Researcher fears moral bankruptcy

January 31, 2008

The focus on market-driven wealth creation within academic research is "morally bankrupt" and leaves academics feeling like prostitutes, a professor of physics at the University of Nottingham has argued.

In an opinion piece for the February issue of Nature Nanotechnology, nanoscience researcher Philip Moriarty argues: "The increasing emphasis on commercialisation and market forces in modern universities is fundamentally at odds with core academic principles.

"Publicly funded academics have an obligation to carry out science for the public good, and this is not compatible with the entrepreneurial ethos increasingly expected of university research by governments and funding agencies."

Professor Moriarty was writing in response to a previous article in the journal, which said that the traditional values of publicly funded research had been eroded to the point where they were now "part of a scientific mythology". Nanoscience was the "first full embodiment" of post-academic science, it said.

Professor Moriarty, who says he has deliberately chosen not to enter into any industrial collaborations, told Times Higher Education he was worried about the increasing pressure on nanoscience researchers to partner with industry. He said different groups within universities were being asked to sign non- disclosure agreements with industrial collaborators which mean they couldn't even speak to each other.

"It is completely counter to the ethos of the university," he said.

He also said that the hurdles for economic impact that research councils were inserting into grants made it hard for blue-skies research and led researchers to feel like they were "prostituting themselves".

"There is a real feeling among scientists that they have just got to go along with it," Professor Moriarty told Times Higher Education, adding that academics should put up a fight. "We are publicly funded and have an obligation to do disinterested research that is not chosen by the goals of a particular company."

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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