Only one sixth of research is still free, the vast majority takes place in the service of profit maximization. The undesirable development could easily be changed if the political will existed
In germany, about one sixth of all research is currently free, while five sixths is research that is bound by directives, most of it in the service of industry, and a smaller part by detailed state bureaucratic guidelines. In other words: of the 700.000 people doing research in germany (full-time equivalents), far more than 500.000 are NOT able to pursue their own research questions, but rather receive instructions from corporate management or other staff units on what they must research.
In the vast majority of cases, the focus is on how to maximize profits, not on what is good for the country and its people. Even at state universities, only about one in two research euros is available for independent research; the other half is provided by third-party funding. So even at universities and universities of applied sciences, only about one in two professors is free to do research, and one in two does research beyond what has been agreed with the third-party funder. Free research has declined sharply in germany over the last 30 years or so.
Only one-sixth free research left in our country. That’s not much. Where is the problem? The problem is that the vast majority of research (which has been increasing in recent years) is done to maximize profits. But profit maximization and truth have nothing to do with each other, on the contrary. The stronger the profit orientation of research, the worse the results for country and people, as the example of the diesel scandal impressively shows (but also many dozens of other examples).
When it comes to a conflict of goals between profit and truth in coarse industry, profit practically always wins out. Specifically, when the truth is told that diesel emissions are unhealthy and cannot be reduced below a certain minimum level, one introduces a lie software that appears to show the opposite. The diesel scandal has cost tens of thousands of lives – but dramatically increased the profits of car companies. When this industrial principle – profit before truth – enters our university and technical college research, which it has been doing on a massive scale for several decades, it is to a large extent harmful to humans, animals and the environment.
Another classic is the cigarette industry, which for decades has been (tacitly) buying and falsifying seemingly independent university research "scientifically proven" that smoking or passive smoking is not really harmful to health. This has increased profits by hundreds of billions of dollars and brought premature death to millions of people and illness and suffering to many more. The health consequences are usually not known to the corporate leaders or. The gross shareholders behind it usually do not care, the main thing is the return on investment.
But not only the car or tobacco industry work according to this principle, but many, if not all rough industries. Particularly prominent is the pharmaceutical industry, where the principle of profit before truth has been the basic maxim for decades and where people literally go over dead bodies to increase profits. But also from the chemical industry (keyword glyphosate, wood preservatives, dioxin) and the food industry (big food, big sugar), there are many examples of corrupted research, as well as from the media industry and many many other industries.
It ultimately applies to all corporations operating according to the profit maximization principle. Profit maximization is the death of all independent truth finding. The extent to which profit-maximizing corporations gain influence over our university research through money or lobbying channels is the extent to which research becomes corrupted and mostly harmful to us. And this is exactly what has been happening in the last decades on an increasingly large scale.
The text was adapted from the book "bought science. How manipulated university research harms us and what we can do about it" by christian kreib.
Therefore, this book uses five case studies, in some of which I was concretely involved, to work out how this truth-damaging system works in concrete terms: facebook TU-munich, cyber valley, diesel scandal, TU munich – lidl, uni mainz – boehringer ingelheim foundation show how profit interests from the industry find their way into our universities and thereby bring research on a slippery slope.
A particularly important key to understanding the method is the "six-point scheme" or the "six steps to ruin", which was developed by the tobacco industry in decades of painstaking work and is now used almost across the board by most profit-maximizing corporations or entire industries. The steps are as follows:
- Selection of particularly promising (young) scientists who are close to industry.
- Demand of the researchers especially close to the industry.
- Establish maximum non-transparency and secrecy of connections to industry.
- Ensure profit-friendly results.
- Introduce confounders and lay false runs.
- Delaying political countermeasures by calling for even more research, paralysis by analysis.
In individual cases there can be more or less steps, it does not matter. This method is extremely efficient when it comes to misusing or corrupting science by stealth and thereby increasing corporate profits. Once you have seen through the scheme, you will discover it again and again in real life.
After analyzing the background of our research landscape in the first part of the book, and using current case studies to show how this happens in concrete terms in the second part, the last part elaborates on what we can do to stop or reverse these misguided developments. And that would be quite simple. If only the social or political will were there.
On the one hand, we brought rough transparency instead of today’s PERFECT opacity. "All cooperation contracts with state universities into the net" was the very first requirement. And this could be done with a few strokes of the pen – and would be a blessing for our research. The second would be proper core funding for state university research instead of the almost half-financed third-party funding that exists today. The money is there. It is only increasingly being channeled into universities through the wrong channels: via state bureaucratic guidelines that are usually closely coordinated with industry lobbyists.
Third, a fundamentally different way of financing our universities would be desirable: a voucher system. Our admitted students receive a voucher with which they can freely choose their university. This allowed a truly free higher education system to emerge over the course of several decades.
Fourth, we had to have a much more balanced composition of our committees, especially university committees, but also other decision-making bodies that advise on science, than is the case today.
These measures, some of which are very simple and can be implemented very quickly, have enabled us to develop a research landscape with truly free, independent research for the benefit of the general public. Let it happen and let our research flourish for the benefit of all.