Washington investigative journalist Daniel Greenberg fills the 500 pages of this book with stories of how science puts material concerns ahead of ethical concerns, resulting in that which is not always in the best interests of society. Indeed, ethical erosion in science, with a corresponding abdication of social responsibility, seems to be inversely related to the chase for money. For many scientists, the pursuit of money has become the primary motivation, with concern for the moral and social good largely ignored.
Science can be funded from governments, from industry, and from universities. Of course those who supply the cash flow can determine the type of research and in many respects the outcome of the research. One just has to think of the enormous budget given over to AIDS research, while other less glamorous (and less politically correct) diseases go begging for funding.
The life sciences (medicine, biotechnology, pharmacology, etc.) is a good case in point. For example, pharmaceutical firms often misrepresent and inflate scientific data for regulatory approval, and to influence physicians to prescribe their products to an unwitting public. One way to achieve this end is to duplicate publication of experimental data to give the impression of widespread scientific backing.
Greenberg offers other examples of bad ethics in human experimentation, and notes how the biomedical research community was aware of gross inadequacies in monitoring scientific experimentation and quite content to let the situation remain that way. The examples demonstrate that what is done in the name of science often seems to be above regulation, accountability and ethical review.
And it is not just science that gets tainted with money and corporate influence, but knowledge as a whole. Thus corporate greed and the limitless pursuit of profit seem to negatively effect everyone within reach, and it is not scientific objectivity alone that suffers, but learning as well. No wonder why certain bioethical debates seems to be so one-sided. The recent stem cell debate is just one example where Big Biotech is buying its way into science and the media, regardless of the outcome for the rest of society.
And Greenberg notes how the popular press acts mainly as a puppet of science, especially biomedical research. It routinely pumps out what is told to, without asking the hard questions it does of politicians and others. This is indeed the case with reports of scientific-medical progress. Greenberg calls this "may" journalism. Stem cells may do this. Cloning may do that. Gene therapy may deliver the goods. We are wowed by reports of potential medical breakthroughs, but they are just that: potential. However, the way the media presents them, it seems like a cure for Parkinson's disease will arrive next week. Thus we find a collusion between certain scientists, various industries (eg., the Biotech industry), and a gullible and/or subservient media.
And of course this collusion acts as a giant feed-back loop. Journalists need good news stories, and scientists and the corporations need people to think they are just on the verge of a major medical breakthrough, if only a bit more funding were forthcoming. The one feeds of the other, and a disease-weary public, believing that immortality is just around the corner, will go along with it. And governments also get into the act, claiming that if we over-regulate things like cloning or stem cell research, all the research will move interstate or overseas, leaving them behind. So there is a grand mingling of state, corporate and public interests taking place, making it even harder for science to claim any sort of neutrality and objectivity.
If religious leaders and politicians today are subject to intense scrutiny and ethical appraisal (and rightly so), then perhaps it is time to extend the same treatment to scientists. And one place to begin is by reading this important and timely book.