First of all, contrary to Niko Block’s position on the article “The oil patch and the ivory tower: a science student explores her mixed feelings about corporate research” (September 19), I found this piece excellent and well-constructed. Why? Because it was nuanced and the author understood very well the complexity of the question she was exploring. Nothing is all black or white.
The story Block told about the Princeton-based medical communications firm DesignWrite is indeed an excellent example of what we do not want to see in our universities and I can’t stress that enough. Block was right, there are a lot of these examples and they should be of great concern for researchers and universities. But, not all corporate partnerships are like that. Some are even desirable: creating greener technology, cancer cures, et cetera. Block was inferring conclusions from one example only: this can be much more misleading (rhetorically speaking), than asking pertinent questions and giving your readers – all of them – the chance to think about an issue and form their own opinion.
Indeed, the conclusion of the article “The oil patch and the ivory tower…” is not that Imperial Oil is inoffensive – it’s that “we need to be skeptical. We need to be curious. We need to ask questions.” Are research results being manipulated? Is research serving one’s particular interests? Are there conflicts of interest? Are the students free to explore the topics they are curious about? How is intellectual property protected? What do the contracts between universities and industry look like? What are the criteria for partnership? These are some of the questions we ought to ask and get answers for.
Marieve Isabel is a PhD student in French Language and Literature and VPExternal of PGSS. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org