More than a half century ago, sociologist Robert Merton observed that the normative structure of science should be based on the free and open exchange of knowledge. The situation of Aubrey Blumsohn and the acknowledgement that limiting academics' access to data is "standard industry practice", illustrates the extent to which Mertonian ideals have been eroded.
Similar disputes are not rare; in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine , 82 per cent of institutions reported conflicts after the signing of a clinical-trial agreement with an industry sponsor.
Control of access to data, and confidentiality of results, were often at the heart of these disputes.
Blumsohn's superiors at Sheffield University are not unique in attempting to restrict his discussions with the public. A few years ago, during a dispute at the University of Toronto, formal "gag orders" were given forbidding my colleagues and me from communicating openly with the press.
The relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the academic community is one that many institutions strive to protect. Blumsohn's story offers sad proof that the pharmaceutical industry's influence in all spheres of academic research remains unhealthily healthy.