Capitalism's annex

November 12, 1999

Philip Fine reports on an Ottawa union conference on commercialisation

The military effort that drove many basic scientists towards applied research in the second world war is being replayed by global market players looking to commercialise the university, a pre-eminent Canadian scientist said in a keynote address.

Ursula Franklin said the global competition at the heart of commercial research is akin to a privatisation of war. "The present genes of the commercial takeover of the university are merely a mutation of the military gene," said Professor Franklin, a retired expert in ancient materials.

The University of Toronto professor emeritus said that governments and industry are stripping away universities' independence.

She cited the silence of many academics in Nazi Germany to demonstrate why it was necessary today to curb corporate investment in university research. In the second world war millions under the Nazi regime "were held responsible as much for their non-response as their collaboration".

She said scientific grants were targeted by the government in the 1950s. She was once the only person in her faculty to refuse classified research contracts. With universities' involvement, industry had seen less and less need to invest in labs and scientists.

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