23 October 2002
LORD SAINSBURY - "STUNNING CHANGE IN THE ENTREPRENEURIAL ATTITUDES OF OUR UNIVERSITIES"
Here's an excerpt from an article in the Financial Times quoting Lord Sainsbury - UK Science Minister, food industrialist, GM crop enthusiast and biotech investor.
' "We haven't showcased how good we are at science and technology . . . we haven't sold an overall message," the minister said. This failure may be partly down to a cultural reluctance to boast about successes.
Lord Sainsbury cited as an example the failure to celebrate the "stunning change in the entrepreneurial attitudes of our universities". He reeled off the figures without prompting. Universities spun off 199 companies in 2000, up from an annual average of 67 in the previous five years and a "handful" before that. The UK ratio of companies to research spending is more than six times higher than in the US. "It's a dazzling record . . . If you go round the universities, there's a lot of entrepreneurial activity going on (and) I don't think we have celebrated this important change," Lord Sainsbury said. '
It says everything that being "good at science and technology" for Lord Sainsbury, who as Science Minister works out of the Department of Trade and Industry, is synonymous with being highly commercially orientated -- and with no regard for the consequences.
Compare and contrast:
"Well I think there is a very real problem from the point of view of university research in the way that private companies have entered the university, both with direct companies in the universities and with contracts to university researchers. So that in fact the whole climate of what might be open and independent scientific research has disappeared, the old idea that universities were a place of independence has gone. Instead of which one's got secrecy, one's got patents, one's got contracts and one's got shareholders."
Professor Steven Rose of the Open University Biology Dept
Former Texas AW University entomologist John Benedict has said of the American situation:
"The universities are cheering us on, telling us to get closer to industry, encouraging us to consult with big business. The bottom line is to improve the corporate bottom line. It's the way we move up, get strokes.... We can't help but be influenced from time to time by our desire to see certain results happen in the lab."
"All of these companies have a piece of me. I'm getting checks waved at me from Monsanto and American Cyanamid and Dow, and it's hard to balance the public interest with the private interest. It's a very difficult juggling act, and sometimes I don't know how to juggle it all."
And here's Dr Richard Smith, Editor of the British Medical Journal, commenting on evidence that one in three scientists working for Government quangos or newly privatised laboratories has been asked to adjust his conclusions to suit sponsors:
"These competing interests are very important. It has quite a profound influence on the conclusions and we deceive ourselves if we think science is wholly impartial."
And finally the editor of the Lancet:
"All policymakers must be vigilant to the possibility of research data being manipulated by corporate bodies and of scientific colleagues being seduced by the material charms of industry. Trust is no defence against an aggressively deceptive corporate sector."
For links for the above and more on the corporate take over of the bio-sciences:
UK 'bad at celebrating' scientific leadership
Financial Times (London) October 21, 2002
BRITAIN AND SCIENCE
section: OVERSEAS MARKETING
By JEAN EAGLESHAM
Britain has failed to convince the rest of the world how good its science- based industries are, principally because "we're often rather bad at celebrating success in these things", Lord Sainsbury has said. The science minister bemoaned the failure to promote a "world-leading position" in industries such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, opto-electronics and biotechnology. On the eve of a trade mission to China - designed to promote links between high-technology industrialists and academics, and possibly attract a Chinese incubator fund to the UK - the minister stressed the importance of such overseas marketing. The former chairman and chief executive of the retailing chain, Lord Sainsbury appears frustrated by the absence of comparable selling skills on the part of some science-based companies. "I don't think nearly enough people in the world, when you say 'Britain' to them, say 'here is a forward-looking country with very strong positions in these science-based industries'."
He contrasted this with Germany's success in developing a strong reputation for engineering. "We haven't showcased how good we are at science and technology . . . we haven't sold an overall message," the minister said. This failure may be partly down to a cultural reluctance to boast about successes. Lord Sainsbury cited as an example the failure to celebrate the "stunning change in the entrepreneurial attitudes of our universities". He reeled off the figures without prompting. Universities spun off 199 companies in 2000, up from an annual average of 67 in the previous five years and a "handful" before that. The UK ratio of companies to research spending is more than six times higher than in the US. "It's a dazzling record . . . If you go round the universities, there's a lot of entrepreneurial activity going on (and) I don't think we have celebrated this important change," Lord Sainsbury said. His enthusiasm dimmed noticeably only when questioned about the apparent public resistance to technologies such as genetically modified foods. He claimed the public is not taken in by alarmist claims. "As a whole, British people are not anti-science and technology . . . they are much more sophisticated than people think."
He also rejects claims that undergraduates are shunning science and engineering in favour of "soft", supposedly glamorous, options such as media studies. "We actually have a very high level of scientists and engineers being produced by our education system," Lord Sainsbury pointed out. The UK is ahead of many countries, including the US, in this regard "and yet we go on saying we have a big problem". But he readily admitted that this national tendency to underplay our "stunning record in scientific discovery" is not the only problem he has to address. While the UK's science base is very strong, many manufacturers fail to capitalise on homegrown talent. The productivity gap with countries such as Germany remains stubbornly high.