakthrough in medicine or technology.  If not-for-profit research were a functional idea, our own university systems would be hotbeds of creativity. 

For the last thirty years, the only purpose served by European "research" has been to provide a source of human lab rats for American biotech experiments.  Every US company does its initial product testing in Europe.  And if it weren't for US-subsidized clinical trials, European physicians would be completely deprived of evidence that they do any science at all.  Since most physicians are fond of imagining themselves to be scientists, so that would be a serious blow to the ego. 

We Americans are always being told, by our intelligenza, that European-everything is better than the mess we've made out of capitalism.  If "better" means classically, traditional, functionally unproductive, and unchanged by reality or necessity there is no question that European values rock and rule.  If anyone could beat a dead horse on the right spots (with a precision-made buggy whip) to make it do work, Europe has the experience to get the job done. 

But the fact is, government managed medicine stifles creativity and initiative.  For that matter, government managed anything can always be counted on to crush the life out of whatever is being managed.  So our only government sponsored hope might be with those shining faces and hopeful dreamers in higher education.  Well, now we're sunk for sure. 

Our own academics, secure and comfortable with tenure, pensions, and graduate students to do their grunt work, don't seem to be able to produce anything interesting without corporate sponsorship and initiative provided by royalties.  Even with those initiatives, many academics want more.  Our universities are well stocked with researchers who not only earn six-figure salaries but who also own the patent rights and corporate sponsorships to their research.  In other words, these state and private institutions are doing nothing more sophisticated than providing state funded facilities and cheap, highly educated manpower to corporations.  I think this is called "corporate welfare," but I might be minimizing the welfare aspect of the situation.

If a sociologist ever wanted to examine the effects of greed on society, our medical and university research systems would be a fine place to start.  The ineffective sugar pill control model would be Europe.  So far, the statement that democracy is an inefficient, perverted form or government, but it's the best we have so far, also applies most accurately to capitalism and research.  Which means we're not going to see any amazing breakthroughs until somebody comes up with a better system.

I hope you're not holding your breath while you wait.

Footnote: http://www.undoingdepression.com/news05.html

November 2002

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