Wednesday, 1 October 2014

That there not be competing views

I poked Canterbury's Arin Basu on Google Plus, asking what's going on with the Health Sciences' group's attempts to block anybody else from doing funded research where the funding comes from sources they don't like. He there replies:
Hi Eric ( +Eric Crampton) , thanks for bringing attention to this news item. I am not sure Health Sciences has anything to do with the University's decision not to accept funds from dairy industry (I do not know but I can ask or check with my colleagues if they know of any influence from Health Sciences).
On that note, you make some very interesting points in your blog. However, I'd encourage you to consider the larger public health perspective as well. As you may appreciate, there is substantial evidence of the harm that tobacco, and alcohol cause to public health (see for instance, Therefore as public health professionals we consider that it is unethical for UC to receive funds/sponsorship from alcohol industry -- irrespective of the funder-fundee relationships between HRC/Ministry of Health and public health researchers (your points there are well taken). Hopefully, you will see the contradiction for a publicly accountable institution such as UC to accept money from an industry that is known to cause harm to health of the public while at the same time engaging in research to characterise that harm.  It's for similar reasons why I wouldn't want my doctor to invest in tobacco industry. 
 An interesting position. Here's an econ re-framing.

"Hopefully, you will see the contradiction for a publicly accountable institution such as UC to accept money from government granting agencies pursuing policies that are known to cause harm to the economy while at the same time engaging in research to characterise that harm. It's for similar reasons that I don't want my doctor to have opinions on economic policy."

I wouldn't say such a thing, because I have some minimal appreciation for that it can be useful to let competing ideas bash against each other rather than try to squelch dissenting ones. Arin, and his group, doesn't.


  1. Money corrupts, but some money corrupts more than other..

  2. What competiting ideas are these? That tobacco may or may not be damaging to your health? That's an accepted scientific fact, and letting tobacco industry fund resreach is not promoting free debate but merely aloowing them to buy research they want and muddy the waters.

  3. 1. The University is deciding whether to extend its restrictions beyond tobacco, not whether to reverse its decision on tobacco.
    2. There are plenty of very reasonable lines of research that won't happen without funding. Like a sane analysis of the costs of tobacco to the public purse taking an appropriate life-cycle perspective incorporating both that smokers have higher health costs at every year of life but that they also have fewer years of life: many of the health costs of smoking are a bringing-forward of end-of-life costs to an earlier period. I'd love to see a sound reliable estimate on the net result. Won't happen though: Ministries of Health are too politicised to sponsor or undertake that kind of research. If the wrong Deputy Minister gets a nose out of joint, the number gets tanked.

  4. Step 1: Prevent public institutions from engaging in contrary research to your own goals.
    Step 2: Malign private research as biased.
    Step 3: Claim all 'reputable' science in your favor.