Bringing the Marketplace into Science: On the Neoliberal Defense of the Commercialization of Scientific Research

  • Justin Biddle
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 274)


The aim of this paper is to identify and evaluate the theoretical justification for the commercialization of science – particularly the form of commercialization that is currently prominent in the U.S. In the first part of the paper, I examine the arguments put forward by one of the most prominent early proponents of commercialization, George Keyworth II, who served as Presidential Science Advisor to Ronald Reagan and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1981 to 1985. An examination of Keyworth’s arguments reveals the profound role that neoliberal political and economic thought played in his defense of the commercialization of science. On his view, Reagan’s science and technology policy would stimulate creative research and economic growth by expanding the domain of voluntary exchange in which scientists operate – i.e., by removing the government-imposed barriers between scientific research and the marketplace. The result, he argued, would be to facilitate the flow of information between sectors that were previously cut off from one another, thereby encouraging the sharing of expertise, expediting the transfer of scientific research into marketable products, and ultimately, promoting social progress. In the second part of this paper, I argue that there are strong reasons to question this conclusion. These reasons concern the biasing effects of conflicts of interest, the inhibition of the free flow of information that results from the proliferation of patenting and licensing, and the restrictions on scientific freedom that result from greater corporate control over scientific decision making.


Technology Transfer Office Epistemic Standard Individual Creativity Financial Relationship Private Corporation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Als-Nielsen, B., W. Chen, C. Gluud, and L. Kjaergard. 2003. Association of funding and conclusions in randomized drug trials. Journal of the American Medical Association 290:921–928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bekelman, J., Y. Li, and C. Gross. 2003. Scope and impact of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research. Journal of the American Medical Association 289:454–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berdahl, R. 2000. The privatization of public universities. Accessed 28 June 2008.
  4. Berlin, I. 1969. Two concepts of liberty. In Four Essays on Liberty, 118–172. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bernal, J.D. 1939. The Social Function of Science. New York, NY: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Biddle, J. 2007. Lessons from the Vioxx debacle: What the privatization of science can teach us about social epistemology. Social Epistemology 21:21–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blumenthal, D., M. Gluck, K.S. Louis, and D. Wise. 1986. Industrial support of university research in biotechnology. Science 231:242–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blumenthal, D., N. Causino, E. Campbell, and K.S. Louis. 1996. Relationships between academic institutions and industry in the life sciences – An industry survey. New England Journal of Medicine 334:368–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bok, D. 2003. Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Brown, J.R. 2000. Privatizing the university – The new tragedy of the commons. Science 290:1701–1702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown, J.R. 2008. The community of science®. In The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice: Science and Values Revisited, eds. M. Carrier, D. Howard, and J. Kourany, 189–216. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bush, V. 1945. Science: The Endless Frontier. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  13. Dalpé, R., L. Bouchard, A.-J. Houle, and L. Bédard. 2003. Watching the race to find the breast cancer genes. Science, Technology, & Human Values 28:187–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Drazen, J., and G. Curfman. 2002. Financial associations of authors. New England Journal of Medicine 346:1901–1902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dyer, O. 2001. University accused of violating academic freedom to safeguard funding from drug companies. British Medical Journal 323:591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Elliott, K. 2008. Scientific judgment and the limits of conflict-of-interest policies. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance 15:1–29.Google Scholar
  17. Etzkowitz, H. 2006. The new visible hand: An assisted linear model of science and innovation policy. Science and Public Policy 33:310–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Evans, R., and R. Novak 1981. The Reagan Revolution. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton.Google Scholar
