Scientific Integrity

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Science marches on, but what guides its direction? Who benefits from questions asked and answered? Who pays a price when scientific uncertainty or controversy leads to gridlock?

As respected agricultural journalist Jerry Hagstrom argues in a provocative 2015 piece in The National Journal, “Agriculture has a science problem”.  The root of the problem is the increasing dominance of private sector science in deciding regulatory issues, what goes on food labels, government R+D priorities, and what the government recommends, or allows, in the food supply.

Private interests are going to always put their best foot forward. The job of pesticide, food, biotechnology, and animal health care companies is gain and hold market share and earn profits, not to create new knowledge and advance science.

As state and federal academic research programs have been cut over the last 20 years, Deans and Experiment Station directors have reached out to private companies to explore “mutual interests.”

It has been a slippery slope. Corporations are now providing a significant share of the extramural research funding in most core ag science disciplines in a majority of land grant colleges and universities, as documented in the 2012 Food and Watch report “Public Research, Private Gain”.  This means companies have considerable influence on what gets studied, who has access to the tools of science, what gets published and where, and what scientists are free to say.

The agricultural and food industry, and public institutions serving their needs, have lost the confidence of many consumers and independent scientists because of a pattern of self-serving, and incorrect positions.  The increasingly aggressive, multi-faceted campaigns to silence or marginalize scientists who see things differently, or raise unwelcome questions, also is contrary to the fundamental principles through which science advances.

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