  19. Friedberg, M., B. Saffran, T. Stinson, W. Nelson, and C. Bennett. 1999. Evaluation of conflict of interest in economic analyses of new drugs used in oncology. Journal of the American Medical Association 282:1453–1457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Friedman, M. 1962. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hayek, F.A. 1960. The Constitution of Liberty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  22. Hayek, F.A. 1988. The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Heller, M.A., and R.S. Eisenberg. 1998. Can patents deter innovation? The anticommons in biomedical research. Science 280:698–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kevles, D. 1998. Diamond v. Chakrabarty and beyond: The political economy of patenting life. In Private Science: Biotechnology and the Rise of the Molecular Sciences, ed. A. Thackray, 65–79. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  25. Keyworth, G.A. 1982. The role of science in a new era of competition. Science 217:606–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Keyworth, G.A. 1983a. Federal R&D: Not an entitlement. Science 219:801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Keyworth, G.A. 1983b. Federal R&D and industrial policy. Science 220:1122–1125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Keyworth, G.A. 1984. Four years of Reagan science policy: Notable shifts in priorities. Science 224:9–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kleinman, D. 2003. Impure Cultures: University Biology and the World of Commerce. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  30. Krimsky, S. 2003. Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research? Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  31. Lohr, S. 1982. Japan struggling with itself. New York Times. June 13.Google Scholar
  32. Merz, J.F., A.G. Kriss, D.G.B. Leonard, and M.K. Cho. 2002. Diagnostic testing fails the test. Nature 415:577–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mirowski, P. 2008. Livin’ with the MTA. Minerva 46:317–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mirowski, P., and R. van Horn. 2005. The contract research organization and the commercialization of scientific research. Social Studies of Science 35:503–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. von Mises, L. 1935. Economic calculation in the socialist commonwealth. In Collectivist Economic Planning, ed. F.A. Hayek, 87–130. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  36. McGucken, W. 1978. On freedom and planning in science: The society for freedom in science, 1940–1946. Minerva 16:42–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. National Science Board. 2006. Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.Google Scholar
  38. Nelson, R. 2001. Observations on the post-Bayh-Dole rise of patenting at American universities. Journal of Technology Transfer 26:13–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Polanyi, M. 1958. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  40. Polanyi, M. 1962. The republic of science: Its political and economic theory. Minerva 1:54–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pollack, A. 2006. Flaw seen in genetic test for breast cancer risk. New York Times. March 22.Google Scholar
  42. Rausser, G. 1999. Fueling the research engine. Accessed 7 March 2008.
  43. Reagan, R. 1981. First inaugural address. Accessed 28 June 2008.
  44. Rosenzweig, R.M. 1984. The Research Universities and their Patrons. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  45. Slaughter, S., and G. Rhoades 2004. Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Spurgeon, D. 2002. Psychiatrist settles dispute with Toronto University. British Medical Journal 324:1177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stelfox, H., G. Chua, K. O’Rourke, and A. Detsky. 1998. Conflict of interest in the debate over calcium-channel antagonists. New England Journal of Medicine 338:101–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Task force on research accountability. 2001. Report on Individual and Institutional Financial Conflicts of Interest. Washington, DC: American Association of Universities.Google Scholar
  49. Thursby, J., R. Jensen, and M. Thursby. 2001. Journal of Technology Transfer 26:59–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Vallas, S.P., and D.L. Kleinman. 2007. Contradiction, convergence and the knowledge economy: The confluence of academic and commercial biotechnology. Socio-Economic Review 5:1–29.Google Scholar
  51. Vom Saal, F.S., and C. Hughes. 2005. An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of Bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment. Environmental Health Perspectives 113:926–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Walsh, T., S. Casadei, K.H. Coats, E. Swisher, S.M. Stray, J. Higgins, K.C. Roach, J. Mandell, M.K. Lee, S. Ciernikova, L. Foretova, P. Soucek, and M.C. King. 2006. Spectrum of mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, CHEK2, and TP53 in families at high risk of breast cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association 295:1379–1388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Washburn, J. 2005. University, Inc: The Corporate Corruption of American Higher Education. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  54. Wilholt, T. 2009. Bias and values in scientific research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40:92–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zachary, P.G. 1997. Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public PolicyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations